"Tom, I need to talk to you about a bullying situation," the principal explains.
"Is it about Eunice and Gladys. I think we have that taken care of," I answer.
"It's the aftermath. Apparently some of the bullying was pencil-based."
"Yeah, I know about that."
"Well, we need to ban the pen pal networks. We can't have bullying occurring on our campus."
"But some of the bullying happened in the cafeteria and we're not banning kids from visiting the cafeteria. Just yesterday I saw bullying in the library. Better ban books as well."
"But this is permanent. This leaves a record. Verbal and written bullying are different."
"True, so doesn't that mean we have some evidence of the bullying when it occurs?"
"Parents are worried, Tom. There was a new report that children are using pencils for social reasons. They're sending short-hand messages, doing pen pal letters. It's scary to many of the parents."
"Really? Students are using pencils for social interaction? So at an age when they are naturally social, when they are exploring conflict and relationships, they use the media that are available? Sounds incredibly dangerous to me."
If it's verbal, blame the student. If it's written, blame the pencils.
For all the talk of a twentieth century classroom, I find the biggest barrier to change is fear. We need leaders rather than liability managers. In addition to asking, "What will we risk if we do this?" we should also ask, "What do we risk if we don't do this?" Apparently public relations is more powerful than a learning tool.