"Zero Tolerance" Still Making Zero Sense

Who'd a thunk that idiotic zero-tolerance policies would have hung around longer than Saved by the Bell? The Wash Times reports from the frontlines of one of the longest-running and losingest battle in American schools:

Fifth-graders in California who adorned their mortarboards with tiny toy plastic soldiers last week to support troops in Iraq were forced to cut off their miniature weapons. A Utah boy was suspended for giving his cousin a cold pill prescribed to both students. In Rhode Island, a kindergartner was suspended for bringing a plastic knife to school so he could cut cookies.

Personally, I think if the Rhode Island kid can't break the cookies with his teeth or a textbook--or maybe a circular saw in shop class--he probably doesn't deserve them. Still, here are some chilling, if outdated, stats:

A 1997 survey of more than 1,200 public schools by the U.S. Department of Education found that 79 percent had zero-tolerance policies against violence, 88 percent for drugs, 91 percent for weapons and 94 percent for firearms.

Such stats, of course, miss the greatest zero tolerance policy of all, in force since at least Huck Finn's time: Zero tolerance of learning.

More here.

reason stuff on zero tolerance here. recall especially "zero tolerance for silly pictures" and "principal stalin."

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  • NP||

    Oh, c'mon Nick. Have you considered that the kid may have cavities or, I don't know, be toothless? How do you feel now?

  • ||

    But, but, the parents have been screaming for zero-tolerance policies. Just not for their own child. Cuz he's just a "good kid". "Never brought any weapon to school before this time."

  • thoreau||

    What I want to know is whether parents actually support this shit, or are simply too apathetic to do anything.

    You'd think that enough pissed off parents at a school board meeting could get the policy changed.

  • ||

    I'm just impressed at Bagge's brazen piracy of Sponge Bob.

  • ||

    They need to rename these policies "human sacrifice policies" because that is really what they are. The schools don't work. The kids are getting a lousy education. Further, there really isn't much to do to prevent the odd kid from going berserk and killing someone. That kind of thing is a part of life, even the 1950s had Chalres Starkweather. Yet, people still feel the need to "do something". What do they do? Have these zero tolerence policies and take the kindergartner and suspend him for having a plastic knife. It is the same kind of thinking that caused "more primative people" to sacrifice animals when the crops went bad.

  • stuartl||

    What I want to know is whether parents actually support this shit, or are simply too apathetic to do anything.

    thoreau, the answer is c) Need more sleep.

  • ||

    Are none of you familiar with Spork-Fu, the ancient art of plastic utensil combat? Why, I think they should institute a policy of Negative Ten Tolerance--just to be safe.

  • ||

    While I sort of agree that zero tolerance policies are a crummy idea, this seems like just another case of the market at work - parents who don't like the policies are free to send their kids to a school that doesn't have them. Their popularity indicates that parents for the most part do support these policies.

  • ||

    Anyone who can't tell the difference between a gun and a plastic toy facsimile of a gun is too goddamned stupid to have anything to do with instructing children.

    -jcr

  • ||

    parents who don't like the policies are free to send their kids to a school that doesn't have them.

    The public school system is hardly an example of the "market at work". And if you think that most parents can just "send their kids to a school that doesn't have them," you obviously don't have kids in school.

  • ||

    thoreau,

    There is an emotional whirlwind that takes place when these issues are discussed in meetings involving parents - which causes rationality to fly out the window.

    When I was in high-school, despite the actual lack of alcohol related accident sinvolving students, a MADD parent introduced a no-serving alcohol pledge at a PTA meeting. She wanted all parents to sign a pledge declaring that they would not serve their children any alcohol.

    Having lived overseas for many years in a culture where parents routinely give their kids alcohol without state interference, my parents thought the rule silly. So my mother refused to sign the pledge. She was the lone holdout.

    She pointed out that it was already illegal, she asked whether parents wanted their children to learn how to drink alcohol from them or from "friends" in a situation where there was no adult supervision.

    She faced a withering firestorm of denunciations from a small group of parents. The attacks were mitigated by the public knowledge that my father had only a few months before had been seriously injured and nearly crippled by a drunk driver thus affording my mother "victim" status. Some of them publicly questioned whether or not my mother should be investigated by the police on the suspicion that she was giving alcohol to me and my brother.

    The attacks only ended when the MADD member's son was arrested, in her house, for a party he was hosting where there was a great deal of underage drinking. It seems that the moment his parents left town, he unlocked the liquor cabinet and threw a party.

    What is interesting is that until the MADD member was so humiliated, most parents were unwilling to stand up to them. Many parents were privately supportive of mine; they felt the whole pledge thing was a silly waste of time, and a significant portion of them also agreed that continuing alcohol prohibition for children was not a great idea. But in public, these private supporters stayed silent.

    I am convinced it was the threat of being investigated and having their children taken away that made them so.

    I think a very similar dynamic is in place with guns at schools. The days when kids would stow rifles in their lockers and go out hunting after school are long behind us. Any parent who speaks up against a zero-tolerance policy, has to be fearful of whether or not a) he or she will have their parenting called into question, including calls to CPS, and b) being blamed should an someone get hurt from the zero-tolerance policy.

  • thoreau||

    These policies are probably due to a confluence of:

    1) A few squeaky wheel parents
    2) A few insanely risk averse administrators
    3) A bunch of parents who are too apathetic to oppose them (until their own kid gets caught up in the system)

    I suspect that the same confluence of factors could operate in a private school as well. But I don't know the extent to which it happens in private schools. Is there any data on this sort of thing in private schools? Or at least a compilation of nasty anecdotes? (Yes, I realize that the plural of anecdote is not data, but it's a place to start.)

  • thoreau||

    My last post was before I saw tarran's.

  • ||

    Oh BTW, I attended a private school.

  • ||

    Also worth noting is that according to the article there are thousands of schools with such policies in place, yet the obviously ridiculous enforcement situations can be counted on perhaps two hands.

    Even some of those cited examples are a stretch - it's not unreasonable to rule that students cannot give one another their prescription medications.

    That's why people aren't up in arms about these policies. For the most part they probably work well and are enforced fairly.

  • ||

    parents who don't like the policies are free to send their kids to a school that doesn't have them

    Dan, on occasion you can contribute something useful to the conversation. This isn't one of those times. Education is not quite a free market because 1) the government requires you to provide it for your children; 2) the government provides free education, so competing schools have to add a lot of value to compete with the price of "free."

    Now if I can provide the contrarian voice. I saw zero tolerance work in the schools where I was a special education counselor. Prior to the advent of zero tolerance, the administration meted out punishments with no dicernible policy. One kid would assault a teacher and get a slap on the wrist, while calling nasty names might merit a suspension. With zero tolerance, the kids finally had some boundaries set for them.

    In general, I'd favor some administrative discretion. But zero tolerance works better than the persistent abuse of discretion.

  • ||

    As time goes by, we run our public schools more and more like we run our prisons.

  • Sal Paradise||

    Abdul, you're honestly trying to explain free markets to Dan T.? You'd be better off trying to explain a card trick to a dog.

  • ||

    Read this and wonder no longer why parents might refrain from questioning any of the many party lines.

  • Becoming Dan T.||

    A little sand in your watch won't hurt it much.

  • ||

    Dan, on occasion you can contribute something useful to the conversation. This isn't one of those times. Education is not quite a free market because 1) the government requires you to provide it for your children; 2) the government provides free education, so competing schools have to add a lot of value to compete with the price of "free."

    I'll grant you that it's not truly a free market, but the point remains that if you don't like the rules at your local public school you are free to send your kids to a private school or homeschool them.

    Also, since public schools have policies that are set by the public, it stands to reason that most members of the public are fine with such policies, otherwise there would be a rush come election time to choose school board members that promise to do away with them.

    I think what it comes down to is that most parents realize that drugs and weapons are pretty sensitive issues and that you have to be careful not to send your kid to school with anything that could be construed as contraband. And I really do think that the absurd examples listed in the blog post are probably exceptions and not the rule.

  • ||

    The mission of the public schools is to teach submission and obedience. The primary lesson to be learned is that any order by any figure of authority, no matter how inane or pointless or counterproductive, must be followed without question.

  • ||

    tarran -
    I completely agree. It's the lynch-mob/Spanish inquisition/Salem witch trials quality of society that keeps such oppressive policies in place. Everyone wants to appear to be hard on something so that they, themselves, will not be accused of it. Libertarians get beef for this all the time by not being for all kinds of policies which are supposed to only do good. The immediate (and illogical) conclusion that is almost always reached is that the person who opposes the policy in fact wants the opposite of what the policy is supposed to achieve.

  • M||

    you are free to send your kids to a private school or homeschool them

    ...with the money refunded to you by the State when it stopped forcing you to pay for its schoolz. Uh-huh.

  • ||

    Wow Terran, that is a very interesting story. People never seem to change. There are few things more scary than a mob of parents. The older I get the more I understand why my parents never joined anything or went to any meetings when I was in school. The only way to avoid huge aggrivation is to keep your head down and avoid the mob.

  • ||

    "For the most part they probably work well and are enforced fairly."

    Well, then; that's a relief.

  • D.A. Ridgely||

    As time goes by, we run our public schools more and more like we run our prisons.

    They were always run like prisons, we've just added metal detectors and moved from minimum to maximum security. But school has always been about lock-down and roll call and bells to tell you where to go next, a brief break in the prison school yard for recess, lousy institutional food, the principal as warden, teachers as guards, etc.

  • ||

    "Also, since public schools have policies that are set by the public, it stands to reason that most members of the public are fine with such policies, otherwise there would be a rush come election time to choose school board members that promise to do away with them."

    For once Dan Troll made an intelligent comment. Yes, most parents are statists, and support such policies unless they go more conspicuously wrong than usual. The parents that vote for politicians that support public schools are likely to support the unlibertarian attempts to deal with the consequences of such an unlibertarian type of schooling -- and the unlibertarian attempts to fix the consequences of the unlibertarian attempts to fix the consequences of the unlibertarian public schools -- repeated ad nauseam.

  • D.A. Ridgely||

    Parents are more concerned for their children's safety than for their children's liberty. Most parents of school age children would rather err on the side of caution and most, anyway, don't get involved in school politics. School politics tends to attract the far left and far right, who share statist attitudes and differ only over the sort of oppression they seek to impose. For the most part, PTA's are controlled by teachers, not by parents, and school systems are controlled by the "experts" either directly or indirectly by teacher endorsements of candidates for school boards. It's a perfect storm.

  • ||

    I completely agree. It's the lynch-mob/Spanish inquisition/Salem witch trials quality of society that keeps such oppressive policies in place.

    The mission of the public schools is to teach submission and obedience. The primary lesson to be learned is that any order by any figure of authority, no matter how inane or pointless or counterproductive, must be followed without question.

    There are few things more scary than a mob of parents.

    What planet do you guys live on? Really?

    This whole "public school as Auschwitz" routine is even more over-the-top than the usual moaning I read here.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    A couple of weeks ago The House Blond was in a school play about the westward migration in America. All the kids wanted Daniel Boone to carry a rifle so the teacher said okay and The House Blond said my brother has a toy rifle

    You can guess the rest, the teacher had her fingers broken, the rifle ended up in the nurses office, and I got a long lecture about how something like this was never going to happen on the principal's watch.

    That was the same day the drunk PF threatened to shoot my dogs.

  • ||

    Dan,
    You took my comment out of context. It was more a response to your comments about how people must agree with the zero-tolerance policies because they are still in place. My comment was designed to show how a large grouping of people can be in "support" of a policy without ACTUALLY being in support of it.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Oh yes, we did get the toy rifle back after the play. I sent the Old Lady to fetch it because I'm way to mouthy.

  • TEUTONIC DAN T.||

    Which planet you the chaps, who are at phases? Really? This complete "general school as Auschwitz" program is even surplus, which - top side as that usually Ächzen I read here.

  • ||

    Just goes to prove whenever something is done for The Children™, they are the ones that suffer the most.

  • ||

    Dan,
    You took my comment out of context. It was more a response to your comments about how people must agree with the zero-tolerance policies because they are still in place. My comment was designed to show how a large grouping of people can be in "support" of a policy without ACTUALLY being in support of it.


    Okay, I apologize for the lack of context there but I still maintain that the idea that zero-tolerance policies would not be supported by the public at large if they were anywhere near as awful as folks here are making them out to be.

    Indeed, the exceptions prove the rule - why aren't there thousands of kids across the land being suspended for plastic knives or action figures with guns or bringing a few aspirin?

  • ||

    Dan, what do you think would happen to you if you exercised your obsessive contrarianism in a public school classroom? Do you believe you would get a pat on the head and a commendation for the breadth and depth of your curiously probing itellect?

  • ||

    Dan, what do you think would happen to you if you exercised your obsessive contrarianism in a public school classroom? Do you believe you would get a pat on the head and a commendation for the breadth and depth of your curiously probing itellect?

    I dunno, I attended both public schools and a public university and while there's no doubt that a certain amount of deference to authority was required (the horror!), I don't recall ever feeling like offering opposing points of view was going to get me suspended or anything like that.

    I think it mostly depended on the teacher - I think good ones encourage open discussion of things being taught.

  • ||

    I'll grant you that it's not truly a free market, but the point remains that if you don't like the rules at your local public school you are free to send your kids to a private school or homeschool them.

    And the government will refund your taxes for the expenses that you incur. Dan T, give us a break!.

  • ||

    Dan T,
    What about all the poor people who don't agree with zero-tolerance policies? They can't just stay home from work to teach their kids, and they can't afford private schools!

  • ||

    Hey Dan T. since you are so big on people being able to leave if they don't like it, I'm sure you would support school vouchers then, right?

  • ||

    TWC- How did the teacher's fingers get broken?

  • ||

    Dan T,
    What about all the poor people who don't agree with zero-tolerance policies? They can't just stay home from work to teach their kids, and they can't afford private schools!


    Watch out, you're thinking like some kind of liberal now. Libertarians are not supposed to acknowledge economic inequality as being a problem.

  • ||

    I agree parents want their kids to be safe. The question is, what does cutting off the guns of 2" tall toy soldiers have to do with safety? Nothing, of course, they aren't weapons by any reasonable interpretation. The same goes for squirt guns, which I bet are similarly banned. It's all about the indoctrination of "progressive" values, in which both guns and the military are evil.

    The drug thing is equally insane. Cold meds shouldn't be "drugs" under any sane "no drug" policy. In many schools only the school nurse can keep the child's medicines. If the child dies from an athsma attack or allergic reaction while he or she waits for the school nurse to be arrive, I guess that's just part of the cost we must pay to save our kids.

  • ||

    Hey Dan T. since you are so big on people being able to leave if they don't like it, I'm sure you would support school vouchers then, right?

    I'm not totally opposed to them in principle, but they usually don't seem to be much more than a way to subsidize the private school educations of people who can already afford them at the expense of public schools.

    In other words, I'd be for them if they could be shown to actually provide more choice and opportunities for kids who ordinarily wouldn't have them. I'm not convinced that's the case.

  • ||

    Dan's right.

    Remember when poor people couldn't afford shoes? Thanks to the government's public shoes program every person now has shoes.

    If the government were to stop providing public shoes, only the rich would be able to afford privately made shoes and the poor would be unable to own shoes at all, or settle for really badly made ones.

    There is no evidence that a free market in shoes would allow poor people an expanded selection of affordable shoes.

  • ||

    And the government will refund your taxes for the expenses that you incur. Dan T, give us a break!.

    Well, let's be honest. What Dan said is that if parents are unhappy with their kid's school's policies, they are free to attempt to change schools, sent the kid to private school, or engage in homeschooling. This is all true.

    Now trying to switch public schools is probably a serious hassle, if at even all possible, depending on the district. Private school obviously involves out-of-pocket expenses for the parents on top of whatever portion of their taxes gets thrown at the public school system. So private schools are an option, albeit an expensive one for the vast majority of working-class folks. Likewise, home-schooling is probably more of an economic burden for most folks since it requires one parent to stay home to teach and thereby forgoing a much-needed second income. And as Jennifer has blogged, local government harassment is apparently another burden to have to deal with.

    As with anything else, these costs have to be weighed against the cost of local "free school" policies.

    But Dan's main point that (most) parents do have other options available and are "free to choose" those options is true.

    [goes to take a shower]

  • ||

    Watch out, you're thinking like some kind of liberal now. Libertarians are not supposed to acknowledge economic inequality as being a problem.

    You do realize that it's the public school system that prevents that choice in the first place, right? If there was no particular school that the children were forced to attend in the first place, you wouldn't even have an issue of whether or not they could get out of the school they're in in favor of a better one.

  • Jennifer||

    local government harassment is apparently another burden to have to deal with.

    Threatening to take your kids away through a process with no transparency, no Constitutional protection, and no oversight goes a tad beyond "harassment" in my view.

  • ||

    You do realize that it's the public school system that prevents that choice in the first place, right? If there was no particular school that the children were forced to attend in the first place, you wouldn't even have an issue of whether or not they could get out of the school they're in in favor of a better one.

    If the government didn't provide welfare to people who needed it there probably would be people who couldn't afford shoes.

  • ||

    Agreed Jennifer.

    I'm simply assuming that a most states employ similar 'oversight' of homeschoolers and that a lot of that oversight isn't as draconian as our CT DCS is.

    But I honestly have no idea how it is elsewhere.

  • Swedish Chef Dan T.||

    Iff zee gufernment deedn't prufeede-a velffere-a tu peuple-a vhu needed it zeere-a prubebly vuoold be-a peuple-a vhu cuooldn't effffurd shues. Um gesh dee bork, bork!

  • ||

    You do realize that it's the public school system that prevents that choice in the first place, right? If there was no particular school that the children were forced to attend in the first place, you wouldn't even have an issue of whether or not they could get out of the school they're in in favor of a better one.

    I suppose a libertarian could have a legitimate beef with the idea that an education is a right that all children in our country are entitled to. But it's sort of hard to argue that our status as world superpower is not due at least in part to this concept.

    But once we do guarantee this right, then we're obligated to provide it to those who cannot afford it otherwise.

    So I retract my statement that schools work on a free market, since not allowing a child an education is not an option.

  • ||

    I suppose a libertarian could have a legitimate beef with the idea that an education is a right that all children in our country are entitled to. But it's sort of hard to argue that our status as world superpower is not due at least in part to this concept.

    How is that hard to argue?

  • Mike Laursen||

    It has to be the most bizarre thing about the current state of our society that a kid can go from a high school, where he is sheltered from exposure to even mock violence, directly into the armed forces, where he is handed a gun and sent off to a hostile desert country.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Number 6, fingers broken = intended visual of mafia style persuasion. The teacher didn't really get her fingers broken but she got a stern lecture about how inappropriate it is to ask a kid to bring a toy rifle to school for any purpose.

    To her credit, the teacher didn't seem to upset about it. When I spoke with her she just rolled her eyes and conveyed her displeasure with idiocy in a very succinct way. It was kind of cool, actually.

    My conversation with the principal was a bit different. :-) Yes, I was diplomatic, but I DID speak right up when the P started saying things like your daughter could be expelled for something like that. At that point the P changed gears and things smoothed out a bit.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    If the child dies from an athsma attack...

    Bob, the scary thing is that your comment is not even hypothetical, it has happened. Mrs TWC wrote about it a couple of years ago.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Chuckles, hopefully Dan T would be more than willing to give kids the right of exit from childrens prisons like Locke High School in LA where even the unionized teachers want out of the district.

    San Francisco now has open enrollment within the public school system and that alone has introduced competition to the system. The predictable result is (gasp) better education and better test scores.

  • ||

    "But once we do guarantee this right...."

    And herein lies the root of the problem. Should we be guaranteeing "rights" or providing and ensuring opportunities?

  • ||

    Remember when poor people couldn't afford shoes? Thanks to the government's public shoes program every person now has shoes.

    Of course all children get shoes that have been deemed suitable for his or her peer group.

  • Jennifer||

    It's a well-known fact that all children of thre same age wear the same size shoe.

  • ||

    Jennifer,

    That is, of course, hyperbole. Kids the same age don't wear the same shoe size. Therefore, the government will stretch or crush feet into the authorized size.

  • ||

    . . .after which treatment, the kids DO wear the same size shoes.

    There is a big battle going on in Utah over school vouchers. It is amusing to see and hear the teachers' union ads, talking about how great the schools are without actually saying anything about the quality of education.

  • ||

    It's a well-known fact that all children of thre same age wear the same size shoe.

    And that there is only one suitable style and color for children of the same age.

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