Careful With That Essay:

The Chicago Tribune reports:

A Cary-Grove High School student charged with disorderly conduct for writing a violently descriptive class essay had received an assignment that said: "Write whatever comes to your mind. Do not judge or censor what you are writing." ...

[Allen] Lee's English teacher, Nora Capron, and school officials found the senior's stream-of-consciousness writing so alarming that they turned it over to Cary police, who arrested him Tuesday morning while he was walking to school.

Carroll said the complaint against Lee quotes his essay as saying: "Blood, sex and booze. Drugs, drugs, drugs are fun. Stab, stab, stab, stab, stab, s ... t ... a ... b ..., puke. So I had this dream last night where I went into a building, pulled out two P90s and started shooting everyone, then had sex with the dead bodies. Well, not really, but it would be funny if I did."

According to Carroll, another passage said, "as a teacher, don't be surprised on inspiring the first CG shooting."

Carroll said the two misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct in the amended complaint filed Thursday refer to both passages....

Lee's essay, written in class Monday, also refers to lyrics from a song by the band Green Day and violent images from a Super Mario Bros. video game, according to Jamie Emling, a close friend of Lee's who is in the same creative-writing class....

It may well be quite reasonable for a high school to look closely at someone who writes this sort of essay, and even suspend him while they're evaluating him. Sometimes off-the-cuff writing, even seemingly fictional writing, may offer a window into what someone is really thinking. Writing such material in high schools — or even colleges — these days is also pretty poor judgment.

But it seems to me that treating the essay as a criminally punishable threat, especially when it's written as a response to a writing assignment that expressly calls on people to write unpolished, unthought-through, and quite possibly fictional prose, is rather an overreaction, even despite the most troubling element of the essay, "as a teacher, don't be surprised on inspiring the first CG shooting." It's also probably an unconstitutional overreaction, as the Wisconsin Supreme Court held in the very similar In re Douglas D. (2001) (though see, for a different result on somewhat different facts, In re George T., 126 Cal.Rptr.2d 364 (Cal. App. 2002)). That someone's speech bears investigation, or even school discipline, doesn't mean that it ought to be criminally punished.