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Seed Newsvine

The life of Allen Lee still hangs in the balance as Community High School District 155 officials fail to take any action in the case of Allen Lee, the student accused of disorderly conduct for writing what his teacher and other school officials considered to be a disturbing paper in response to a “free” writing assignment.At no time has the school or the district taken appropriate action in this case. Before involving the police options like counseling, social service intervention, or simply making parents aware of the situation should have been taken. The more appropriate actions would, then, have never been news. No one would even know Allen Lee’s name, which is as it should be. Had this young man been found to be a danger to himself or others then, and only then, should authorities be notified.

The chilling effect this story has on teaching creative writing is enormous. I spoke with several high school seniors who clearly understood Lee’s side of this controversy. One of the seniors told me that were she to be assigned a free write she would simply write “I can’t think of anything to write.” She would do this until the time for writing was over to assure that she would not have her life disrupted. What I find interesting in this student’s case is that she is a top-student, involved in many school activities, maintains a top grade point average and is headed for an elite school. While I have not seen her writing, her teacher assures me that she is creative and thoughtful. Now this…she is turned off and the incident didn’t even occur in her school.

Somewhere, somehow, there is an adult that will do the right thing in the case of Allen Lee. If not NOW–WHEN?

clipped from www.chicagotribune.com
After listening to two Cary residents speak in support of a Cary-Grove High
School senior whose essay resulted in a disorderly-conduct charge and his
removal from school, the school board met in closed session Monday evening
without taking any action on his future.
After the two-hour closed session, Community High School District 155 board
President Ted Wagner refused to answer any questions about Allen Lee, 18,
whose lawyer said earlier that he hopes the student can return to school as
quickly as possible and graduate as scheduled May 26. Lee is being tutored in
a district office away from the school.
During a creative-writing class April 23, students were given a “free
writing” assignment in which they were told not to censor or judge what they
wrote. Lee’s stream-of-consciousness essay included references to “shooting
everyone” and “having sex with the dead bodies.”

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Seed Newsvine

The Chicago Tribune finally addressed the issue of the Cary-Grove High School response to Allan Lee’s response to a senior English writing assignment. I add some additional quotes from the article below:

Involving the police struck Jim Barnabee as overkill. He is a creative-writing instructor at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire and, like most teachers, has been trained to alert counselors or administrators if he thinks students might harm themselves or others.

He referred a student to a school social worker this year after she turned in a poem about suicide. It was a poorly written “emotional spew” that paid little heed to the assignment—all hallmarks of potential trouble, he said.

He added that Lee’s essay, by contrast, seemed more like the product of an annoyed senior, deserving perhaps of school discipline but not police intervention.

“If you refer someone to the police, all you’re going to do is teach kids to hide their feelings, to shove it down and not let it out there,” he said. “And I don’t think that’s what we want to teach young writers.”

The point here is that the CGHS teacher and administrators over reacted rather than practice appropriate measures.

Mary Kay Albamonte, a 22 year veteran teacher said:

“There are some rights that stop at the schoolhouse door,” she said. “Kids can’t just say or do anything. We’re responsible for them, and we have to be vigilant about it. When it’s staring you in the face you have to take it seriously.”

She and other teachers talk about limits with their students at the beginning of their courses. But some say that with violence and sex pervading American pop culture, teens don’t always understand what’s appropriate.

The issue is not one of rights or the lack of rights. It is one of the appropriateness of adult behavior when faced with perhaps inappropriate behavior on the part of one or more students.

If a student is engaged in a criminal act it is fully appropriate to arrest that student and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law. When did completing a school assignment become criminal. My goodness, would that we could get more students to complete their assignments. What may have been inappropriate was the content of Lee’s essay which you can read for yourself by clicking on the link. The language of the essay is not, even in the wildest stretch of ones overactive imagination, criminal. Disturbing, perhaps, but criminal, not in a million years.

As an English teacher, I read the essay in the context of the assignment, and through the lens of adolescent pop-culture. I read the words of a senior about to graduate and get on with his life. I read words that reference music, events, and even conditions in the classroom. I read the words of a very typical free writing exercise, one that is neither intended to be finished work nor coherent and cohesive in form.

Lighten-up CGHS. Give this kid some rope.

clipped from www.chicagotribune.com
A high school writing exercise that ended with the arrest of a McHenry County student last week was a dramatic illustration of a dilemma faced by young authors and their teachers: Where is the line that separates provocative from alarming?
The answer, many say, depends on far more than the words on the page.
A student’s demeanor, disciplinary record and relationship with the teacher all relate to whether a bloody piece of work is viewed as a bold, boundary-pushing statement or a thinly veiled threat.
“Judgment calls are required on all of this,” said Chris Meade, an English teacher at Glenbard North with 30 years of experience. “Nothing happens outside of a context.”
Allen Lee, 18, a straight-A senior at Cary-Grove High in Cary, was charged with disorderly conduct after he turned in an assignment that had called for him to write continuously for 30 minutes without making corrections, and without judging or censoring what he produced.

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Seed Newsvine

In the inappropriate action of calling in the “thought police” the Cary-Grove High School began a process that may cause Allen Lee’s life to be adversely impacted, perhaps beyond repair.

When I was teaching in the middle school I had an 8th-grade student who was a brilliant writer. She was also into the entire Goth scene. She wore her hair like Morticia, painted her lips and nails black, wore black clothing from head to toe and I cannot ever recall her smiling or laughing. She wrote stories and poems that made reference to blood in the snow, stabbings, trees that strangled strangers as they passed by, death and dismemberment. I thought her writing was brilliant but it was also quite disturbing. In discussions with my principal at the time we decided the best course of action would be to refer this student to our school counselor for evaluation. The counselor met with this student, discussed her findings with the school psychologist, met with me and the student’s parents and we all came to the conclusion that the student was neither a danger to herself or to others. This was the proper and appropriate course of action. But it was not the course of action taken by the Cary-Grove High School.

What evidence, other than Lee’s freewrite, is there that he is a danger to himself or others? What intermediate steps did the high school take to determine whether Lee is an immediate or future threat to himself or others? It seems that they skipped these steps and went for the immediate kill–call the cops. The best they could do was trump up a disorderly conduct charge. And Lee’s life is forever altered.

Shame on the teacher, the principal, the district superintendent, the police and the charging prosecutor for not taking the time to assess the situation. Shame on all of them for not thinking of alternatives that might actually be more appropriate. But, then, when one has already made up one’s mind why does one have to bother with facts or alternative solutions.

The first major fallout is the Marine Corps withdrawing their commitment to Lee’s joining the service. My goodness, the boy hasn’t yet been convicted of anything. What ever happened to the proposition that one is innocent until proven guilty? What will be next in store for Lee as he spins down this Kafkaesque path.

clipped from www.chicagotribune.com
Like many misunderstood writers, a Cary-Grove High School senior arrested for turning in a provocative class essay offered an “author’s note” Friday by way of explanation.
In it, Allen Lee said his reference to “shooting everyone” and “having sex with the dead bodies” was not a personal statement but words a character in a story might say, which explained why the sentence was in quotations.
His references to drugs, he said, were a comment on drug problems at the school.
However, the Marines informed the student Friday that they have discharged him from the enlistment program because of the incident, but that he could reapply if the charges were dropped. Lee said he couldn’t comment, but his lawyer said his client was crushed by the news.
Although students were warned that they couldn’t threaten anyone in their writings, Lee said he assumed those parameters were removed when the teacher told the class to take 30 minutes and write whatever came to mind—without worrying about censorship.

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Seed Newsvine

Allen Lee, an 18 year old straight “A” student at Cary-Grove High School, was arrested for thinking violent thoughts and charged with two counts of disorderly conduct. Lee’s senior English teacher, after reading what Lee wrote in response to a “Free Writing” assignment was disturbed enough to report the incident to the school’s principal. The school then notified the Cary police and the decision was made to arrest Lee.In America we do not criminalize thinking. What is criminalized is action. One can think all kinds of evil thoughts so long as one does not act on those thoughts there is no crime. In America we do not arrest authors for writing violent passages, for writing bad poetry, for writing propaganda or any other authorial endeavor. There is no Gestapo, KGB, SS, or Secret Police; no thought police and no book burners.

As a teacher of writing and author of a book on teaching writing, I understand the “Free Writing” assignment and advocate two versions of the practice in my book Teaching Writing in the Inclusive Classroom: Strategies and Skills for All Students, Grades 6 – 12 (Jossey-Bass Teacher). I do not, however, advocate arresting a student for responding to an assignment irregardless of how inappropriate I believe the product of the assignment to be. There are appropriate measures such as referring the offending student to counseling services, psychiatric services or social services, parent, teacher student conferences, and the like. But in America we don’t call the cops for thinking and writing.

While I understand the concern the school had considering the horrendous events at Virginia Tech, there is no justification for over reacting to Lee’s writing. The message sent is irreversible, sending a chilling effect through the entire creative process. I would urge the school to reconsider charging Lee with this crime and pursue appropriate measures to try to understand what is going on here.

clipped from www.chicagotribune.com
A Cary-Grove High School student charged with disorderly conduct for writing a violently descriptive class essay had received an assignment that said: “Write whatever comes to your mind. Do not judge or censor what you are writing.”
Allen Lee, 18, responded with passages about “shooting everyone” and having “sex with the dead bodies,” according to a disorderly conduct complaint filed Thursday by McHenry County prosecutors, Tom Carroll, the first assistant state’s attorney, said.
Lee’s English teacher, Nora Capron, and school officials found the senior’s stream-of-consciousness writing so alarming that they turned it over to Cary police, who arrested him Tuesday morning while he was walking to school.
Emling provided a reporter with a copy of the class assignment, which was titled “Free Writing.” It advised students to “write non-stop for a set period of time. Do not make corrections as you write. Keep writing, even if you have to write something like, ‘I don’t know what to write.’ “

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