THE TOY BOX DILEMMA

Public News (Houston) - - FRONT PAGE - by Par­ish Con­kling

Let’s try a thought ex­per­i­ment.

Imag­ine that you are a Kinder­garten teacher. You have roughly thirty stu­dents be­tween the ages of five and six, from a va­ri­ety of so­cio-eco­nomic back­grounds, and with var­i­ous levels of ma­tu­rity. You sus­pect that a few may have some learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, but it is too early to come to a con­crete de­ci­sion. For some time now, th­ese stu­dents have been in­ter­act­ing with the toys in the cen­ters and with each other in a more or less peace­ful fash­ion. Over the past few weeks, how­ever, a few of the chil­dren have be­gun us­ing one of the toys in a way which leads to other chil­dren be­ing harmed. You have spo­ken to the chil­dren about the cor­rect way to use the toy, and have ex­plained the dan­gers of us­ing the toy in­cor­rectly, yet the prob­lem per­sists and other chil­dren in the class­room are now be­ing harmed by the toy on a near daily ba­sis. This is the only toy that is be­ing mis­used in this way and af­ter more in­juries, you de­cide that you should re­move the toy from the class­room un­til the chil­dren are able to use it re­spon­si­bly.

You are im­me­di­ately in­un­dated with calls from par­ents chal­leng­ing this de­ci­sion. They in­sist that their chil­dren are able to use the toy prop­erly, and should not be pun­ished due to the ac­tions of oth­ers. You ex­plain that you are try­ing to en­sure the safety of all the chil­dren in the class­room, and are open to sug­ges­tions on how best to achieve this goal. Af­ter some back and forth, three so­lu­tions ap­pear as the most pop­u­lar:

1) Re­move the toy en­tirely as the po­ten­tial for harm is too great.

2) Al­low all the chil­dren the op­por­tu­nity to have their own toy which causes harm if used in­cor­rectly, with the un­der­stand­ing that if they use it to harm another, they may be harmed in re­turn.

3) Iden­tify which chil­dren seem to be un­able to use the toy safely and ei­ther keep them away from the toy al­to­gether, or al­low them to use the toy only un­der su­per­vi­sion.

None of th­ese op­tions are prob­lem free. The first calls for a com­plete pro­hi­bi­tion of the toy un­til it can be used prop­erly by all the chil­dren. The sec­ond calls for an in­crease in ac­cess and avail­abil­ity to the toy, un­der the as­sump­tion that by mak­ing the chil­dren aware of the pos­si­bil­ity of re­tribu­tive harm, we will elim­i­nate the threat. The third calls for in­creased vet­ting of the chil­dren who will be al­lowed the use the toy which will take up more of your time and re­sources and will likely be a lengthy process. There may be other, bet­ter op­tions that have yet to be made clear, but for now this is what you are faced with. In our sce­nario we are for­tu­nate since the one thing all con­cerned agree with is that the present sit­u­a­tion is prob­lem­atic and a so­lu­tion needs to be dis­cov­ered.

I will now leave the toys and tots to their teacher and re­veal what you likely ex­pected all along, that our thought ex­per­i­ment is re­lated to an is­sue that is likely to cause an emo­tional re­ac­tion that may stand in the way of a ra­tio­nal, rea­soned re­sponse, that of gun con­trol. Though we may feel emo­tion­ally vested when dis­cussing gun con­trol, we likely have no such in­ter­est in a group of imag­i­nary chil­dren and their prob­lem­atic toy. This is the ben­e­fit of a thought ex­per­i­ment. It re­moves our per­sonal in­volve­ment in a spe­cific topic and al­lows us to view it more ob­jec­tively. Of course dan­ger­ous toys and par­ents may be eas­ier to deal with than leg­isla­tive changes, if I done my job, we should all at least agree that the con­ver­sa­tion is long over­due.

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