"There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."

~ Niccolo Machiavelli, historian and writer

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Zero Tolerance = Zero Sense

Zero tolerance has been variously defined as:
  1. A "get tough" policy of making no exceptions in regards to a particular (usually criminal or undesirable) matter, born as a response to a general sense of uneven application of rules and punishments. To react to a proscribed activity or substance with absolute prejudice... Without regard to mitigating circumstances or conditions.


  2. Authoritarian rule system whereby breaking of the rules is taken very seriously and punishment is overly severe to get the message through.


  3. A common phrase referring all lack of being able to tolerate something. Often a policy referring to various rules to increase strictness and banish all regard for anything against the zero tolerance policy.


  4. A policy, usually by American schools that any reference to a gun, violence, or drugs will get you expelled automatically with no trial.
You can find more on the history of the concept here.
Since the 1980s the phrase zero tolerance has signified a philosophy toward illegal conduct that favors strict imposition of penalties regardless of the individual circumstances of each case. ... Critics of zero tolerance believe that inflexible discipline policies produce harmful results. Moreover, school administrators have failed to use common sense in applying zero tolerance, leading to the expulsion of children for bringing to school such items as an aspirin or a plastic knife.
I have a friend who rightfully likes to note that common sense is the least most common sense of all. And that last statement about school administrators failing to use common sense in applying zero tolerance could probably win an award for the understatement of the year.

A six-year-old was suspended ordered to spend 45 days at his school district's "alternative school for troublemakers" after he brought a combination folding fork, knife and spoon to eat his lunch at his Delaware school last month.
The knife is banned as a dangerous instrument under the Christina School District’s zero-tolerance policy, which officials said required them to expel Zachary or send him to the equivalent of reform school regardless of his age or what he planned to do with the utensil.
But don't worry he's in good company - a fifth-grader in the same school district was expelled last year for bringing a birthday cake and a serrated knife to cut it with. In that case, perhaps, common sense prevailed; the expulsion was overturned.

The Board isn't too worried though. They seem to think they have it under control. They're prepared to consider a narrow change that wold affect only kindergartners and first-graders and allow for [wait for it] three to five day suspensions rather than mandating harsher punishments.

That's right, apparently the solution to 5 or 6 year old bringing his camping utensils to class is a 3 to 5 day suspension. As opposed to being expelled. Because that's compassion. That's common sense. And these are the people we entrust with the care, teaching and discipline of our children? What does that make us - as crazy as them?

But sadly for all of us, there's more to this than just the obvious insanity. In theory, Nova Scotia had recognized it's disparate impact (or some might say, stupidity) and thus, does not have a zero tolerance policy. [See pages 2 & 3 of the link]

Notice I said "in theory". In reality, students are being suspended or otherwise punished for behaviour for which is a result of their disability. Behaviour over which they have little, if any, control.

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