Living By The Sword…

According to the New York Times, a high school senior in Portsmouth, RI has had his high shool refuse to use a yearbook photograph of him that he supplied. Why would a school do this? What could be so bad? I mean, the student in question thinks, “I just really like the picture, and it’s one of the first good photos I’ve taken in a long time.”

What’s the problem? According to the school, the picture ran afoul of its zero-tolerance weapons policy. In particular, according to Robert Littlefield, the principal, “Students wielding weapons is just not consistent with our existing policies or the mission of the school”. However, the school has offered to let the student buy a yearbook ad showing the photo. According to Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island branch of the ACLU, “I guess they think it’s a danger to the school system on Page 6, but not on Page 26”. The schools response was that it had higher standards for editorial content than for advertising.

Further, it should be noted that that the school mascot is a Revolutionary War soldier carrying a rifle. According to the school respresentative, “That’s an entirely different issue. I don’t think anybody could reasonably construe a cartoon depiction of a soldier from 250 years ago as a threat to our educational environment.”

So what was this student’s crime? What was so bad about the picture? Was he carrying an Uzi or an AKI 47? Was he toting his gun in front of an NRA banner? What he threatening small babies with a bayonet? Was he holding handguns and brandishing gang symbols?

No. He was dressed in medieval chain mail, with a broadsword over his shoulder. It appears that this student comes by his interest in chain mail naturally; his uncle makes chain mail, and his mother sells it at fairs. He also belongs to the Society for Creative Anachronism, which promotes re-enactments of medieval history. The lawyer for the school noted that “There have been two instances in the past of kids wanting to pose with weapons. One was a Civil War re-enacter, with a musket, and another was a marksman, and in both cases, we let them take out ads.”

Personally, I think this goes too far. I think a distinction needs to be made between students who study and immerse themselves in history, and those who use weapons and gangs to menace in the present day. Groups such as SCA and Civil War reenactors (as well as Ren Faire folk) are focused on education and living history, which is education in and of itself. Such students often learn more than in the classrooms: they learn the social morees, societal aspects, and responsibilities, and should be recognized for their dedication, not ostracized.

Although my feelings towards the ACLU is sometimes mixed (although I generally support them), this is one case I hope they win.