I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the best weapon against nutters is their own mouths. Jesus T-shirt student William Swinimer was given a chance to peacefully share his views in a dialogue… and look what happened.
The school reached out a hand to William Swinimer, trying to make him understand that if he wanted to share his views, he had to respect the others at the school (more on that in a minute), and… cut to video of father John Swinimer waggling a Bible around as he says he won’t tolerate none o’ that there tolerance, just before he puts William in the car and drives off.
Now, everyone I’ve seen who looked at the story in-depth, including myself, noted that the school officials were making it clear that Swinimer wasn’t suspended for the shirt, he was suspended for being a dick. Given that, most everyone concluded that he deserved it. Now more of the story has come out (and sarcastic bravo to the news media for not figuring this shit out earlier – everyone ran the headline “kid suspended for T-shirt” when the school clearly said he wasn’t), and we find out that Swinimer had been proselytizing and telling students that they would go to hell. Apparently, the students didn’t even care about the T-shirt; the dude was a long-time pain in their asses, and they wanted something done about him for a while.
I want to avoid speculating, but it’s hard to given the lack of information. I suspect one of two things happened. Either the principal had been getting complaints about Swinimer for a while, and simply glommed on to the shirt as something technically solid that ze could finally act on, rather than “he said, she said” reports, or nobody had actually properly [i]complained[/i] about Swinimer [i]until[/i] the T-shirt incident, at which the principal then started hearing about the other crap.
Both situations are problematic for the school. In the first case, you would have had a faculty effectively ignoring complaints about Swinimer for bullying. That’s bad. In the second case, you would have had students who were being bullied, but not reporting it… but that’s also something the faculty should assume responsibility for. It’s their job to create a climate where students know what bullying is, and that they should report it, not simmer over it until something big happens.
Whatever the case, the school screwed up, but to their great credit, they and the board have been handling the situation (since it hit the media) like champs. They’ve owned up to screwing up, and taken steps to handle things right. Good on them. Seriously, rock on. Nobody’s perfect, but the best of us admit our mistakes and try to fix them, and right now, that’s you.
Which… brings us to William Swinimer. Now, a lot of people have taken the “poor kid” position, but I’m not there. I agree that he was psychologically abused in the sense Dawkins talks about, and the mess he is now is a result of that. But he’s no kid. He’s 16 fucking years-old, people. He knows what he’s doing. He’s made his choice. There are a couple hundred other people at that school who deserve a good education in a respectful, civilized environment, and they’re going to have a better chance at getting it now that Swinimer is gone. And that’s Swinimer’s choice. (If you want to argue that it’s his dad’s, I call bullshit. His dad wasn’t the one preaching at other students, telling them they’ll go to hell.)
So it goes. There are lots of lessons to be learned. I’d hope that now the school would be smarter about how to handle these kinds of disruptive wannabe-preachers: carefully document all the complaints, get your ducks in a row, don’t do stupid things like using convenient technicalities to make your job easier, and when you’ve got a clear case of bullying… bring the hammer down. And, make sure that the school environment in general knows how to handle that kind of bullying, so you hear about it when it happens. If you do that, the rest will take care of itself; the crazies will crazy-talk their way right out of public sympathy.