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Imagining Danger: ‘America’s Worst Mom’ on Overreaction

Is America prone to overreaction? Are our schools imagining danger when they treat toaster pastries like a gun or a joke between friends as racial harassment?

In FIRE’s latest video, Lenore Skenazy, founder of the Free-Range Kids movement, argues that too often we exaggerate the potential for danger when pushing “zero tolerance” rules in elementary schools or passing speech codes on college campuses.

Skenazy gained national attention in 2008 after she wrote a column for The New York Sun about her experience letting her nine-year-old son use the New York City subway alone. He survived unscathed, but Skenazy did not—she found herself labeled “America’s worst mom.” Since then, Skenazy has worked to help parents realize that their children are not in constant danger and deserve—and indeed need—some independence.

In an interview recorded at last summer’s FIRE Student Network Conference, Skenazy describes some of the most absurd overreactions at schools across the country. One of the most bizarre incidents involved a second grader who bit his Pop-Tart into an “L” shape and was suspended because his teacher thought it resembled a gun.

“When people can’t see the difference between a toaster pastry and a gun, there is something wrong with society,” said Skenazy about the case.

Skenazy explains that FIRE and Free-Range Kids have similar missions: They both fight the idea that young people are always in danger and extreme precautions need to be taken to ensure that they are safe.

“It’s the idea that kids are in such danger that we are hallucinating it everywhere,” said Skenazy.

Skenazy and her Free-Range Kids movement are the subject of an article in next week’s New Yorker. Skenazy’s reality television series, World’s Worst Mom, premiered on the Discovery Life channel last month.

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