Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Patrick McLaw and the Terror of Words

This story crossed my feeds today and scared the living crap out of me. Short version: author Patrick McLaw also works as a middle school teacher. He wrote two books set in the United States two hundred years in the future, dealing with a pair of school shootings. When school board officials found out about this, Mr. McLaw was put on administrative leave and taken in by the police for an emergency psychiatric evaluation, while the police searched the school for bombs and guns and came up empty. He's also been banned from county and school district properties.

Another story. In high school I wrote a short story for my school's literary magazine. The story involved two friends blowing up a chihuahua-focused dog show. It was a dumb comedy, really a rip off of Mark Twain's story Tom Quartz, in which a cat gets blown up in a mine shaft. I don't know where the chihuahuas came from. I expect if I read it now I'd be happy with the voice and nothing else.

The story was published without incident, and a few months later the Columbine shooting happened. A few days after that, I was called in to see my guidance counselor, who asked me a few questions about the story and myself to make sure I wasn't planning to shoot up the school. Luckily I was an AP student with no history of misbehavior, and that was the end of it. (Nobody really knew I played video games, including Doom II, all the time at home.)

Now, all that happened to me was I got talked to for a few minutes, and it was still one of the scariest experiences of my high school career. I was worried I could be suspended, maybe even expelled.

Today, that would be the least of my concerns. I would be immediately escorted off school property, temporarily if I were lucky, and handed over to the police. I'd be charged with issuing threats and almost certainly end up in court, with the full weight of the local legal system gunning for me. Saying that I was ripping off a story from the 1800s to practice my writing and had no intention of doing anything wrong would be no defense. I would be doomed and damned, my education cut short and quite possibly locked away for years.

Patrick McLaw wrote two books and self-published them. He did not write a manifesto, or a lunatic chatroom screed. He wrote two pieces of fiction and sought to sell them for money. So far as anyone knows that's the extent of his crime. He was nominated for Teacher of the Year and helped a student self-publish his work on Amazon. There is no hint in the stories I've read that he had a truly violent impulse in his body. Yet he's been banished from his workplace and detained, while police stand by in his district's schools to make sure he doesn't come back.

I understand the need to prevent school shootings. I don't see how throwing a respectable teacher onto the street does that. I'm relieved, and sick, to think of what could have happened to me. And I'm terrified to think of what could happen to my son in a few years, in an environment where even pointing a finger and saying "Bang" can get you suspended or expelled.

Mr. McLaw's book, The Insurrectionist, is still available on Amazon. It wouldn't be a terrible idea to give it a look; at the moment I have no idea what else can be done to help the man. But I wish him better luck than he's had so far.

Correction: Police searched the school, not Mr. McLaw's home. This post has been corrected.

Correction again: As of yesterday afternoon police have searched Mr. McLaw's home.

19 comments:

Ey Wade said...

Being an author myself, this is scary to read. So, as of yesterday's update there is nothing found on this man. No police record, no registered or illegal guns or activities, nothing. Someone says he has maps of schools as if that makes him crazy- teachers are given those.
He's in hiding. I would be too if a village started chasing me with pitchforks and archaic notions-books and authors should be banned in case their ideas are manifested. Too late on that, school shooting are things from which books are written, not the other way around.
Amazing how you can go from being teacher of the year to being a man without a country.
More should be reported or this mess just looks like a witch hunt with a little color twist thrown in. As of now, they have just ruined this man's life forever. He'll never be able to live a normal life. http://www.wmdt.com/story/26387570/update-police-search-home-of-suspended-dorchester-co-teacher

Anonymous said...

fyi... i am a local and parent.... there was a mental issue that had him resigning from delmar high school and moved to another county. he DOES have a medical back ground stemming from a messed up child hood. the episode in delmar is what brought his books into question....

Anonymous said...

Boy, do rumors run rampant..I personally believe he may have used poor judgment, not realizing the market for his fiction was not prepared to acknowledge that it is just that, fiction, set in a future 900 years from now.

If the mental issue was in any way serious, he would not have been allowed to teach anywhere, not moved to another county so they could deal with him. Please, stop and think!

This should have been handled in-house with intelligent parents, staff and community to discuss the implications of such fiction. We have not heard from Patrick McLaw himself which is unfortunate.

Donna Belliveau said...

I actually thought it may have been a race issue, given the Sheriff is old and white, and the teacher is young and black, and there is nothing else found online to litigate that he would be a threat. He did change his birth name from Beale to McLaw, however, that could for any reason, including separating himself from his bad past. But, to my dismay and shock.. no one saw what I saw. I was a student of SK when he started writing. Can you imagine what would have happened to him in this day and age?

Donna Belliveau said...

And yes, I am on Chapter 2 of his book. It's a very difficult read, as it's placed in the future with nothing as we know it, from a police officer's point of view, and told in present tense.

Anonymous said...

I worked with Patrick and he is an amazing teacher. He is a kind, gentle compassionate man who always has the best interest of his students first. He would have been an excellent asset to the teaching profession. I have also read his first book. It is fiction, set well in the future and it is difficult to read. Not because of the violence , but because it is a first novel and it has room for improvement. If all the authors would be put though the Spanish Inquisition for the books they wrote, I would have no books to read. Everyone from James Patterson to Beatrix Potter would be locked up.

David said...

I think today Carrie would have gotten Stephen King fired, if he wasn't able to quit first. Certainly Rage, a story about a school shooting King is still trying to stuff back into the bottle, would not have been well received while he was teaching.

Anyway. Barring some history of actual violence on Mr. McLaw's part, this still strikes me as a gross overreaction. It's also entirely in keeping with policies that suspend grade schoolers for doodling guns out of boredom.

According to a press release from the Dorchester County superintendent of schools, Mr. McLaw is on administrative leave for the duration of the investigation. I do hope he keeps his job, assuming he still wants it.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone on the school board or in law enforcement actually read the book?

Johnson Underwood said...

I remember being pulled into the office the day after Columbine too.
And this story scares me too.
As far as I can tell (without buying and reading the book) the story is about people trying to STOP another massacre.
And anyway, when I was in school and they asked us why we were happy and proud to be American, my go-to was that the MADE-UP STUFF I WRITE ABOUT WON'T GET ME LOCKED UP.
I'm looking into this, to see if there is anything we can do. I will let you know if I find.

Phill Evans said...

In most civilised schools, having a (even self-)published author on the faculty, one made "famous" for facilitating the talent of a pupil would be a matter of pride. In America it is a cause for anti-intellectual, anti-creative witch hunt.

Does anyone know if the creative community is doing anything to make Mr McLaw's situation more public and his continued "psychiatric" incarceration impossible?

Donna Belliveau said...

Stephen King's "Carrie" was released in 1974. He was my substitute teacher in 1982. Still teaching. Still writing. I honestly feel this is a blatant violation of free speech in my opinion. I have 3 school aged kids in a medium-violent city. (Reports are weekly on the TV), and yet, I would still be honored to have someone like Mr. McLaw teach my children.

John Bear Ross said...

This story is like viewing a descent into madness.

Good post. I came across it via a Google search.

Some of my own thoughts on the matter...

http://johnbearross.blogspot.com/2014/08/1984-lurches-ever-closer-ugly.html

Best,
JBR

Loree Westron said...

As a writer and an educator, I find this whole incident very frightening. Are writers (and other 'creatives') to allow our employers to dictate what we can and cannot create? This whole situation seems to have gotten completely out of control. Perhaps he does have a 'messed up childhood' (many of us do) but so what? Is there any evidence that Mr McLaw is mentally unstable? If there is, then fine. Deal with him with regard to whatever legitimate evidence there may be that causes concern. But to jeopardize a young man's future career in this way on such flimsy 'evidence' is completely unjustified.

Loree Westron said...

Mr. McLaw has an author's Facebook page with links to his two books on Amazon. As of this morning when I first heard about this story, he had only 27 'likes' on the FB page. It might give him a bit of moral support if and when he is able to access it again if people 'like' his page and buy his books. His author's Facebook page can be found under the name Northern Imperial Publishing, and the pen name Dr. K.S. Voltaer: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Northern-Imperial-Publishing/298734283509154

Kleinzeit said...

There's a petition up. Please consider signing it.
https://www.change.org/p/dr-henry-wagner-language-teacher-treated-like-a-psychotic-criminal-for-writing-a-sci-fi-story-issue-a-full-and-public-apology-to-patrick-mclaw-and-reinstate-him

Marcwolf said...

Well - considering this
http://www.nbc12.com/story/26319685/cops-summerville-high-school-student-arrested-after-writing-threatening-message-on-assignment

Where a student was arrested because he became abusive after being questioned and forced to rewrite his assignment. He wrote that he had shot his neighbours dinosaur. The school contacted police who searched his locker and questioned him re guns. I think that anyone with common sense being asked to justify what was clearly fiction WOULD get angry.
But.....

Anonymous said...

Regarding petitions...why provide sensible feedback to the reported authority that set this off --

Henry V. Wagner, Jr., Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools
wagnerh@dcpsmd.org
410-228-4747, ext. 1002

FROM: http://www.dcps.k12.md.us/index.html

Kleinzeit said...

Anonymous... Is that a question? A suggestion?

David said...

Thanks for the comments, folks. Some more details have come out, I posted an update here.