Mad in Madison: Zero tolerance runs amuck

This 6th grade student commited the “crime” of bringing a kitchen knife to school to dissect an onion as part of a science experiment. The school wants to expel him.

School district officials unofficially told the family that the boy would be eligible to return to school if he admits he committed a “crime,” submits to psychological evalution and completes an anger management course. (Thanks a heap!)

The amazing part is that some school officials are quoted as defending the policy!

This policy is insane! Those who defend it are out of their minds.

They would have made good Nazis: “I was just following orders!” :frowning:

Although this does seem somewhat extreme, you have to understand the position that citizens and the media have put shcools in. 99 times out of 100, a student is not doing to do anything wrong. 99 times out of 100, following a policy is going to make the school look foolish.

HOWEVER…if they don’t do anything on that 1 time and the student does do something wrong, the same people who bitch about how sily zero tolerance laws are will then be screaming “WHY DIDN’T THEY DO ANYTHING! THEY HAD THE WARNING SIGNS! THE KID BROUGHT A KNIFE TO SCHOOL!”

So the schools have been put into the position of having to look stupid most of the time in the attempt to prevent any problems.

Not only that, but a policy such as this completely relieves the school’s administrators of having to apply any actual thought to the situation.

If we want students to learn critical thinking skills, it’s not going to be from examples such as these.


The book The Death of Common Sensegives a good explanation of how this sort of thing arises. Everyone should read this book. (BTW the author is a Democrat.)

It’s short and to the point. The author blame a legal structure that makes people wrong too much of the time.

Ah, but did you hear the recent story of the honor student who was suspended for pointing an oak leaf at another student? You don’t even have to be capable of committing the harm to fall afoul of “zero tolerance”…

Educators who institute zero tolerance policies have simply admitted that they are unfit to be educators.

You can’t be a teacher if you are unable, unwilling, or afraid to exercise discretion.

People just need to realize that these bozos are unfit to run their schools, and get them the hell out of there and replace them with people who aren’t such moral cowards.

From Max’s cite,

Is there any research indicating a relationship between playing and school violence?

This reminds me of the airport security wizards who take jokes very seriously. Has anyone ever shown a correllation beween jokes and terrorism?

Regardless, they get to push around, don’t they?

Jeez, you’d think the number of times you’ve had Godwin’s law thrown at you you’d learn something.

Yes, its a stupid rule. Yes, they should use some comon sense, but Comparing them to Nazi’s is a freaking giant leap for logic, even for you.

I’m not defending most of this stupidity - it IS stupid and paranoid. However, just to play Devil’s Advocate, here’s the thing.

In the past twenty years, here’s what you expect teachers to be: Entertainers, Babysitters, Doctors, Nurses, Physical Therapists, Just Plain Therapists, Guidance Counselors, Social Workers, Police Officers, EMTs, Parents, Ministers, Role Models, Coaches, and Psychologists. Oh, and maybe do some teaching while they’re at it.

Now we get to add lawyers to the list - they get to decide when a threat is credible and when it isn’t, and how much is overreacting and how much is underreacting, all while under the constant scrutiny of people eager to announce they they’re a bunch of idiots who aren’t worthy of being educators. And I assume that, as with all the other professions we’ve nailed onto them, there will be no monetary compensation to address this increase in responsibilities?

I have no problems with schools doing whatever it takes to at least have their institutions somewhat resemble places where education happens. As I said, I am not defending most of these decisions, as they ARE stupid. But it seems that in regards to schools, the national pastime since Columbine has been putting them into no-win situations and bitching when they don’t win.

My brother ran afoul of a zero-tolerance policy at my old school. (He came drunk to a football game. He then decided it was foolish to do that, and left, but they arrested him in the parking lot as he was leaving. And no, he wasn’t driving.) Although he was never convicted of any crime, the school sent him to alternative school for six weeks. Then, when he got back for the spring semester, the school informed him that HE COULDN’T TAKE HONORS CLASSES. WTF? Apparently, they punish you with the quality of your education should you violate the rules. My mom protested all the way up to the state level, with people just pointing at the rulebook and patting her on the head. Ever since that experience I have been against “zero tolerance” in all its forms – there can be no justice under absolute law.

a point -however.

In the BB gun example, I believe the school acted correctly.

Guns (even BB) do not belong in the school, especialy handled by the kids.

as for the ‘it was unloaded’ - even I know that’s crap (unless perhaps it was new out of the box).

My baby brother shot our TV set w/an ‘unloaded’ BB gun. Broke the picture tube.

just last year, IIRC, there was a frat pledge at U of M who was shot in the groin w/ an ‘unloaded’ BB gun - he was hospitalized w/his injuries and did not return to school.

Good pickup, TwistofFate. However, I really meant it.

Like most of us, I’ve long thought about how the cultured German people could commit Nazi atrocities. I have a theory that when we are controlled by powerful institutions that treat us irrationally, some people repond by throwing away their normal moral strictures. I confess to not having evidence nor expertise. (This point is not covered in my actuarial exams. :wink: )

I’ve thought this for years myself. Nothing of this extreme nature happened in my high school, but there were constant encroachments on innocent activities (such as jokes about violent things or violence in stories written by students) just because the teachers didn’t want to take the 30 seconds to reason out that the action was harmless. Meanwhile, freshmen were repeatedly getting beaten bloody in the hallways, thrown through glass walls, etc, while the teachers and principals were busy jumping down the throat of the class clown and bugging me because someone in my story killed their husband. :rolleyes:

i’ve thought about what you said and come to a conclusion. so a rule will stop someone from attacking someone is your thinking. there were rules against weapons at the schools where shootings happening. that didn’t stop them. if someone wants to kill another bad enough, a rule that unfaily punishes one hundred others won’t stop him.

my 2 cents.

That’s not at all what I said. What I said was, the schools have been forced to do SOMETHING because if they don’t, and something untoward happens, then the same people complaining about Zero Tolerance will be screaming that they did nothing.

It’s similar to the airport security people’s situation right now. Recently an airport was shut down because it was discovered that an x-ray machine was unplugged. Now some folks think this is stupid, and it may be. However, if anything had happened on any plane coming out of there at this time, those same people would be saying that their poor security measures were to blame because the machine was unplugged.

It’s a lose-lose situation for the schools. If they do something, people complain. If they don’t, people complain. So they have to go with the avenue in which people still complain, but at least they MIGHT prevent something bad from happening. They probably won’t, but what else can they do? Between all the sports, getting kids to shut up, making sure no one’s on drugs, and having to listen to high schoolers whine about how unfairly they’re treated, there just aren;t enough hours in a school day to approach every possible infringement on a case-by-case basis.

The problem with these rules is that they punish good kids with harsh penalties, but aren’t a real deterrent to the kids that will commit violence. A kid who is intending to attack a classmate isn’t worried about a suspension for bringing a knife to school, since he’ll get suspended for the attack anyway.

For all the posturing about how schools are safer thanks to zero tolerance, there are more than enough stories on these very boards about schoolyard violence with no weapons involved. Bullies are still out in force, zero tolerance apparently doesn’t affect the things that they do.

It’s a lousy situation, but ZT isn’t helping any. It gives the appearance of taking action, but isn’t effective, nor is it fair to many otherwise good students. ZT does more to prevent complaints than violence.

Well, how could he, what with the kind of brain damage he undoubtedly suffered?

Ah yes, another tale of Madison madness, always makes me proud when either a) we do something right and the national media pitch a fit (see the recent Pledge of Allegiance fracas) or b) we do something stupid and the national media pitch a fit, like now. For the record, despite our reputation as “a few square miles surrounded by reality,” the vast majority of people who live in Madison are fairly middle of the road. This kid never should have been suspended (neither should the kid in Texas who got expelled when the school found a knife that fell out of a Goodwill box into the back of his truck or the kid in California who had a knife in her car from cutting her grandmother’s birthday cake or the kid who pointed a chicken finger at another kid and yelled “bang!”). But at the same time, the parents and the kid should have been aware of the policy and kept the kid from bringing a knife to school. If he needed something sharp to dissect an onion, he should have asked the teacher for a scalpel from biology class.

Otto, thank you for standing up for the people of Madison. It’s a great town. I lived there for four years of college, and I visit often.

Zero tolerance is not something limited to Madison by any means. This sort of scenario has played out over and over again in many schools. It’s ridiculous and zero tolerance should not be school policy. I’m afraid that schools are not given free license to have any nonsensical rule they wish just because the public demands that they do something about school violence.

Any rule that cannot be subject to common sense and individual discretion should be removed. I am afraid that the school administrations must simply step up to the plate and make decisions, rather than simply falling back on a convenient (for them) rule that is, at its core, essentially anti-student.

Otto, you have suggested a sensible way to deal with a mad situation.

This was a sixth grade kid for God’s sake. He behaved totally reasonably. Should the parents really have to be aware of unreasonable rules?

BTW does this school actually have scalpels in its biology class? Aren’t they as dangerous as knives?

However, you did agree that this rule was inappropriate, so I do not have a beef with you.

Of course, you and fluiddruid are correct, that the problem is by no means confined to Madison. (My sister went to college there, BTW) However, it tickles this conservative to see an example where a town that revels in its higher morality is shown to have feet of clay.

well, yes, actually. I would call the school and ask “is it ok for my son to bring such and such?” and the answer often was ‘nope’, so I prevented it. and, prior to school starting, they always sent home the ‘student rules of conduct’ which included lists of ‘not ok things to bring’.

He did get busted for a ‘swiss army wrench’ that had a pair of scissors attachement that were two inches long. 5 day suspension IIRC (along w/a few other violations. I"m not sure who’s going to be happiest when he graduates - him, me or the district).

I stopped him from taking a fake bullet keychain, too.

And, for the birthday cake etc. - I took it to school, with the knife. They’d let me have one you see. (last couple of years the swim team would have us bring oranges, bagels/spreads etc. for after the meets, we’d bring the proper utinsels w/o hassel, but we always made sure the kids didn’t have possession during school hours etc.)>

yes, some of these cases are idiotic. (y’all forgot the one up near Flint where an elementary kid got expelled for bringing in a 3 inch gun shaped pin, no moving parts). But bringing a knife to school, by now, certainly the parents and the kid should have known.