“Zero Tolerance for Zero Tolerance”

Well, it happened again.  May have been the 617th time this calendar year.  I don’t know.  I am just being a smart-ass, but certainly this “happening” wasn’t the first time.  I don’t understand how smart people can be so lazy or possibly stupid.  However, I am going to give leaders the benefit of the doubt and say “LAZY.” Laziness or apathy is starting to take over our beautiful nation.  Look at who is leading the campaigns for presidency:  DONALD TRUMP & HILLARY CLINTON.  My guess is that the voters are “lazy.”  We are not studying the folks running for office or their platforms.  So, we end up with a person who has never been a politician and a person who has been not a very good politician.

Zero tolerance.  You have heard of it?  It has been around for over 20 years!  My ignorance shows up once again.  I “googled” zero tolerance and there were MANY articles about the topic and some dated to the twentieth century.  I found one article (November 23, 1999) that I will use for this blog.  Again, I love to use articles to help my topic.   On November 23, 1999 I was thirty-three years-old; teaching at Granite Bay High School (eleventh year of teaching high school music; third full year at GBHS); married for eight years and the father of five year-old PJ and three year-old Katy.  SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO!  Yikes.

“There Should Be Zero Tolerance for Zero Tolerance.”  YES.  And to think that it is still with us today and possibly engrained with us for another generation or two is terribly worrisome to me.  I have seen too many bad decisions based on following “the Rule Book.”  Following “the Rule Book,” seems to me to promote lazy and simplified leadership.

“So, “Fire Marshall Bill…” Why again did you and your team not enter the ocean to save that man?”

“Well, because we didn’t have our water safety certification.”

“Interesting. Follow-up question.  If you were off-duty, would you have jumped in the ocean to attempt to save the now deceased man?”

“Of course.”

“So, the reason you did not jump in the ocean to save the now deceased man is because you were on duty and you did not have your water safety certification.”

“Yes.  We have to follow the rules.” (paraphrased from a http://abc7news.com/archive/8161285/ story)

When the rules become more important than common sense or the feeling of a natural reaction (saving a person’s life), we are in trouble folks.  “Bureaucracy, regulation, and outmoded law tie our hands and confine policy choices. Nobody asks, “What’s the right thing to do?” Instead, they wonder, “What does the rule book say?” (www.philipkhoward.com)

That is what zero tolerance turns into…rules becoming more important than what is the right thing to do?

How can we believe that all wrong actions lead to the same discipline?  Because it makes things simpler.  That drives me nuts!  So, when a student who has never been in trouble – literally never been in trouble – is caught doing something for the FIRST TIME, he/she is going to receive the same punishment that the multiple “offender” receives?  Define multiple-offender:  TARDIES LEADING TO DETENTION; ANY REFERRAL GIVEN BY A TEACHER.  I am not describing the “multiple-offender” being busted for the same act that he/she has committed numerous times.  No, I am describing the student who has minor offenses.  That multiple-offender is going to be given the same number of days of suspension and out of good standing as the student who has not received one detention for any negative action because each person did the same action and “the Rule Book” said so?  Really?  That doesn’t seem lazy to you?

It is absolutely lazy.  It is absolutely the easy way out of dealing with the situation.  If I had it my way, I would love to counsel the student about how his/action really hurt the people around them; devalued their presence on campus; certainly did not add value to our campus-family; showed how their parents raised them.  I would do all I could to have student know what he / she did is STUPID (there’s that word again).  Yes, it takes time to spend with the student in counseling them and their behavior.  My goodness…in California. there is even a three strikes law.  In school, it is “zero tolerance.”

We really need to question how ZERO TOLERANCE makes our children better people!  From the nearly seventeen-year-old article: Mitigating facts and circumstances didn’t count. And that’s the problem with zero tolerance, says John Palacio, president of the school board in Santa Ana, a district that until recently accounted for 40% of all expulsions in Orange County.

Before his election last year, Palacio used to fight the district on discipline cases as a community advocate. He argued that schools were ignoring exculpatory evidence, treating victims and their assailants equally, and unjustifiably labeling students as gang members, including his own son. He recommended giving principals more discretion and offering more alternatives to expulsion.

Santa Ana’s expulsion rates are down, says Palacio, more in line with affluent districts where parents are more likely to hire lawyers and fight back. But regardless of race and income, Palacio says, zero tolerance makes more problems than it resolves. In a 1996 paper, he wrote: “It has created a system whereby you are guilty regardless of the facts at hand.”

So, really twenty-years-ago, we had parents / administrators / elected officials questioning how effective “zero tolerance” was in creating positive citizens.  Those students are now in their mid-to-late thirties.  Heck, really, they could have children old enough to high school students and we are still believing “zero tolerance” is the best way to teach our children how to behave.  Since bringing “zero tolerance” to our public schools, I wonder if arrests are down?  Prison population has dropped?  If our society has really benefited by enforcing “zero tolerance.”  I can tell you, with twenty-seven years of experience, I don’t see “zero tolerance” making the difference we need or thought it would.  What “zero tolerance” has done has taken the freedom / creativity out of learning from being stupid.  The student has learned no matter how good he / she has been prior to that one mistake, one mistake (let’s have common sense that some “one mistake” can be deemed greater than another “one mistake”) can receive the same punishment as the student who has made many mistakes prior to that “one mistake.”  There is little to ZERO learning with “zero tolerance.”  Following more than sixteen years in existence, let’s end “zero tolerance.”  Wait.  Never mind.  We have had a Federal Department of Education since 1978, why do we think that anything is going to change with public education?  It would be too difficult to change (cough / wink)