Boy Who Drew Cartoonish Bomb (at HOME!) Gets Suspended

Readers — I don’t want Free-Range Kids to simply become a forum for the latest Zero Tolerance insanity (tempting though that is),  so I am posting this errrkerhiy
with a different aim. It’s to talk about how we create regulations and laws.

Briefly, a boy with autism — not sure that’s relevant — drew a bomb that looks like the ones in his favorite video game, Bomber Man. (Similar bombs have been deployed by  Wile E. Coyote.):

Let's hope this thing explodes...ridiculous reasoning

Let’s hope this thing explodes…some misperceptions.

Obviously, the drawing of a bomb is NOT a bomb, which is why the suspension is so ridiculous. But  according to the boy’s mom, the school explained its reasoning thusly: “Perception is reality.”

That gave me an idea for a Free-Range Kids motto: Perception is NOT Reality.

The perception that anyone could be harmed, physically or mentally, by a pretend bomb (or gun)? NOT REALITY. The perception that our kids are awash in a sea of predators? NOT REALITY. The perception that kids are at high risk if they sit in a Bumbo chair or wear a pair of flowered sandals? NOT REALITY. The perception that any parent who isn’t watching his or her child every single second is putting that child in danger? Not reality.

The problem is when schools and lawmakers use their perception of danger — skewed and twisted by a skewed and twisted media — to make REAL rules. Getting risk wrong has real-world consequences. As Jeff Stier, head of the Risk Analysis Division of the National Center for Public Policy Research, puts it, imaginary risk leads us down “a dangerously slippery slope into a world where imaginary fear dominates.  Children stop being children, parents can no longer parent, and almost any special interest group can label almost anything as the next lurking bogeyman.”

That’s how we end up with parents arrested for letting their kids wait in the car during a simple errand. That’s how we end up with the government recalling sandals, or canceling its kids-at-play stamps. The belief is that all those things are putting kids at risk.

Perception of problems as huge when they are small to non-existent changes childhood. Boom! Freedom explodes into a million little laws, each one capable of crippling childhood wherever it lands. – L

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53 Responses to Boy Who Drew Cartoonish Bomb (at HOME!) Gets Suspended

  1. Dave October 16, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

    Thoughtful response to this nonsense. Thanks Lenore.

  2. derpdedoo October 16, 2013 at 4:44 pm #

    Hmm… If “perception is reality,” then are the thoughts of school administrators that appear in their head also perceived as reality? Why isn’t anyone calling the police for the administrator’s perceived reality?

  3. Steverino October 16, 2013 at 4:57 pm #

    I have looked, and I can’t find what regulation the boy is alleged to have violated. I would guess that it’s something like: “students may not threaten violence verbally or in writing.” If so, that’s actually a pretty good rule. What is missing from the equation is due process, and a rational interpretation of the rules. The idea that drawing a bomb, or even a picture of the bomb exploding and blowing up people, would be taken as a threat is silly in the extreme.

  4. CJ October 16, 2013 at 5:03 pm #

    If perception is reality why aren’t schools removing all drama departments?

  5. Warren October 16, 2013 at 5:15 pm #

    They will suspend this kid for a cartoonish drawing of a bomb, while in other states staff bring masks and toy guns to school. And yet another school calls the police to deal with an injured skateboarder.

    Well the inmates are certainly running the asylum, aren’t they.

    If perception is reality, I would be very worried that the rest of the world is getting these stories. After reading them, you would have to wonder what their perception of the US is.

  6. Papilio October 16, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

    ‘Perception is reality’??? You should put an Escher drawing under this post!

    (I laughed when I saw the bomb – so many good memories of Wile E. Coyote and other cartoons…)

  7. Ben October 16, 2013 at 5:23 pm #

    I’m glad this boy’s suspension was lifted, but I’m less happy about the reason why. This is in no way related to his disability. He’s a boy and boys like to play with pretend weapons and on occasion they will draw them too. It’s a fact of life. If that breaks a school rule, fine, punish him, but suspension is over the top. It’s a drawing — a perfectly normal one for a boy whether he has a disability or not. A drawing of a cartoon bomb does not pose a threat.

    Get real, people! Stop wasting time on hearings and get common sense back.

  8. Kay October 16, 2013 at 5:43 pm #

    Exactly, Ben! I don’t see how this is related to his disability either. This is what boys do. My boys have drawn elaborate war drawings and such. They’d be expelled, I suppose. Just shaking my head here.

  9. Kay October 16, 2013 at 5:44 pm #

    Add: I’m thinking they had to formally tie it to his disability in order to get him out of this suspension. If he’s on an IEP they can do this sort of thing.

  10. Papilio October 16, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

    When I was in 7th grade, my brother and I drew what was basically a still from a shooting game, taking place in a school, with students as targets. It was meant for teachers who had to deal with annoying kids all day 🙂
    We also had great fun threatening each other by hand gestures when we only saw each other through a window (guns and strangling were popular), and in general made lots of jokes about violence.

    At school we (friend + I) drew wanted-posters with our teachers on it (always rewarding 1 euro more for ‘dead’), and we pretended our ballpoints were guns and shot each other with them (click-click-click-click-click-click-click!).
    We’re talking two girls here………

  11. Donna October 16, 2013 at 5:52 pm #

    So a toy gun being able to injure anyone physically or MENTALLY is not a reality but a demonstration involving a toy gun is outrageous?

    This is why I have such a hard time with the previous post. There is a HUGE disconnect. All anyone is really saying is “I don’t like this demonstration so I am going to say about it the exact same things we rale against in every post here – kids are too sensitive to withstand 30 seconds of discomfort, a toy gun is scary, there is a miniscule chance that someone might see this and react negatively so we need to protect for that and so on.”

  12. Ravana October 16, 2013 at 5:55 pm #

    First, that is a really good drawing of a bomb. That kid should be encouraged to do more art.

    Second, the fact that he has autism has a lot to do with the issue. Kids with autism tend to develop obsessions with certain subjects (dinosaurs, numbers, trains, video games etc.) and everything they do revolves around this obsession. They also lack the social skills to understand that not everyone shares their obsession so they go around talking about it to everyone they see.

    This kid develops an obsession with Bomber Man, he draws what he sees on the video, he goes to school and talks non-stop about it and shows everyone his drawing because he can’t show them the game itself. A REASONABLE school calls in his special ed teacher and the boy is given a calm and gentle (and probably 400th) lesson in interacting with others appropriately. A school that has NO CLUE how to handle a child with autism suspends him.

    Major retraining of teachers and administration is needed at that school.

  13. BL October 16, 2013 at 6:04 pm #

    If perception is reality, then I perceive this school’s authorities to be ruthless, unbridled tyrants who must be crushed at all costs.

    Fair enough?

  14. BL October 16, 2013 at 6:12 pm #

    The difference is that, in the previous case, to all appearances, an actual crime was being committed, something that a reasonable person might even take violent, defensive measures against.

    Not the slightest resemblance to an obvious (and crude) picture of a bomb.

    If that’s not clear, imagine this: would you point a realistic-looking toy gun at a policeman to check his reaction? Now, consider showing the same cop a child’s drawing of a bomb. In the second case, you’d expect to live.

  15. LTMG October 16, 2013 at 6:13 pm #

    If perception is reality, then banning Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” from school libraries seems reasonable.

  16. Lillian October 16, 2013 at 6:19 pm #

    Since you mentioned zero tolerance, I thought it would be interesting to note that as I read this, the DA in Cobb County, GA was on the local news expressing his dislike for zero tolerance policies, as it gives no discretion to the police to decide what a real threat is. It was in response to a student who had a pocket knife in his car. So maybe some level heads will eventually prevail.

  17. Katie October 16, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

    The autism is irrelevant because it’s a normal thing that a boy that age would draw. I think it goes back to first amendment rights and court cases even at the Supreme Court level that have tried to deny them in school settings. The founding fathers never said oh except in a school setting. In fact, they believed in school settings for places where ideas could be shared.

    What they do need to ban that is a danger is allowing parents to drive right up to the school especially in SUVs and Minivans. Make schools walking only zones. If our forefathers saw all the helicopter mom’s driving their lazy offspring in giant gas guzzlers destroying the country with their pollution to the front door of the school; only to then encourage the school to frequently deny other kids first amendment rights because there kid is offended by something some other kid did-they would be rolling in their graves.

  18. Lisa October 16, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

    We are doomed.

  19. EricS October 16, 2013 at 7:07 pm #

    Seriously? “Perception is reality”?! So let’s take that notion then. And I’m guessing most people’s perception of this school administration is ignorance, incompetence, no common sense and logic, and looking out for their own well being and best interest (not the children’s). So if “perception is reality” then it must be true these administrators/principal/teachers are not qualified to have their positions, and should be let go or suspended right away, as to not cause anymore damage to children’s self esteem, and judgement.

  20. EricS October 16, 2013 at 7:15 pm #

    This day and age is not only breeding children with lack of common sense, confidence, and responsibilities, but it’s also breedin adults the same way. Our children learn what we teach them. Society is to blame for all the stupidity and ignorance it has engrained in their daily lives as something that is now considered “normal”. And Society is also to blame for making/spreading these stupid and ignorant ideas of today a “normal” part of life. Here’s the irony of this, people bitch and complain about mundane and inconsequential things in their lives, but they are also the ones that perpetuate all the mundane and inconsequential things in their lives.

  21. Maggie October 16, 2013 at 7:25 pm #

    “Perception is reality.”

    That is so wrong in so many ways. That kind of thinking leads to:


    Does the school teach children to be prejudice, to discriminate, to be biased, or encourage them to develop phobias? All those beliefs are based on the “perception is reality” idea.

  22. Maggie October 16, 2013 at 7:28 pm #

    “Perception is reality.”

    Actually, thinking on this further, is that a sign of mental illness? When someone sees things that aren’t there, is overly paranoid, or believes if they jump off the roof they will fly, they are having a perception problem.

  23. EricS October 16, 2013 at 7:29 pm #

    Sometimes I wonder if all the “conspiracy theories”, which over the years are more and more confirmed, and proven (or less conspiracy and closer to fact), have some truth. It’s been a well known notion that school as we know it today has been orchestrated by the powers that be. To keep children in line, and teach them what they want them to be taught, so that they become complacent when they get out in the workforce. The idea of “You must go to school in order to get an education, you need an education to get a good paying job, you need a good paying job to buy what you want, and to have a family. A family requires that house with a white picket fence.” etc. Who’s to say it’s not anymore true in this day and age, as it was 60-70 years ago. You make people fear more, they in turn pass it on to their children. Their children have no idea why they have to fear, but are inclined to anyway. No questions asked. Just follow the status quo, if you want to survive and be accepted in society. And with the help of media and technology, which is controlled by the powers that be already, they spread this agenda further and further. This is not to say it can’t be stopped. If it can be done, it can be undone. And if society put themselves in this situation, they can get themselves out as well. All it takes the first step. Bring back common sense into our daily lives. Then ignore the fear mongering that is so prevalent.

  24. EricS October 16, 2013 at 7:32 pm #

    @Maggie. It’s just another dumb excuse authorities like to make up to make themselves feel better about being stupid and ignorant. However, it’s no all on them. Apart from being holier than thou, they are also covering their asses from other holier than thou, self serving, and litigious people/parents of today.

  25. Shelly Stow October 16, 2013 at 7:40 pm #

    “The problem is when schools and lawmakers use their perception of danger — skewed and twisted by a skewed and twisted media — to make REAL rules. Getting risk wrong has real-world consequences.”

    No where is that truer than in the plethora of laws and rules and restrictions that apply to those on a sex offender registry; no where is that truer than in the very existence of the registry itself.

  26. The Original Cul-de-sac-hero October 16, 2013 at 8:25 pm #

    “Perception is reality.”

    And with that morsel of wisdom, the education system has officially entered the twilight zone.

  27. Andrew_M_Garland October 16, 2013 at 8:44 pm #

    Zero tolerance policies are the current name for Thought Crime. A child showing the wrong thoughts is treated as a criminal, ridiculed in class by the teacher, called names by the other students, and suspended while he changes his beliefs. It is a “two minute hate”.

    It appears ridiculous, that school administrators would confuse the picture of a weapon with an actual weapon. Those administrators see the thought as being close to the act. They want to stamp out the thought, and terrorize children into never even thinking about edicts passed down from their rulers.

    To me, this is child abuse under the color of office. When will parents realize that these are sadistic displays of power against children? There is no judgment or mercy in these officials which stops them from imposing cruel and sudden mental anguish upon the children in their care. What child is safe from emotional abuse under such management?

    Parents would demonstrate in crowds if their schools failed to promote entire classes of their children. In a different sense, their schools are indeed failing entire classes of children. Where is the demonstration of anger? Why are such teachers, principals, and school boards allowed to keep their power and position?

    The idea of Thought Crime and the “two minute hate” was explained in George Orwell’s novel “1984” published in 1949. It is a fictional warning about a future under complete government control. The novel was informed by Orwell’s experiences in the British Communist party. He awoke to write a warning.

    Wags have noted that “1984” was a warning, but Progressives have used it as an instruction manual.

    See the full text of George Orwell’s “1984” here with more about Orwell at MSXNet


  28. Nicole October 16, 2013 at 8:50 pm #

    I completely believe his autism played a role. But not in the way you may think. Since Columbine schools have been afraid of the kid who is “different” or “off” or “aloof”. Autistic kids usually appear to be all of these things. I’ve heard teachers (primarily general education) refer to their ASD students were the ones that would “shoot up the school”.

  29. Dana October 16, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

    Wile E. Coyote! We are way beyond suspension based on my son’s detailed war zone drawings!

  30. Jenny October 16, 2013 at 9:45 pm #

    I was looking through my son’s school folder today, and noticed he had drawn a bomb on it. I jokingly told him he’s get into big trouble if a teacher saw it. Yikes.

  31. Kay October 16, 2013 at 11:05 pm #

    Interesting analysis, Andrew, and terrifying. I wonder what kind of world we’re headed to under the guise of protection.

  32. RobC October 16, 2013 at 11:30 pm #

    “Perception is reality”? And this person is allowed to be in charge of education children? Somebody should put him/her in a round room and tell them to go sit in the corner. That’ll keep them busy for awhile, and everybody else can get on with their lives, and be free to draw pictures without fear of punishment.

  33. RobC October 16, 2013 at 11:32 pm #

    That should read “educating children”, obviously, not “education children.” Even reading about this kind of stupidity makes one dumber, it seems.

  34. David May October 17, 2013 at 12:53 am #

    I always thought the correct motto would be “how not to raise chickens”.

  35. J.T. Wenting October 17, 2013 at 1:00 am #

    I guess the perception of the school is that any boy drawing a picture of a cartoon weapon is intending to acquire and use a real weapon, and use it at school.
    That’s of course patently false, but as in their (not the kids’) twisted mind perception is reality they “can’t be too cautious” and have to do what they did.

    That they only reverted it because the kid is mentally disabled (no doubt using some form of ‘underdeveloped’ in their reasoning, later the wording changed for the press by someone to be ‘more sensitive’) is indeed almost worse than that they suspended him at all, shows they think despite all the evidence to the contrary and public opinion that it’s a very good idea to do this kind of thing.

  36. Beth October 17, 2013 at 4:11 am #

    This was the best quote from the comments section:”I know that I would want every instance like this taken seriously even if it involved my own kids.”

    And instance like…you kid draws a picture, the school doesn’t like it, and suspends him? You’re nuts, lady; that’s all I can say.

  37. Cate October 17, 2013 at 5:57 am #

    I work in Family day care we have to do Benefit Risk Assessments which basically means we have to write out what we want the child to do what benefit the child will gain and what risk they could be in – if the benefit outways the risk then what is the harm? Let kids be kids and they may grow up to be awesome adults.

  38. Rhonda October 17, 2013 at 7:46 am #

    Someone said it above, and with more explanation. I’m just going to say: “Perception is reality” sounds like some serious 1984 stuff.

  39. BL October 17, 2013 at 8:47 am #

    Definitely up there with Freedom Is Slavery, War Is Peace and the rest.

  40. lollipoplover October 17, 2013 at 8:48 am #

    That’s an awesome bomb drawing. I’d love to see his rendering of an anvil. Maybe the anvil can be dropped on top of the “Perception is reality” myth because then all creative expressions would be threats.

    One of my favorite volunteer jobs was as a journal helper for Kindergarten and 1st grade. Kids made drawings and helpers led them to develop a story (and sentences) to go along with the picture. There was such a variety- one boy drew his mom with knives and blood coming out of her eyes. We discussed his picture and found out his mom just had Lasix eye surgery. Another boy put his sister in a tornado getting crushed by a house (he recently saw the Wizard of Oz). Most of the scary drawings had very innocent back stories. How someone can take their own perception of a child’s creativity and make it a reality is unbelievable.

  41. Warren October 17, 2013 at 8:58 am #

    “It’s to talk about how we create regulations and laws.”

    Well Lenore, it is not with research, common sense, or any resemblence of intelligence. Most of the insane rules or laws always seem to fall into one of two motive categories.

    1. Kneejerk to an event.

    2. If it will save even one child/animal/woman/man or whatever.

    The first is nothing more than the school, gov’t, or whatever authority just playing on the fear and emotions. Someone gets to play hero by getting a bill passed, announcing a new policy and so on. All done for perception.

    The second is how people have taken data from research and flipped it to suit their causes. In the common sense era, if a product or activity was deemed safe 99.99% of the time, that was great. Not now, the powers that be see this as a possible risk, that needs to be addressed. These rules are supported by the “think of the children” brigade. Those screaming for change are heard, while everyone else stays quiet, not realizing that they are losing ground all the time.

  42. MRL October 17, 2013 at 9:09 am #

    “Perception is reality” is moronic. If a teacher or administrator spouted this bumper-sticker nonsense to me I would feel COMPELLED to ask: “what the %$#* to you MEAN that ‘perception equals reality.”

    This is a decision that is decidedly lacking in reason. Suspensions, IMO, require reasoned justifications. This isn’t Justice Potter Stewart and an “adult” movie that he “knows it when he sees it.”

    I don’t think that the issue here is what policy needs to be in place to deal with boys like this. Its a matter of what policies should be in place to deal with teachers or administrators like this. And, my guess is that they are already in place.

    This seems to be a simple due process issue. Our kids have a right to a public eduction. The government provides that right to us. The government cannot take away that right without due process. At a minimum, due process would require published rules, suspension only upon the finding of a violation of those rules, and the right to appeal to a higher authority the decision of suspender.

    The kid seems to have been wrongly suspended. That decision ought to be appealable to the Board or something. That decision ought to be appealable to a higher tribunal.

    Now, in practical terms, I realize that no parent has infinite time (or even all that much time) to deal with these sorts of things, but I think that this might be the sad reality.

    I sort of doubt that “perception is reality” is enshrined in any student code of conduct. Steverino here in comments hit the nail on the head. This seems to be a misapplication (gross misapplication) of existing rules.

  43. MRL October 17, 2013 at 9:20 am #


    Mostly nice post, but why the partisan political “bomb throwing?”

    *******Wags have noted that “1984″ was a warning, but Progressives have used it as an instruction manual.****

    Progressives? Really? Wasn’t it most recently popularly (since Aldous Huxley, etc) Karl Rove’s political statement that “perception is reality”?

    Also, wasn’t it the Bush Administration that spent the better part of 8 years scaring the jeebus out of the American Public about the threat of people bombing us? I don’t doubt but that there are many progressives who have an overinflated sense of PC that misguide them. I also don’t doubt that there are countless progresssives who are overzealous in their efforts to rid the world of real guns and bombs. But to SINGLE OUT progressives? C’mon.

    You MASSIVELY denigrate your otherwise thoughtful analysis when you toss in such partisan hackery.

  44. Rebecca October 17, 2013 at 9:30 am #

    Perception is reality
    Truth is lies
    War is peace

    1984 is here.

  45. MRL October 17, 2013 at 11:42 am #

    i feel compelled to chime on on everyone trashing the phrase “perception equals reality.” fine, its counterintuitive, its abstract, but in its own context, its absolutely true.

    but misapplied as a concept (as this person is doing here), is the problem. its not the concept itself.

    “perception equals reality” makes perfect sense when you talk about, for example, the current economy. The PERCEPTION of a lot of the voting public is that deficits are rising. The Reality (i.e., facts) is that deficits are falling. But the notion that “perception is reality” still applies because the PERCEPTION of rising deficits still has a reality of its own and drives policy decisions and politcs.

    This scenario has nothing to do with “perception” equalling “reality.” A single person’s perception of a picture of a bomb being a threat doesn’t equate to a “reality” of a threat. It equates to a reality of a delusional teacher/administrator.

    Contrast that with a school full of people who “perceive” a student to be “disruptive” because they believe that this student has cooties. This widespread (albeit false) belief would have its own reality — it would, in fact, make a disruptive atmosphere around that student.

    Sorry to quibble on this, but just taking pot shots at that phrase doesn’t advance the ball much here.

  46. Eileen October 17, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

    Yeah, “perception is reality” is the exact reason so many thought the “staged theft with a gun” in the prior post was terrible. The perception of the kids in the classroom is that an armed man entered their classroom. That was NOT the reality, but it was perception.

    Whether or not this is correctly applied in this child’s case is a different discussion I suppose.

    Of note in the linked article, another case where the parents are making the comments and the school is not — and in this case, she denied them the ability to do so when asked.

  47. John October 17, 2013 at 1:34 pm #

    VERY eloquently said Linore!!!

  48. wasp-honey October 17, 2013 at 6:42 pm #

    Ceci n’est pas une bombe.

  49. CrazyCatLady October 17, 2013 at 9:58 pm #

    Last week my son was in school for his bi-weekly writing help. A middle school. As he was getting done, he found a sticky note on the underside of the desk. It had a boy’s name on it, and a drawing of a blunderbuss and a hand grenade. My son thought it was kind of cool and gave it to the teacher who frowned and said that she knew who drew it. I told her that the weapons looked just like the ones I got from the Dollar Store for my younger son for Halloween. I tried to keep my tone light, because really, it is no big deal.

    I am hoping that she threw it out and nothing further happened. But then I know this district, aside from our particular charter type school, has gotten very stupid about stuff like this. Nothing in the news here about this, but then, not all of the parents take things to the news.

  50. oncefallendotcom October 17, 2013 at 11:14 pm #

    Paper bombs can be dangerous. Haven’t you ever watched Inspector Gadget?

  51. LRothman October 18, 2013 at 5:36 am #

    If “perception is reality” then the school official who made this statement is an clueless, incompetent idiot who has no business having any job that requires more intelligence than picking up trash at the side of the road.

  52. Fred October 18, 2013 at 1:53 pm #

    Another problem with irrational fear is that it gives us fear exhaustion… we get so busy fearing nonsense we forget to fear genuinely dangerous stuff.

    I have a friend who’s all about organics, non-GMOs, avoiding radioactive tuna and other dubious food fears. All while ignoring the very real food danger of getting nowhere near enough vitamins because she’s always trying to starve herself skinny and always finds some excuse to not take supplements.

  53. SadButMadLad October 21, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

    It’s not just that perception is NOT reality. The public cannot perceive anything properly. Risk is another where there is no connection with reality.

    See this link for a presentation of the public perception of risk by John Adams.