Reader’s Digest recently published an article by Michael Crowley titled “That’s Outrageous: No Mercy, Kid!” The subtitle states: “In the name of ‘zero tolerance,’ our schools are treating innocent children like criminals.” In this article, Crowley talks about a Boy Scout who is punished because he left his pocketknife in his jacket pocket after a meeting, accidentally taking it to school the next day. His punishment? 45 days suspension and a transfer to an alternative school for juvenile offenders. Additionally, he sites various instances where students are suspended – and sometimes jailed – for offenses that might warrant discipline, but not to such an extreme.
Zero tolerance is a wonderful policy, in theory; however, in reality, life is seldom so clean cut. When a zero tolerance policy is implemented, this does not give the school administration the leeway to throw common sense out the window.
I decided to check into my own state’s experience with zero tolerance in the schools. I found a kindergartener who was suspended for sexual harassment when he kissed a female classmate on the cheek, a second grader who was suspended for bringing a plastic knife in his lunch box to cut the meat in his lunch, and a few fourth grade girls who were suspended for “fanning” their tops after getting overheated when they were outside playing (they were accused of flashing other students, even though all but one was wearing a training bra and no students reported seeing even this much).
In direct opposition to the current zero tolerance policy, the state of South Carolina is attempting to pass a bill that will allow concealed weapons to be carried on school campus. The logic? That security officers, teachers, and administrators can have easy access to a weapon in order to stop the perpetrator of such a tragedy. My response is, “What?” How many times do we have to read about people who shot the wrong person when trying to defend themselves or incidents where guns have been taken from victims and used on them before we realize that this is sick logic? If the administrator, teacher or security officer is shot and killed, the shooter has just been provided with an additional weapon and ammunition. It was suggested that the bill be modified to state that the weapons could be on campus as long as they were locked in the owner’s vehicle. And this benefits how? If I am in the library and my car is parked in a lot across campus, when a man with a gun enters the library, am I going to teleport my weapon into my hand? Sorry, haven’t learned that skill yet.
From one extreme to another, we are continually leaving out the most important factor of discipline whether in the public schools or at home – common sense. The student who throws up on his teacher’s shoes needs to be sent to the school nurse, not the principal’s office. When Johnny yells, “I’m gonna get you!” at the class bully, the teacher needs to intervene and get to the root of the problem, not consider this a death threat and notify the police. Don’t spout to me the inane comments of, “We have to treat all the kids the same way. We have to follow the policy to the letter.” Nothing is ever “black and white” except words on paper. Life is shades of gray. That is why we were endowed with common sense and sent out to obtain book smarts. Before we buy into the “letter of the law” in zero tolerance policies, let’s ask ourselves, “Do we feel lucky?”