Sunday, January 23, 2011

Headache of the Day

So I came across this. Anyone else as ticked off about it as I am?

A seven year old boy points his finger like a gun and is suspended (well, given in-school suspension) because of it. The school said they told him to stop repeatedly but he would not. And you know it's totally unlike a seven year old to do the exact opposite of what they are told. I know I never went against what my teachers or parents told me to do. Also, I have a nice beach property in Florida to sell to you at a steal, I'm practically giving it away. Cash up front. You send it to me and I'll hand over the deed.

When I was that age, if someone got in trouble for not listening or acting up (which is the only think I can say he did), they were scolded, given little frowny faces on this chart or--for the most heinous of crimes--held in for recess. But I doubt any of the other children felt threatened or harassed by the boy's finger, so I really don't think it is an appropriate response. There just doesn't seem to be a reason for the punishment other than he's doing something they don't like! It's not a rude gesture and like I said, it's not really threatening. Not to mention he was probably doing it because he got such a reaction from the school.

I'm all for keeping the schools safe and suspending people for threatening others, but they can't just hold every word under a blanket policy. When I was in eighth grade, I threatened another student in a note. Yes, it was very stupid. But I wanted him to stop saying bad things about my friend. He threatened to tell on me, which would have gotten me suspended for words written in anger if my friend hadn't stolen the note from him. It was a stupid mistake, one of many kids can make. And I would have gotten a huge black mark on my record for it, even though I was never a trouble-making student and the school knew it. A detention, that I could live with. But that's not what would have happened and it scares me to think what might have happened if my friend hadn't saved my ass.

I think the zero tolerance policy is lazy. It morphs every situation into one crime without taking into account the millions of different factors that inform it. Years ago, I saw a story where a twelve year old was suspended because someone else gave him a Ritalin tablet on the bus. The kid promptly through it out the window but the driver saw him with it and he was kicked out of school. I think they even brought charges against him! And all this because the rules said handling any drug required automatic suspension. Preposterous.

It's time to start focusing on actual problems in school and remembering that there is no uniform policy for every situation. Kids do stupid things. Is it really that hard to distinguish threats from bad behavior? I don't have children, nor do I teach, so I don't know. But as a former student, all I can say is what I experienced at the other end of zero tolerance. It didn't stop kids from bullying me and others and it didn't teach me any lesson besides "if you ever screw up, you'll be in big trouble."

Zero tolerance is intolerance. Let the kid play his game and find a real problem to worry about. I'm sure they're there.


  1. I smoked in HS - in the building. Once I carried a switch blade to school (accidentally) and was given a stern warning about it, losing a fine knife as well. Got in a few fights and was suspended for various things - mostly cutting school. I once threatened a class of students with murder if they didn't shut up - (something about a shotgun I think) that one got me a stern talking to by the teacher and a few sessions with a therapist. I could go on and on and on - When the focus was on the individual and not on the rules - society was more tolerant and created better children. I say this as a parent, PTO president and everything else that I am, these zero tolerance policies teach children to have zero tolerance in a world increasingly in need of that same tolerance and acceptance to boot, this fails to teach critical thinking, this only teaches blind acceptance of a system that is not created for the advancement of an individual but a score.

  2. Thingw were definitely different when we were kids. Now kids can't get away with anything. I quess for fear that something major will happen, but then of course sometimes, school adminstrators and teachers miss the signs. Then bad things happen.

  3. Totally agree. Kids should be taught to listen when an elder asks them to do or stop doing something but that was a little extreme! And the kid with the pill? INSANE! He threw it! I hope his parents fought that...

  4. Jhon: well, you're proof that teenagers can make mistakes and learn from them when they're treated as themselves, not some category.

    Choices: great to hear from you again! You're right. They fear something bad will happen and go extreme with the rules, and then they feel justified when something bad DOES happen. They fail to mention all the people who get crushed by the rules that didn't stop the bad thing.

    Colene: Right, I think they should be taught to follow the rules and accept the consequences when they don't. It just angers me because he was seven and probably doing it because everyone was making such a big deal about it. And I think people really have to relax. Playing guns doesn't make a kid a sociopath.

    PS. The kid who threw out the Ritalin? If I remember correctly, his parents did fight it. And they lost.

  5. I'm surprised at the extremity in this situation. I've seen and heard kids do far worse with little or no consequence. I don't think this case is the norm.

  6. This reminds me of that brouhaha a few years back (maybe 2003? 2004?), when a third grade boy kissed a girl on the cheek and was suspended.

    For sexual harassment.

    Aw, c'mon. That's ridiculous. And so is pointing your finger at someone.

    That said, I have to admit that kids I deal with at the bookstore these days simply don't listen as well as kids did a few years ago. There seems to be way more autism and ADHD than in previous years. Is there a nutritional or medicinal reason kids aren't listening? Do parents need parenting classes? I'm not sure.

  7. Medeia: no, I doubt it's the norm exactly, but such over reactions are becoming increasingly common. Just last year a boy was told he was couldn't bring to school a hat he made for a school project. The reason? It had toy army men on it to honor the troops.

    Joanne: I remember that and find it ridiculous as well. Every little thing is blown out of proportion. It's the adults who need to tone down the reactions, not the kids.

  8. I agree, zero tolerance is stupid. And incredibly lazy. It's mostly CYA, I think, so that if two students commit the exact same infraction they have the exact same consequences, which is the twisted definition of "fair" that lawsuits have foisted upon our schools. Never mind that one kid is always breaking rules and on the verge of getting kicked out anyway, while the other kid has never had an issue in his school career. Sigh...

    One major thing that was well-drilled into us when we went through training to work at a children's home is that a consequence should fit the child, not the crime. If a five-minute timeout is all it takes to get a kid to remember the rule next time, then that's all that is necessary. On the other hand, if another kid won't remember without a lecture, or an extra chore, or whatever, then again-- the consequence should suit the kid. To give the same consequence to both will result in frustration for children and caregivers.

    Of course, when it comes to anything that "might" be a weapon or any sort of touch, schools go into hyperdrive overreaction mode-- and again, I think it's our litigious society that has caused it. :(

  9. Another of the many reasons I would never want to teach at the school level.

    "Of course, when it comes to anything that "might" be a weapon or any sort of touch, schools go into hyperdrive overreaction mode-- and again, I think it's our litigious society that has caused it. :( "

    Emphasis on the litigious... exactly.

    Too many lawyers in the world.

  10. Once again, Su has hit the nail on the head. People are so quick to jump on the lawsuit bandwagon, either because of greed or an overinflated ego wounded by offense, perceived or real.

    And William, I wouldn't say there are too many lawyers, just too many who take advantage of circumstances. And those types are everywhere.


Please validate me.