School: No Superhero Lunchboxes Allowed

A school ban on “violent images” means no superhero images are permitted either.

I don’t particularly like Wonder Woman’s outfit, nor am I really happy with the pagan background attributed to the comic book superhero. But one could easily see that the image might be empowering to a young girl.

What would not be empowering is to have a school bureaucrat tell her that she is not permitted to bring the superhero lunchbox to school.

At the National Review Jonah Goldberg reports, “A School’s Rationale for Banning Superhero Lunchboxes Couldn’t Be More Morally Confused.”

A little girl named Laura was sent home with a note because she had brought a Wonder Woman lunchbox to school. (The website the Mary Sue first reported the story, from a post on the social-media site Imgur.) In the letter addressed to Laura’s parents, the school explained:

“The dress code we have established requests that the children not bring violent images into the building in any fashion — on their clothing (including shoes and socks), backpacks and lunchboxes. We have defined “violent characters” as those who solve problems using violence. Superheroes certainly fall into that category.”

What is funny about Goldberg’s story is that it is illustrated with a Wonder Woman lunchbox that has the word, “POW!,” on it, inside a puff bubble. It is the kind of graphic that would be used to illustrate a punch that landed in a comic book frame.

[See also, “Massachusetts Educrat Loses Mind over Students’ Hobby.”]

But the real lunchbox was not even that “violent.” Here is the offensive contraband that must not be brought onto school property:

wonder woman 1

wonder woman 2

These images were posted at the Mary Sue, which seems to be a rather Left-leaning site. Nevertheless, even though I think a ban on a superhero in combat is stupid, commenter Teresa Jusino’s evaluation was quite insightful:

What concerns me more than a little girl being deprived of the chance to pay homage to a worthy fictional role model is the idea that “violent images,” “violent characters,” and “superheroes” are all conflated without context. I understand not wanting to have violent images in a school around children. And if the offending lunchbox had Wonder Woman in a fight (or if other superhero lunchboxes actually featured, say, Iron Man shooting someone with his repulsor blasts, or Superman punching someone), this would make a whole lot more sense.

But this lunchbox has a picture of Wonder Woman’s face on one side, and on the other a full-body picture of her flying while extolling her beauty and wisdom. Two very non-violent qualities. What’s more, she’s holding her Lasso of Truth, which she never uses as a weapon.

However, even more nonsensical is their blanket ban on “violent characters” who “solve problems using violence,” when anyone who’s ever actually picked up a comic book knows that most superheroes 1) turn to violence as a last resort, and usually in self-defense, or when the lives of others are in danger, 2) don’t want to kill anyone, and 3) often have other skills that make them so “super” and are worth looking up to (Batman’s power of deduction, Superman’s belief in humanity, Wonder Woman’s love of peace).

It’s sad to me that, whenever children are concerned, rather than actually engaging with the material – or with the children themselves – when determining what’s best for them or not, adults in positions of power too often take the easy way out, creating blanket bans rather than respecting children enough to deal in ideas and provide them with context.

I think Jusino is pointing out a common problem among moral censors—they don’t even know what they are censoring. In the end their decisions show that they care more about exercising power over others and feeling like they are “doing something” rather than actually doing what they claim. A teacher who really didn’t want violent images would have made a point of praising the lunchbox precisely because it was not violent. That would have been far more effective than the ban she enforced. It would have also made boys and girls in her class think about all the other skills that their superheroes use. If children had then talked to their parents and selected lunchboxes that illustrated those qualities, the lesson would have been learned even more deeply.

So there was a real opportunity to educate here that was destroyed by the impulse to ban.

Even so, a ban on “violence” is stupid. Goldberg writes about a ban on the category of violence:

You know who else falls into that category? George Washington and all the Founding Fathers. It also includes Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and every other U.S. president, including Barack Obama. (He solved the problem of Osama bin Laden with SEAL Team Six.) One needn’t get too provocative, but the Hebrew and Muslim prophets and even Jesus saw violence as a solution to at least some problems. (Just ask the money-changers in the temple.)

I have no idea if the school in question has a security guard or police officer on the premises, but I am sure that the parents would very much like someone equipped to solve some violent problems with violence should the need arise.

That’s because violence is a tool. It’s not a good tool — in the moral sense — nor is it a bad tool. Surgery to save a life is laudable. Surgery to inflict pain is torture. A hammer can smash in someone’s skull, or it can build a house. To say that all kinds of violence are equally bad isn’t high-minded morality; it is amoral nihilism wrapped in a kind of gauzy, brain-dead sanctimony.

At this level then, the school isn’t educating students. It is doing the opposite. It is actively trying to confuse them morally and prevent them from learning basic ethical concepts that civilization cannot survive without. I say this as someone who often disagrees with Jonah Goldberg’s ideas about what constitutes legitimate violence in foreign policy. But he is obviously right that teaching complete pacifism is immoral. More than that, it is a lie. Parents will protect their children with violence if they have to. Parents are often their children’s superheroes (when their children are very young, anyway).

So let the school be consistent: ban children from bringing pictures of fathers and mothers into the classroom.

Or better yet, stop being immoral sociopaths and give up the ban on “violence.”