A straight-A student in the Chicago suburbs has been charged with “disorderly conduct” for a homework assignment that his teacher found “violently disturbing.” He did not make any threats in the paper, assigned as an exercise in using poetic conventions, nor did he single out anyone or any place as a target for his anger.

The youth’s father said his son was not suspended or expelled but was forced to attend classes elsewhere for now.

Today, Cary-Grove students rallied behind the arrested teen by organizing a petition drive to let him back in their school. They posted on walls quotes from the English teacher in which she had encouraged students to express their emotions through writing.

The police chief says “disorderly conduct” applies because the teacher was disturbed by the assignment. The ACLU disagrees.

The boy’s last name is “Lee.” I wonder if he’s Asian-American. He doesn’t seem to fit the “weird kid” profile if his classmates are petitioning for his return.

Update: Because of the arrest, the Marines have canceled Lee’s enlistment. Here’s a copy of the essay. If Lee is an A student, standards must be low at his high school. He sounds like a kid suffering from acute senioritis. He tried to get a rise from an inexperienced teacher he didn’t like and is paying a high price.

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  1. wayne martin says:

    There is a picture of Allen Lee at this link:

    He is Asian.

    I doubt that most public school teachers are trained appropriately in such matters. Might be a good idea for Districts to provide resources to school-level teachers to review writings/art/activities such as we see here before the police are called in. It would stand to reason that once the School has moved against a student in such a manner, that there now is a paper trail that could do the student harm in the future, not to mention a police record.

    Certainly writing exercises that might encourage a student to write something that could result in his/her being arrested, expelled, or moved to another school should be rethought also. The teachers/schools have responsibility here too.

    It’s interesting that there are no passages in the news reports of this incident, so that the public can get some idea of what is going on here. Given how insular public teachers can be, it would be instructive to see what actually disturbed this group. Also not mentioned is whether this is the first time such writings have been turned in by this student.

    This situation also calls into question what might happen if a teacher were to come across a student’s personal journal (say on a WEB-site) which contained “disturbing” writings. Should the teacher feel justified in seizing, or copying without permission, the student’s private property to demand the police arrest the student? Without appropriate accountability, teachers could become very oppressive.

    It would seem that Allen Lee’s situation might be only a step or two away from the emergence of a “thought police” – at least in the public school system.

  2. wayne martin says:

    A little more on the Lee case:

    Bernardine Dohrn, director of Northwestern University’s Children and Family Justice Center, laughed when she heard the charge.

    How quickly the media forgets –


    The couple pictured were Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, former leaders of the 1960s’ Weather Underground, America’s first terrorist cult. One of their bombing targets, as it happened, was the Pentagon.

    Not certain if asking a former Weatherman what she thinks about school violence that involves writing exercises adds much to the discussion. Perhaps she might have had a little more to say if the topic had been violence with bombs!

  3. Hmmmm…Well, below, when comments weren’t working, I really tried to make a distinction between what was creative writing and what Cho wrote. I guess I just didn’t read it as artistic darkness, but disturbed. Add what else was going on, I think there were red flags that should have allowed people to make different choices in his regard.

    Now this kid? Of course, we can’t see his writing itself, but again, it sounds disturbed, not artistic to me. BUT in this case, there isn’t a decade of other stuff to add to the mix. And maybe, with this kid, it was a poor choice due to some raw emotions or even just shock value about what all has happened with the VT situation. I think that can be taken in account! Can’t we use some common sense?

    I’m sure we’ll continue hearing stories like this. Kids will continue writing like this because 1) some do, 2) some are disturbed, and 3) it’ll get them extra attention now. Adults are concerned and won’t use common sense so will follow up with some irrational nuttiness probably having good healthy kids lives messed up and kids with problems being overlooked. What a mess.

  4. Absolutely right, Wayne.

    That teacher set him up and sold him out.

    Don’t ask for students to write “anything” if you aren’t prepared for it.

    If you don’t want violence, tell the students not to write it.

    As for the Marine Corps, it’s reassuring to know that they don’t want anyone in their ranks who might imagine or describe violence….

  5. I can’t muster much sympathy for this kid. Based on his paper, he sounds like a grade-A jerk. And that was before I knew whether he was “red, yellow, black, or white.”

    Maybe I’m just cranky this evening.

  6. Cardinal Fang says:

    The teacher tells the kids they can write write “anything they want” as an in-class writing assignment. A senior who is about to become a Marine writes a smart-alecky disjoint mishmash with some violent imagery.

    This must be a surprise only to those who don’t know any teenage boys. If you don’t want smart-alec teenage boys to write “anything they want,” don’t ask them to.

  7. I hadn’t read the “essay” (using the word loosely) until I saw it from the link here. After reading it, I have to say that it’s a steaming pile of manure (as writing), BUT it’s absolutely absurd to claim that it rises to the level of something to have someone arrested for.

    In a lot of ways, it’s a reasonable result of the idea that’s been popular for years that students should be encouraged to write ANYthing they want and that ANYthing is valid as long as it expresses what THEY want to express. It’s a cliche, but it’s true that nobody who learns the rules of writing can know when to break them effectively. So many kids today seem to be taught that there are no rules.

    Even if we ignore that he was apparently told to write ANYTHING he wanted to write, the WORST that he deserves is a failing grade for the assignment. If words like these are enough to get kids arrested, then about half the teen-age boys I know are in line for arrest if a police officer listens to their conversations in public.

    I’m a 46-year-old guy who doesn’t even use profanity, so I’m not just some juvenile who’s looking for a way to approve of his ideas or his word choice. I just think he’s a predictable result of our current culture and education system. It’s hard to see how he won’t prevail in some kind of future civil lawsuit against the teacher, school or police.

  8. Ugh. The second sentence of the second graf in my previous comment should read this way:

    “It’s a cliche, but it’s true that only those who learn the rules of writing can know when to break the rules effectively.”

  9. “In a lot of ways, it’s a reasonable result of the idea that’s been popular for years that students should be encouraged to write ANYthing they want and that ANYthing is valid as long as it expresses what THEY want to express.”

    Is this really an “IDEA” or is it just lazy teaching?

    Students do not need to attend school in order to “write anything.”

  10. //The police chief says “disorderly conduct” applies because the teacher was disturbed by the assignment. //

    Oh wait! Bush disturbs me, as does Michael Richards and deep-fried turkey…Can I get them all arrested?

  11. Miller Smith says:

    The student now has damages. The Marines dumped him for the arrest. If the arrest is found to be unsupported the student has a big big big case against the school system and the police.

    I read the essay. There is NOTHING there that should get anyone arrested.

  12. Okay, now that I’ve had the chance to read the essay, all I can say is Oh my. The kid can’t write, but there is nothing there to warrant dismissal from school, the arrest, or a change in his life course. Absolutely ridiculous. If that teacher is THIS sensitive, she should be working with Kindergarteners, not high schoolers {sigh}. I’m glad the essay was posted because the original article sounded worse to me than what was actually written. I do feel for him. I hope it can all be straightened out.

  13. I didn’t read the essay so I’ll defer to others here who did and who claim that the kid can’t write.

    Yet he’s a straight-A student? His “violent imagery” and wussy teacher do not seem to be the biggest problems at that school.

  14. wayne martin says:

    It’s good that a link to the essay was posted. As others have noted, certainly nothing to be arrested for. However, from reading it, it seems to me that this essay (and essayist) suffered from the lack of “ground rules” for classroom writing submissions. At a very minimum, it would seem that profanity, violence and lurid sexuality would be off-limits. Setting this minimum bar would seem to have given every one a clear sense of what topics would have been unacceptable, leaving everything else in play. Certainly the teacher, the teacher’s supervisor, and any other academic oversight in that school, need review.

    I think that this young man is going to exit high school a little richer than when he entered it.

  15. The Sun Times has a copy of the assignment, copied from a book on free writing. Pertinent guidelines are:

    Write nonstop for a set period of time.
    Do not make corrections as you write.
    Keep writing, even if you have to write something like, “I don’t know what to write.”
    Write whatever comes into your mind.
    Do not judge or censor what you are writing.

    Don’t cross anything out: Write the new idea down; leave the old one.
    Drop all punctuation. That can make your free writing faster and more fluent.


    His problem may be that he followed the assignment to the letter. It’s not a finished piece of work, and it isn’t intended to be. Free writing, as I understand it, is an attempt to write without internal checks, such as a concern for an audience’s reaction.

    I loathe free writing, because I believe it does little to teach writers how to write. One of my junior high school English teachers used it constantly, as a quasi-educational exercise in class, which kept students busy, and freed him to get something else accomplished.

    It may have a use for adult writers, who want to improve their craft, and can write freely in privacy. Setting these ground rules, and then demanding to see the results, is a violation of a student’s trust. Larry Strauss is right. The teacher set him up and sold him out. If her students had all faithfully followed the assignment, many of their essays should have been “disturbing.”

  16. Walter E. Wallis says:

    His one mistake – had he written this about Cheney, he would have been given an A+.

  17. I certainly don’t see anything in the essay that suggests this kid is going to become “another Cho.” This is exactly the kind of stuff a bored, burned-out high school senior would write. He did it just to get a rise out of his teacher – and that’s what happened.

    I think the whole “free writing” thing as an assignment is a bad idea, anyway. Give the kids some kind of topic guidance! My WORST high school essays were the ones where we were given little guidance…my BEST were the ones where we had some kind of “ground rules” to play by.

    “Free writing” may work as a way to get ideas (that is – it is writing not for ‘public consumption’) but it’s kind of pointless as a class assignment.

    I mean – if you’re gonna tell the kids, “Just write about anything, even if you have to write “I don’t know what to write,”” you might as well hand them a can of spray paint and point them to the first blank brick wall.

  18. “I can’t muster much sympathy for this kid. Based on his paper, he sounds like a grade-A jerk.”

    True, but last I checked being a jerk wasn’t a crime, and writing crap wasn’t DOC. Maybe Illinois’ criminal statutes differ dramatically from the Florida ones I prosecute, but they can’t be THAT different.

  19. Richard Aubrey says:

    Cody Webb–late of Hempfield, PA–was put into juvie for twelve days because the morons running his school system hadn’t adjusted the clock on their switchboard to DST, and the state police, presuming more intelligence on the part of public school administrators than is prudent, didn’t check.
    Against all evidence, they figured he’d made a bomb threat.

    And the juvie authorities wanted to make him get a mental evaluation because he wouldn’t admit it.

    My suggestion is, in addition to huge sums of money from the school system in general and certain Peter Principle principles in particular, that Webb be allowed to wear a tee shirt proclaiming “Hempfield School Administrators are IDIOTS!!!” for the rest of the year.

    But he’s being homeschooled and the ‘crats at Hempfield are at a loss as to why.

  20. This goes to show how shallow, low teachers can get. I hope this comes to no surprise for those that know how much the US is failing our children.


  1. […] one of Joanne Jacobs commenters said, Lee’s writing is a steaming pile of manure. Here are the guidelines for the […]

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