Culture, Science & Faith

Don't Arrest Kids, Educate Them

"Zero tolerance" policies in our schools are foolish and destructive.

Aug. 27, 2014

Once upon a time school children enjoyed a wide degree of freedom. Rules were simple, well defined and generally well-honored by students. Kids were encouraged to express themselves creatively and even provocatively in their assignments. But in this day and age, there is zero tolerance for this sort of individual expression. Conformity is more important than ever.

Playtime once found swing sets, seesaws, jungle gyms and slides swarming with little people. Older kids engaged in rough and tumble games, making cuts and scrapes common, but serious injuries were extremely rare. Children burned energy and calories, and obesity was virtually unknown. Today’s educationists are trying to build a utopia not realizing what they’ve lost.

For example, they want to eradicate bullying and name-calling, but it’s an impossible dream because people aren’t robots. Fortunately, real bullies are rare. They can scar people physically and emotionally. But it’s essential that kids learn how to deal with bullies because such people can still intimidate when they grow up. Name-calling offends many people on the Left, but as the First Amendment says, “Sticks and stones…” Public schools do have the right to regulate speech to a point, but only to prevent danger.

The effects of Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” turned America upside down, including changing the character of public schools. In 1960, 95% of children had a mom and dad at home. By 2010, that had dropped to 59%. Almost all single-family homes are now headed by mothers, 33% of whom have no high-school diploma and live in poverty, often in dangerous neighborhoods.

While the programs multiplied and the billions of dollars flowed, the problems of the inner city spread to other schools and communities. Some problems plaguing inner city and minority schools made the jump to the suburbs. Unfortunately, violence is endemic in urban America, but the drugs, students’ radicalized attitudes and general disrespect now fill the halls of many schools.

Pressured by frightened parents, school boards adopted what’s known as a “zero tolerance” policy. In short, the policy’s definition is the strict and uncompromising enforcement of rules, even for minor infractions and regardless of extenuating circumstances. It allows for no judgment or grace. For an institution of learning, such a policy is absurd.

Schools now have zero tolerance all across the fruited plain: zero guns, zero religion, zero bullying, zero disrespect, zero tardiness, zero pictures of offending things. How kids can remain positive in a “zero-atmosphere” amazes us.

We’ve recounted several of the many, many outrageous stories of its implementation in recent months. Many are just plain idiotic as they harm the kids involved without really solving anything. A suspension on a transcript, for example, can kill the chance of winning a scholarship.

As an assignment, a 16-year-old wrote a fictional story about shooting a dinosaur for which he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, ostensibly for his reaction to questioning. But who wouldn’t be outraged at such nonsense? That arrest remains on his record despite the sheer idiocy of the underlying “offense.”

A senior honor student with nothing negative on his record innocently drove his father’s truck to school. A security check turned up a dangerous weapon in the lad’s truck – a fishing knife. The young man was suspended the maximum 10 days. Worse, his record is now tarnished with an arrest on a weapons charge.

In another case, a child with Asperger’s disease – a genuine illness, not a disorder d'jour – was suffering a panic attack. The mother soon arrived, was buzzed in to the school and proceeded to her son’s room where she comforted him. But wait! She had violated school policy by failing to sign in. Police were called, the school locked-down and the mother handcuffed. Imagine the effect on the boy, already pathologically uncomfortable in social situations. Anyone think he’s eager to get back to school? How cruel.

This brings us to a crucial point. While schools have lost their collective mind, they have become the biggest bullies in the nation (IRS excluded). Yet these people see themselves as the arbiters of all that’s good and evil. They behave like a bunch of chicken little, Victorian spinsters – arresting mothers, locking down schools and confiscating dangerous gun-shaped Pop Tarts from small children.

How did these people get into these positions of power? The policy-makers were elected by a small segment of voters – those who cast ballots in school board elections. Unfortunately, getting more people to vote in these elections is a Sisyphean task. Few people know either the current board or the current candidates, so, they’ll say, what’s the point? That’s a good question. But until someone makes a drastic change, you can count on more zeros and less education.

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