Putting the 'Zero' Into Zero Tolerance


From the you-have-to-read-it-to-believe-it department, comes this story in The News-Press of Southwest Florida:

Sixteen-year-old Ryan Richter got kicked out of school Monday morning for a stick-figure drawing that another student thought was a violent threat.

Richter, a LaBelle High School sophomore, sketched a figure shooting another figure. He did the sketch in a recent geometry class and passed it along to a friend and thought nothing else of it.

The classroom doodling, however, got him suspended for a week and as of Monday?s disciplinary hearing, got him kicked out of LaBelle High and recommended for a 45-day stint in Hendry County?s alternative high school.

Based on today's lunatic standards, the material in my early-'80s high school notebooks would probably qualify me for the death penalty in a dozen states.

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  1. “It can’t be bargained with, it can’t be reasoned with, it absolutely will not stop until you’re reprogrammed.”

    Terminator 4, the School Administrator

  2. back in the day (1992-1995) i was suspended in the high school i attended for fighting back twice – once in a fight with three other kids! as bad as my parents took the suspension, it was nothing compared to the punishment my football coaches gave me for missing practices.

    but yeah, i guess i was just supposed to sit there and get my ass kicked.

    when did school psychologists become standard practice? i ran into one my sophomore year for a tounge in cheek essay about an imaginary kid brother my parents kept in the attic, but he was new and i guess trying to prove his worth by intervening with problem children.

  3. I blame zero tolerance on the lawyers and the mindset that causes us to automatically blame everyone and anyone when something bad happens.

    Imagine if a kid some day does another Columbine. In a nation of 280 million people, it’s almost inevitable that some day it will happen again, if we project over a long enough time frame.

    On that awful day, some lawyer will discover that a year earlier the kid wrote a slightly disturbing story in English class. (Of course, so did a bunch of other kids, but they didn’t shoot their classmates, so nobody will put that disturbing short story in perspective.) The teacher had clear evidence that the kid was “crying for help” and did nothing.

    So the parents of the victims will sue the school district because the school district has more money than the parents of the shooter. Better to blame a teacher who interacted with that kid one hour per day, 5 days per week, 9 months per year (and interacted with 25 other students as well during that hour), rather than the parents who are (supposedly) responsible for the kid 24-7, 365 days per year.

    The schools are protecting themselves from lawsuits. I’m not defending the zero tolerance policy, I’m simply observing that this is a craven response to an even worse phenomenon: lawyers.

  4. “an even worse phenomenon: lawyers.”

    But who’s to blame? The lawyers or those who hire the lawyers? I don’t think lawyers should get all the blame for our sue-happy society. It arises naturally from our ubersafe society where people feel they have a God-given right to never have anything bad happen to them.

  5. I agree with Joe M., our society is becoming a pile of spineless, whining pussies. Our kids will suffer for it.

  6. Oh don’t mind the terrorists, they just have oppositional defiance disorder. And of course they would, I mean, it’s all our fault that they selected an ultraviolent method to seek redress of likely valid grievances. In the new societal model you’re not just reponsible for the consequences of your actions, but also what other people choose to do because of what others chose to do because of what others chose to do because of your actions.

  7. I can remember a creative writing assignment for grade 11 English. The protagonist regains conciousness in his trench after an artillery barrage and finds that the advancing enemy is composed, not of living troops but of cyborg type ghouls. After much bayonet work and several butt strokes our hero wins the day for mom and apple pie. My little story got me an A back then. Tody it would get me a cell. What a shame it’s come to this.

  8. thoreau, blaming lawyers for lawsuits is like blaming guns for shootings. Someone has to pull the trigger.

  9. I’ve never seen a gun advertising on television to get people to come and fire it at somebody.

  10. “First thing we do, we kill all the lawyers.”

    No, Stop! Don’t take me away, it was a simple retorical device, not an actual threat.

  11. “thoreau, blaming lawyers for lawsuits is like blaming guns for shootings. Someone has to pull the trigger.”

    I look at it as a shared blame. The parents share fault for suggesting the lawsuit, the lawyer for supporting and filing it, the judge for not throwing out of the court room, and the lion’s share of the blame belongs to the jurors who actually found for the plantiff (or counter suing defendant).

  12. Brendan-

    Good point, especially about the judges. I have a lot of respect for the judge who dismissed the recent McDonald’s lawsuits in NYC.

    And the gun/lawyer analogy is a poor one. The better analogy might be lawyer/gunseller. I admit to not owning guns. But I know gun owners, and I know somebody who works in a gun shop. If somebody went to the gun shop where my friend works and said “I need to rob a bank, hook me up with a gun”, I’m pretty sure that my friend would refuse to do business with the guy. But if I walked into a lawyer’s office and said “I was injured due to my own stupidity and/or random chance, but I think I can succeed in pinning the blame on somebody else for lots of money”, the lawyer would probably hear me out. Or at least a lot of lawyers would. They might not take the case, but that would only be because they don’t think it’s winnable. The ethical aspect (“Should somebody get to avoid responsibility and sue others for problems that are his own fault?”) wouldn’t even occur to the lawyer.

  13. nm156: I’m with you. I still remember the story i wrote in high school English class about a teacher who got her head bashed by a student and turned out to be a cyborg (i know, i know, but hey, I was a high schooler).

    Nowadays I would be sure to be suspended, expelled, arrested, inspected, detected, judged, declared an adult, sent to prison, and put on pills.

    “Zero tolerance” is an idea even worse than the War on Drugs. It replaces human judgement with politically expedient but draconian punishments.

  14. To be fair, since Columbine, you have school officials scrambling to anticipate trouble in any form in order both to protect students and to ward off any intimation that said officials aren’t doing their jobs with regard to student safety. Are some overzealous? Certainly. Many would say, “Better safe than sorry.”

  15. I have a classroom journal I wrote in the first grade, one of those notebooks with pages ruled on the bottom and blank on the top. Once a week or so we’d write in them. Most of it is the usual crayon drawings of stick-figure people and lolliop trees, houses, rainbows, cars and dogs and text along the lines of “We went to the store and got bananas. There was a dog in a car”.

    The last entry, though, had a bunch of black scribbling for the drawing, and read “Well, another year down the drain.”

    Who knows how much Valium and Lithium they would have put me on if today’s policies had been in place?

  16. I must say, my school has a zero-tolerance policy, but it isn’t zero tolerance. I ran for 9th grade president.(I really do hate to sound pompous, but I was more popular than anyone else running so I knew I could win. My friends just kind of dared me to do it.) One of my friends put up an un-sanctioned poster, and one of the other students running took it to and administrator, and got my friend suspended for one day. So, like an ass, I said in my AOL profile, that if I had a chance, I would kick Jims ass(the kid who told on my friend)Jim, prints this out, brings it to school, and even though they had no way of proving it was mine(he just had a word document that he ‘cut and pasted’) and not to mention school has no right to bring what I do off school grounds, onto school grounds. They kick me out, because I ‘had bad character’. No big deal, I didn’t really care anyway. But, Jim, comes up, and threatens to kick my ass the next day DURING school at a lunch table, in front of witnesses. Up until this point, I omitted the fact that Jim is a homosexual. Needless to say, it took a lot of will not to kick his ass right there. However, when later, I, and several of my friends, reported his threat, and Jim even admitted he did it himself, AND using profanity(under our zero tolerance policy any profanity constitutes one day of internal detention[in school supsension]) However, since Jims parents told Jim to not take abuse any more (since everyone picked on him for being gay) he was only doing what he thought was right. I don’t know about you, but I see a very serious double standard. Zero tolerance is just bullshit to cover administrators asses. If Jim was kicked out, do you know what would happen? The school would be sued by his parents for gay discrimination. Sorry for making a long post, but just to let any of you who havent been through school with zero tolerance, its just a load of crap.

  17. Zero Tollerance=Zero Thought=Zero Judgement.

    Under these policies no one I know would have made it out of the sixth grade without a prison record.

  18. In high school freshman English I wrote a short story about a race riot from the perspective of a white cop circa Watts 1965. His vocabulary was liberally sprinkled with “nigger”, “spook” and “jigaboo”. The story won praise from a number of teachers, including black ones, for its “honesty” and “rawness”.

    Now, 30 years later, I am sure a white kid would be crucified for writing such language, or at least sent to reindoctrination camp.

  19. I can’t believe that refusing to use discernment, and consider the particulars of a case, is considered a virtue. How the hell did that happen? When did Inspector Javert take over the school system?

  20. Zero Tollerance=Zero Thought=Zero Judgement.

    Just like a cyborg.

  21. This is what educates our children. An industry of irrational and fearful knee-jerk reactions to the overwhelmingly benign teen angst. Perhaps we should throw people in jail if they look like they’re about to commit a crime. Better safe than sorry, you know.

  22. Wow, my local paper makes the news! I live in Lee County, just west of Hendry County, and we had those “Lords of Chaos” kids a few years back, the ones who murdered a teacher and committed various other crimes, including burning down the historic Coca-Cola building in Fort Myers. I think that kicking the kid out of school was the wrong thing to do, but on the other hand, counseling sure seems appropriate. Far better to talk to the kids and find out if they really have problems than to wait until they go on a killing spree.

  23. OK, not all schools are like this…

    My 2nd Grade son took a pocket knife to school yesterday. He showed it to a couple of kids in class and to his student teacher. He found the knife outside my wife’s work the day before, threw it in his bookbag, and didn’t think much of it. His teacher obviosuly called the principal and he got suspended from school for a day. That was nothing compared to what he got at home. 🙂

    I honestly think the big suspensions we are hearing about usually have to do more with “personal vendettas” instead fo “zero tolerance”. These schools have the capability to hand out whatever punishment they feel like. But once something like this is publicized, then they are cornered and instead of doing the right thing, they save face and dole out the biggest punishment they can.

  24. Sorry, in my haste, I forgot to mention that nothing whatsoever happened to Jim. Luckily, he went on to lose though.

  25. doing the right thing

    That’s a function of what kind of statistics you believe. If you’re a chickenshit, you’ll read about kids in trenchcoats shooting up a school, and you’ll develop a fear of kids in trenchcoats showing antisocial behavior. If you’re a stupid chickenshit, you’ll act as though this is new, like there have never been antisocial kids in trenchcoats before, and they just appeared on the heels of violent video games.

    And we wonder why our children lag the rest of the world’s in academia. They’re being instructed by people with the wherewithal of cattle.

  26. I graduated from high school in 1962. That means, for those of you who have learned your history in public schools after, say 1975, that many of us had fathers who were WW II vets. WW II? Never mind.
    Anyway, if these morons had listened to us repeating our fathers’ war stories, the schools would have been half empty.

  27. In my undergrad college, the smart students were almost invariably business majors, the (female) sluts were in the nursing program, and the dumb students were education majors. Yes, this is a generalization, but in most cases, an accurate one.

    An example? My daughter’s kindergarten teacher sends out a little newsletter every week about what the class did. Last week’s newsletter praised one of the students: “Susie brang a book from home….” BRANG? Geez.

  28. “Susie brang a book from home….”

    Perhaps what we should be zero-tolerating are incompetent teachers and administrators.

  29. Are some overzealous? Certainly. Many would say, “Better safe than sorry.”

    Oddly, zero tolerance doesn’t really make anyone any safer. Its just easier for the bureaucrats, and gives them something to cover their asses with next time something does go wrong. “See, we did everything we could. We had zero tolerance. We sent kids home for drawing pictures.”

    The link between sending kids home for drawing pictures and preventing the occurrence of actual violence is somewhat obscure to me.

  30. The whole point of “zero tolerance” policies is to remove discretion from those charged with enforcing the policies and hence to avoid litigation by treating all incidents, no matter how unreasonably, the same. A gang member carrying a switchblade and an honor roll student with a penknife are both subject to expulsion. Likewise, the kid selling narcotics and the kid lending his asthma inhaler to a friend in need are treated the same. In some schools, no distinction is made between sharing a Tylenol and selling an Oxycodone. It’s Alice in Wonderland writ large.

    Meanwhile, the notion that your children leave their civil liberties at the schoolhouse gate seems to have taken hold – witness the recent drug raid in Goose Creek, South Carolina, where the principal brought in the police for a drug raid. Children were ordered to the floor at gunpoint, questioned and some were handcuffed. The net result? No drugs found.

    Over the past several decades more and more money has been pumped into the public school systems, with only minimal improvement in overall performance. The system needs a major overhaul.

  31. rst – I agree. Then again, what do you expect from a system that would rather give a kid a pill (Ritalin) instead of deal with him sanely – i.e. give him something to do that suits him and let boys be boys. And, did you know now that the neo-hippie Psychologists have come up with a thing called “Oppositional Defiance Disorder”? Apparently, if a kid shows opposition to authority, he now has a psychological problem. I find this quite disturbing, especially given the level of government mind control both of our major political parties would like to see. Does this bother anyone else?

  32. Could it be that there’s more to these stories than is reported? All the reports I hear talk about a child who was a perfect angel until he committed some minor infraction and was immedietely expelled. I’m skeptical. Having worked in a gov’t job with a massive beurocracy, I’ve seen these sort of inane technicalities used againt people who would have been fired long before if it weren’t nearly impossible to fire someone for sensible reasons. So could it be that schools use these zero-tolerence rules against troublemakers to avoid lawsuits? I think it’s likely that these expelled kids often have long histories of troubled behavior, and the zero-tolerence rules are applied to them so the school can safely (sidestepping beurocracy and avoiding lawsuits) expel them.

    I mean, you can’t expel a kid for “looking creepy” even if everyone recognizes he’s some kind of psychopath just waiting to snap. So you wait until he violates some rule and you get rid of him.

    Does anyone know any of the stories behind these seemingly outrageous stories?

  33. Brad,

    The more people you can identify as being “sick”, the more you need the people whose main job is “helping” other people – in other words, public sector employees.

  34. This is all straight out of Atlas Shrugged. It really seems like society is turning into what Rand predicted. No one taking responsibility for any mistakes, and also pre-empting the tiniest possibility of anything happening, so that later, they don’t have to even worry about shirking responsibility.

  35. Joe, worry not. I will stop the motor of the world!

  36. R.C. Dean – “The link between sending kids home for drawing pictures and preventing the occurrence of actual violence is somewhat obscure to me.”

    And me too. And, in an absolute sense, it is obscure to those implementing these policies. There is an old saying “Uneasy sits the butt that bears the boss.” These days, that goes double for school officials who are damned if they so and damned if they don’t with regard to student behavior, accountability and safety.

    Often, these “no tolerance” policies are drawn up by school officials. In other cases, by the local board or very vocal patrons of the district. I wouldn’t want to be a principal or superintendent of schools in the current political environment.

  37. Andy,

    I have personally witnessed public high school employees goad a “creepy” kid to the point that he did do something expellable. Then when he was gone, the teachers smugly laughed about how they had gotten rid of that one.

    Our local schools have a zero-tolerance fighting policy. Even if you are minding your own business and are jumped by the local thugs, if you are seen to have swung your fist in self-defense, you are automatically assigned to in-school suspension at the least. When I asked what kids were supposed to do rather than defend themselves, I was told that they should instead run to the principal’s office and report the attack.

    It’s amazing that the people we trust with our kids all day long apparently know so little about kids.

  38. Jeff C.

    “Patrons of the district”? Spare me. Do you mean the taxpayers? The people who pay these overpromoted coaches’ salaries?

  39. Oh, yeah. I’d have been in the loony bin for some of the pictures I drew in grade school and junior high.

    Let’s see…I’m a big Star Wars fan, so I was always drawing pictures of Han Solo and the Rebels shooting Stormtroopers, images of space battles, and that sort of thing. Heck, I dressed up as Han Solo at Halloween and had an actual toy gun strapped to my hip. In school.

    Then there was my phase around the time “The Day After” aired on TV when I would draw two pictures: the first was intact cities. Missiles with big red stars on the side were on the way in, with a couple mushroom clouds already visible in the distance. The next picture I would draw would be runied, blackened cities.

    Yeah, I probably did need therapy, but I turned out okay. Mostly. 😉

  40. Two weeks ago, my wife and I pulled our two elementary kids out of a well regarded government school and have started homeschooling.

    We are not hippies or zealots, but the crapometer was registering so high we had to do it. Only two weeks in, but it will be fantastic to teach my kids how to think.

    Oh, by the way, a couple of years ago, when my son was in kindergarten, his teacher sent home a note warning us to never again let him bring those little yellow corn on the cob holders; other teachers may turn him in as having a weapon and he would face the wrath of zero tolerance. Haha. So glad to be out.

  41. The whole point of “zero tolerance” policies is to remove discretion from those charged with enforcing the policies and hence to avoid litigation by treating all incidents, no matter how unreasonably, the same.

    Dead on point. This action is liability control, plain and simple. You could laugh it off, but if he kills a fellow student a couple of years from now, the news crew from “Dateline” would be in this principle’s office asking him if he feels guilty for ignoring a “warning sign”. The lawsuits wouldn’t be far behind.

    This isn’t an educational system issue, it’s a tort reform issue.

  42. “The Death of Common Sense” is no longer just a book title.

  43. Brian,

    Congrats on the homeschooling move. It can be a bit daunting and a bit scary at times, but well worth it.

  44. Brian – I applaud you and wish more people would do the same. Don’t look back. Give your kids a mind of their own, the only true education worth having.

  45. Several commenters here have made excellent points. It’s been years now since the public (ie. parents) have trusted educators enough to accept their judgement, especially as regards classroom behavior. If you demand systemic ‘fair’ and ‘non-discriminatory’, you’re gonna get irrational and rigid. And yes, teachers are damned if they do, damned if they don’t, as was made more than obvious by the recriminations that flew around post-Columbine.

  46. Tom – can you imagine if “Oppositional Defiance Disorder” had been around in the 18th century? We’d still be paying tribute to one of King George’s ancestors today.

  47. “Oh don’t mind the terrorists, they just have oppositional defiance disorder”

    That one got me laughing out loud. Thanks

  48. “Oh don’t mind the terrorists, they just have oppositional defiance disorder”

    That one got me laughing out loud. Thanks

  49. Tom from Texas,

    On the “being sick” thing: reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ commentary in “The Abolition of Man” and “That Hideous Strength.” As long as you adhere to a punitive model of dealing with criminal behavior, the convict is only in your power for a period of time determined by the law, and then he is a free man. But when you use the medical/therapeutic model, a person is under the State’s control until they say he’s cured. And not only that, but he doesn’t even have to get the same due process as an accused criminal before he becomes a forced “client” of their services.

    On the fighting thing: it’s just one more example of educating a new generation of sheeple to automatically run to an authority figure to snitch or receive instructions, instead of thinking and acting on their own initiative. One saving grace is that some residual, autonomous culture may still survive in which a snictch’s “peers” hold him in utter contempt and ostracize him for running to teacher.

    Last year I heard an NPR interview with a New York teacher who secretly taped her elementary school students’ conversations at recess. She “wept,” she said, to hear all the casual references to violent programs on TV. When questioned on her violation of their privacy, she expressed her utter exasperation that there was still a lingering stigma against informing on your fellow-students. Until we can reeducate them to understand it’s OK to be a snitch, she said, what else can I do but bug their private conversations?

    On your Watts story:

    I read a compilation of radical student essays from thirty years back (“How Old Will You Be in 1984?”) that included an awful lot of commentary on “the student as white nigger.” And most of the feedback from black students, apparently, was favorable. But since liberalism and the mainstream left have largely abandoned class issues in favor of identity politics and zero tolerance, it’s almost impossible to imagine a radical leftist using the “n word” for rhetorical effect. The left has abandoned a principled critique of the system of power for a cultural politics focused on race, sex, gun control, and “a woman’s right to choose.”

  50. My best friends wife was in a car accident recently. Not too much damage, to her or the car, but the first thing she did, after getting the loaner from the rental place, was go see a lawyer. Her insurance covers the repairs, as well as lost income, but thats not good enough. She took 2 weeks off work because of her pain, yet still managed to go to Tae Kwon Do class twice a week, as well as compete in a tournament. This past weekend I had to listen to her piss and moan about how there was no one, according to her lawyer she could sue. Boo-frickety-hoo. Next year she’ll be bitching about her rates going up. What a bitch.

  51. What about “independence-revulsive behavior” to describe the idiots running the schools? Shouldn’t they be heavily medicated for their alarming and dangerous inability to deal with free human beings?

  52. consulting a lawyer after a car accident isn’t a bad idea however – after my wife’s car was destroyed as we crossed an intersection last month (a woman with a suspended license blew through a red light at 35mph) and this stupid bitch, who had no injuries, is actually suing – well at this point just threatening to sue – the insurance company. we don’t have anything to worry about, but it’s amazing how the lotto mentality has infected so many people. i mean, she had no license!

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