David Riehm is a 17 year old high school student from Minnesota. He was recently suspended from his school and briefly involuntarily committed to a mental institution for stories he had written in a creative writing class in school. You can read about the case here.
You can also read the actual stories he wrote and his teachers responses here.
In a nutshell, David wrote a story which included wet dreams, a boy getting a plastic cone shoved up his butt, and getting his head crushed by a bus with his head "collapsing in a misty red explosion". His teacher, Ann Mershon found the story a little disturbing and criticized David for his choice of subject matter. David didn't take this very well. He proceeded to write additional stories about his teacher and how much he hated her. He nicknamed her
cheson and wrote a story entitled "Bowling For Cuntcheson"
in which he dreams about finding a gun and killing his teacher with it. The teacher reported David and he was suspended from school. The next day, officials from the state showed up at his home with a court order and took him away to a psychiatric facility. The parents are now suing the school, the principal, Ann Mershon and the state claiming among other things violation of David's free speech rights and wrongful imprisonment.
I find this case disturbing for reasons other than what you might think. After reading David's stories I can understand why Mrs. Mershon was concerned. "Bowling For Cuntcheson"
is a thinly disguised death threat with obvious references to Columbine. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris wrote similar missives before they went on their rampage. You simply can't ignore threats like this because you can't tell if the student will actually act upon them or not. Kids who have gone on killing sprees in the past do not fit neatly into any one profile. These killers come from all socioeconomic levels. Some of them are quite intelligent. In almost every previous case the child did not have a history of any mental illness (at least not one that was diagnosed. Obviously these are pretty disturbed children).
Ostensibly this is a case about free speech. David's supporters say that he is a talented writer who was just expressing his creativity through his stories. David says that he writes about sex and violence because that is a big part of everyday life. To this I say Bullshit!
The free speech rights guaranteed by our constitution do not include the right for a minor to make death threats against his teacher. In this country you don't have the right to say anything you want. You don't have the right to threaten someone with death. You don't have the right to publicly say false or malicious things about someone that aren't true (slander) or write about them (libel). You don't have the right to yell Fire!
in a crowded theater. Ann Mershon was completely correct in reporting David to school officials and the school system was completely correct in suspending him. However, this is where things get a little out of control.
Do I think David Riehm is a disturbed young man in need of psychiatric help? Absolutely. Do I think the state of Minnesota should have him involuntarily committed to a mental institution? Absolutely not. This is another case of a school system and state authorities following a zero tolerance policy but failing to use common sense. That's the big problem with these policies. They lack flexibility and treat everyone and every situation the same regardless of the circumstances. Girl's getting kicked out of school for having an aspirin in their purse because of a no drugs policy. A boy getting expelled for accidentally bringing a plastic squirt gun to school in his backpack because it's "a weapon". These things actually happen. Why didn't school officials sit down with David and his parents and discuss the situation. Why swoop in and cart him off to the loony bin. Talk about overreaction! Maybe his parents weren't aware of the types of things he was writing about. I can't believe that if they knew they would actually condone this type of behavior.
Most kids at some point in their lives have teachers who they dislike or even hate. They may fantasize about bad things happening to their teachers (mainly so they can get out of tomorrows Math test or the History paper due next week). I don't think these kids actually want their teachers killed however. It's one thing to act out these fantasies in your head. It's quite another to write them out and then give them to the teacher in question. David Riehm must be either extremely arrogant or incredibly stupid or maybe a little bit of both. This is one of the things I find most appalling about the whole case. The level of disrespect he is showing to this teacher is incredible. When I was in school I'd never dream of sending a story like that to my teacher. I don't know anyone who would. Kids today don't seem to have the same level of respect for their elders as previous generations. Discipline in school has become a huge problem which interferes with the learning that's supposed to be going on. Many teachers spend much of the day just trying to keep the kids in line. Kids think nothing of acting out or talking back to their teachers, practically daring them to try and punish them. They know that there's very little the teachers can actually do. If the teachers do try to punish the kids or confront a behavior problem the child cries foul, claims that they're the victim and their parents rush to support them. Not my Jonny. He wouldn't do anything like that. This teacher must have it in for my little angel.
This is a big part of the problem. Parents enable this bad behavior either through a lack of discipline or outright denial that the behavior exists. Parents today don't discipline their children. They either don't know how or don't have the guts to do it. Or else they buy into this new age crap where we don't want to tell Jonny he's wrong. It might make him feel bad and lower his self-esteem. We don't want to stifle his creativity. We know that when he says "fuck you, I hate you, I wish you were dead" that's just his way of expressing himself.
Many of these kids are disrespectful, uncouth, uncivil little hooligans as a result.
In the case of David Riehm I think it goes a little deeper than that. After reading his stories I think he's quite disturbed. He comes across as a sociopathic personality who is quite manipulative. He tries to place himself as the victim in his story, the poor innocent student being persecuted by an ogre of a teacher who has it in for him. Teacher bad. Me good.
To be able to write a story like "Bowling For Cuntcheson" and turn it in to the teacher it's about shows classic sociopathic and narcissitic behavior. Not only does he lack a conscience, he seems completely unafraid of the possible consequences of his actions. Instead of taking it constructively, Mrs. Amershon's initial criticism only serves to enrage him. In his mind, retaliation is the logical response. I'm gonna get that bitch!
People like that scare me.
The writing itself is completely juvenile and lacks imagination. I can't believe his supporters think he's a talented writer. His initial story " Poor John Redfield" seems more like the kind of story third grade boys tell at recess to try and shock or impress the other boys or gross out the girls. This is creative writing? I'd consider "Eragon"
by Christopher Paolini as an example of creative writing by a teenager.
Parents, it's your responsibility to raise your kids. Teach them right from wrong. Teach them manners. Try to instill in them a set of morals and a conscience. Discipline is important. Punish them if they do wrong. Don't encourage or enable this antisocial behavior.