It’s interesting that this represented a major transgression in those innocent days. We had no drug problems of which I was aware. We had incorrigible kids, but no gangs. We did not worry about a shooter mowing us down, although the occasional atomic bomb was a concern. So the eraser toss was a significant juvenile crime. Today the police might be called. Back then punishment was applied locally.
The teacher, as you might imagine, was not pleased. She demanded a name. The culprit was to be revealed. Memory loss swept the room. Actually, I think very few of us knew who was responsible. There was no response to her demands.
Had the perpetrator been discovered, the punishment would have been after school detention. Since no one could pinpoint the evil doer, our teacher decreed the entire class should remain beyond normal school hours.
The entire class! We all were to be punished because of what one person did. I suppose there was some justice there, since no one was willing to squeal. But it still seemed wrong. And it still does. I call it the Fourth Grade Syndrome.
The Fourth Grade Syndrome remains popular. The story, true or not, of someone on welfare driving a Cadillac justifies attempts to censure everyone on welfare. One person, or even a threat of one, committing voter fraud generates a crackdown on huge groups of legitimate voters. A small number of thieves in department stores triggers extra security on a single class of citizens.
One runs into the Fourth Grade Syndrome in a variety of situations. Keep watch for when it appears and recognize it for what it is. Then search for the reasoning behind its application. With all the examples I can conjure where I think its use in inappropriate, it is a method for achieving and/or maintaining power.
At one point I would have declared that the Syndrome has no validity at any time. But as so often happens as I age, I find there are few good rules, that is, rules that work all the time.
There are situations where I find the Syndrome to be beneficial for maximizing the public good.
For example, very few of the millions of passengers that board planes carry bombs or guns or box cutters. But some do, and permitting that to happen can have devastating results. So we all must be punished, and most of us understand. Thus, we endure the annoyance, cost and lost time of security checks in order to feel comfortable entrusting our lives to a hunk of heavy material that can leave the ground under the guidance of highly trained individuals.
A less publicly accepted use of the Syndrome is the requirement of a background check before one is allowed to purchase a firearm. The number of abusers of firearms is huge, as attested to by the proliferation of tens of thousands of murders, accidents and suicides by gun every year. While this is small compared to the total number of gun owners in our country, it is not as insignificant as the number of plane bombers. So, yes, it’s reasonable the Syndrome should be employed, and all potential purchasers should be “punished” by having to undergo a background check (not a very severe punishment, I might add). The debate is out there, but I come down strongly on the side of universal checks because it benefits the public. Most of our citizenry agrees.
I’ve tried to gain an understanding of when it’s reasonable to institute the Syndrome and when it is not, and I have no solid answers.
It seems to me it’s okay if the public’s well-being is enhanced, all are inconvenienced equally, and there is general acceptance of its benefits.
And it appears to be as wrong as it can be when its motivation is gaining and keeping power.