Hell is Other Pupils

by Kieran Healy on February 5, 2004

I love America. Across its vast, extraordinarily diverse area, weird or stupid stuff happens all the time. And the media are usually there to make it into a national story:

A second-grade girl from Pittsburgh was suspended this week from her public elementary school for saying the word “hell” to a boy in her class. But 7-year-old Brandy McKenith says she was only warning the boy about the eternal comeuppance he could face for saying: “I swear to God.”

“I said, ‘You’re going to go to hell for swearing to God,'” Brandy was quoted as saying in an article that appeared on the Web site of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review on Wednesday. School officials were unavailable for comment. A Pittsburgh Public Schools spokeswoman told the newspaper that the student code prohibits profanity but does not provide a clear definition of what profanity is.

Lovely. Possible followups to this story: (1) Little boy also suspended for taking the Lord’s name in vain. (2) School issues statement saying, “It’s all been cleared up: We’ve explained to Brandy and the little boy that we were wrong to suspend them because, of course, Hell doesn’t exist and neither does God.” (3) President Bush issues statement that his No Child Left Behind Act will remedy “the unimaginative nature of profanity found in our public schools today.” (4) Brandy handed additional suspension for violating her school’s strict no-alcohol policy.

Normally I leave stories like this to the Volokhs, who have a sweet tooth for them. But they are busy at the moment trying to convince their readers that, whatever Paul Craig Roberts thinks, U.S. taxpayers are not less free than slaves. Eugene Volokh has devoted about 10,000 words of his fine legal mind to this question, so far. He even wrote up a helpful table outlining the relevant differences between 19th century U.S. slaves and 21st century U.S. taxpayers. I find myself wondering just what you’d have to say to get Eugene to write “Oh piss off, you ignorant little troll.”



Russell Arben Fox 02.05.04 at 11:36 pm

(5) The good and caring folk at the Pittsburgh Public Schools become the approximately 70,000th individual or group in the U.S. to realize that their madly noble attempts to create a neutral, sensitive, wholly humane and inoffensive educational environment has ended up forcing them to play the role of stereotypical conservative blue-noses. Death by embarrassement follows.


Ophelia Benson 02.06.04 at 1:28 am

Well. If I were Ruler I would run a secular school system, and any little dork who told anyone he was going to hell for anything would be summarily expelled.


praktike 02.06.04 at 2:40 am

Well…don’t forget just who owns the Daily Scaife…take any stories from there with a major dose of salt.


Brian Weatherson 02.06.04 at 2:42 am

That’s a little extreme Ophelia.

If you really wanted to be subversive you’d give the child some role models who will according to the standard story be going to hell (e.g. every music, film and sports star we can name), and those who will be going to heaven (e.g. boring people) and let the child decide which group they want to be in. In practice you’d get in a certain amount of trouble for this (not entirely unreasonably if the school system is meant to be religously neutral rather than aggressively secular) but if you were Ruler…


Anno-nymous 02.06.04 at 2:49 am

A little off-topic, but how could one know if the media are usually around? There seems like there might be some selection bias at work — when the media don’t cover a story, you don’t hear about it. I’m just sayin’, is all.


Kevin Drum 02.06.04 at 2:59 am

I’ve been wondering the same thing about Volokh. I mean, I can get sucked into some dumb conversations too, but slaves vs. taxpayers doesn’t seem worthy of my cats’ attention, let alone Eugene’s.

As for the school in Pittsburgh, I would simply raze it and sow the soil with salt. Clearly they have created a hostile environment there that is so entrenched that there is no hope of ever fixing things up.


Kevin Drum 02.06.04 at 3:00 am

I’ve been wondering the same thing about Volokh. I mean, I can get sucked into some dumb conversations too, but slaves vs. taxpayers doesn’t seem worthy of my cats’ attention, let alone Eugene’s.

As for the school in Pittsburgh, I would simply raze it and sow the soil with salt. Clearly they have created a hostile environment there that is so entrenched that there is no hope of ever fixing things up.


Decnavda 02.06.04 at 3:23 am

Sadly, I fear Eugene’s attention IS necessary. Roberts is taken seriously by many on the right, and the “thinking” he represents is common on the right, possibly among much of Eugene’s readership. Some on the right – I’m thinking here not of Eugene but of Tacitus – make a big deal of lefties who do not spend enough time denouncing the worst of the left. Coming from the right, Eugene can crush this stuff better than us on the left, and I’m glad he’s doing so.

I am sickened though that I feel it necessary to defend Eugene’s need to stamp out roaches like Roberts.


msg 02.06.04 at 3:44 am

It’s only like that in Pittsburgh; or only the US; well and South Africa, virtually all Oceania, and big huge chunks of Latin America. And parts of Canada. And parts of Belgium. Romania… Mexico…
And notice how that fundamentalist thing comes filtering up through the p.c. thing.
Having a democracy that politely allows the participation of people who don’t agree that democracy’s a necessary part of public life; politely allowing those people to become a majority power within that democracy; isn’t there a paradox there?

And where would you guys be with all that honed reason if it wasn’t mounted on top of irrational superstition?
Irony has outlived its usefulness. It’s getting yeasty.
The real problem is social decay is climbing toward your dream house and you don’t have anything to hold it back but prionic bits of moral logic.
There’s a difference between those who fight ignorance out of enlightened self-interest, and those who fight for causes outside the self entirely. We’re entering a period when that difference will be made as plain as the difference between politically-correct drones and little rote-speaking cultists is now.
There aren’t any ironic firemen, on the job.


Douglas 02.06.04 at 6:06 am

Couldn’t you talk about the embarassing things in your own country for now?


Doug Muir 02.06.04 at 8:00 am

I’m torn on the Volokh thing. On one hand, as noted, Roberts is taken seriously by a lot of people. OTOH, the statement in question is so breathtakingly idiotic that refuting it truly does seem a waste of his time and ours.

I confess it’s also bugging me a little that he’s so damn polite and respectful about it. I’m not suggesting he start flaming. I do think a certain _de haut en bas_ snarkiness would not be inappropriate, though. He’s responding to a statement that’s both idiotic and offensive; adopting that calm, respectful tone seems to lend his opponent a bit too much dignity IMO.

(Though if one must err, I freely acknowledge that erring on the side of being too polite is the way to go.)

I’m late with my quarterly, BTW. No doubt the IRS will come and whip my back to a raw mass of bleeding flesh, rape my wife, and sell our two-year old down the river to make good.

I mean, cripes.

Doug M.


Chris Bertram 02.06.04 at 12:18 pm

Over at Harry’s Place: more weird stuff from America, “a class action suit alleging injury suffered from the sight of Janet Jackson’s breast”:http://hurryupharry.bloghouse.net/archives/2004/02/06/warning_bare_breasts_may_damage_your_health.php.


Ophelia Benson 02.06.04 at 1:32 pm

Shucks, only a little extreme? I meant to be quite extreme. (But then I should have threatened to sow the kid with salt – I see that now.)


JRoth 02.06.04 at 6:13 pm

No, no, Scaife got it right on this one. Here’s the story from the real newspaper in town:


It is hard to know how this could have spun up to the principal. Pittsburgh is not a puritan town (Calvinist, maybe), and the neighborhood and school are unremarkable. Why would the teacher not have said, “The both of you quiet down, right now.”? Seems like that’s all that was called for, and I’m just wracking my brain for a plausible story, one that would require both teacher and principal to overreact like this. Maybe the other kid broke down sobbing at being told he’d go to hell?

Strange, strange.


ttam117 02.06.04 at 8:26 pm

I think Super-Nintendo Chalmers said it best,
“Take it outside god-boy.”


Mary Kay 02.07.04 at 12:26 am

Possibility #3 made me giggle. Thank for that I needed it. Now if you could just fix it so y’all’s fine blog remembers my information when I ask it to…



bryan 02.07.04 at 10:46 am

it’s like that one song: Thank Hell for little boys.

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