Zero Tolerance and the 800-lb Gorilla

The New York Times had an article today on a ridiculous zero tolerance situation: a kid in Delaware who was so excited to get his Cub Scouts camping utensil — a fork, knife and spoon combo — that he took it to school to eat his lunch with. Yeah, a Cub Scout: Zachary Christie is just 6 years old.

Wait: it had a dull, kid-appropriate knife included? Why, knives are weapons! Run in circles! Pull out your hair! Scream like a little girl!

You guessed it: Zachary is out of there — suspended, and he must spend 45 days in reform school before he can return to classes with his friends. And the school administrators had the frigging gall to say they “had to” suspend him because knives are banned “regardless of the possessor’s intent.”


There was a case in Delaware awhile back when a third-grade girl was expelled — thrown out of school, not just suspended — when her grandmother sent a birthday cake to school with the girl …with a knife to cut it. The teacher called the principal in …but only after she used the knife to cut the cake up, since she had no other way to serve it to the kids!

Yep, that’s the mentality behind this garbage!

Enter the 1,200-lb Gorilla

State legislators were outraged by this and introduced a law — which passed — to allow(!) school boards to, “on a case-by-case basis, modify the terms of the expulsion.” But that doesn’t help Zachary: he’s not expelled, he’s “just” suspended and sentenced to a term in reform school.

zt dcs 216x300 - Zero Tolerance and the 800-lb GorillaThe boy’s mom apparently rejected the reform school garbage: she’s home-schooling him while trying to get the punishment overturned.

She set up a web site appealing for help (now offline) — and is trying to get legislators to modify the state’s zero tolerance law yet again to make it rational in all discipline cases, not just expulsions.

Imagine that! They again have to address rationality and force schools to be reasonable in punishing kids, rather than terrorize them and screwing them up for life over minor transgressions.

The previous law even acknowledges, right within the law’s text, that “the American Psychological Association recently reported that zero tolerance policies do not effectively improve school safety.” When will this madness end?

The 800-lb Gorilla

But at least I’m not the only one beating on this drum anymore (and I started on it in June 1995!) This story was on the front page of the New York Times today. After nearly 13 years, it’s finally getting major national news treatment. Welcome aboard this issue, NYT. Glad to have the 800-lb gorilla behind me at last.

Let’s see if they stay on the case.

Zero tolerance is destroying children under the guise of helping them. It’s causing more harm than good. It’s not time for state laws to be adjusted to address the outrage of ZT. It’s time for changes in federal law.


  • The New York Times has published an editorial on the subject. “‘Use Common Sense’ should be at the top of the list for the state — and for the Christina district,” it concludes. And, showing that it truly grasps the problem, adds, “If teachers and administrators don’t follow that rule, how can they expect children to?” Bingo.
  • “The school board made a hasty change to its code of conduct,” reports NBC’s Today Show. “The seven-member board voted unanimously to reduce the punishment for kindergartners and first-graders who bring weapons to school or commit other violent offenses to a suspension ranging from three to five days.”

Well, it’s a start: kindergartners and first-graders get the benefit of common sense; second-graders up don’t. Law rewrites are still desperately needed.

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67 Comments on “Zero Tolerance and the 800-lb Gorilla

  1. I’d love to see you debate the law professor (Ewing) who defends ZT because “only law enforcement” can make threat assessments. About silverware.

    I’m not positive I’d be able to keep my cool around anyone seriously purporting that children should continue to be abused and terrorized in this way. -rc

  2. Darn shame there is no ZT for school administrators and teachers. Show a lack of common sense one time and its 45 days in the slammer.

  3. Why is it so difficult to understand that children are each unique in their own way. There can be no cover-it-all law that governs children. Each transgression must be considered on a case by case basis.

    As for the “professor” I have three questions:

    1. Did he find his law degree in a fortune cookie?
    2. Does he have any children? and if so:
    3. Does he spend ANY time with them?

  4. The only thing that will get the attention of school boards and principals is money and funding.

    Perhaps, a national boycott of schools day should be organized. The resulting loss of funds due to absent students would certainly get their attention.

    I am sure there are plenty of doctors out there who would write the sick notes.

    Some schools don’t accept doctor’s notes. Yeah, really! School administrators know health better than doctors — or, at least, that’s what their district policies say. Yeah. Really. Seriously. -rc

  5. All I can say is “Thank you!” I have been questioned and looked upon as less of a mother because of my opposition of ZT policies. I have a son with bipolar disorder and am scared that ZT policies could potentially ruin his life if he cycles while at school. I have been threatened with it by school administration, but I’m also my son’s biggest advocate and have been able to avoid ZT discipline so far. I just want to give you a sincere thank you for getting these stories out there!!!

    You’re welcome. For your son, you need to study your state’s and school district’s laws and policies regarding disabled students. The people that should be getting threats are the school administrators, based on your knowledge of what’s required of them. -rc

  6. I am a Cub Scout Leader. Before a Cub scout may possess and use a knife. He must show he is responsible in its use. We have specific strict guidelines they must follow. Once they complete the training they are given a whittling chip (a card). If they show any lack of judgment in its use they have a corner cut from the card. If they lose all four corners then they lose the card and the privilege of using a knife.

    Now this youngster (a scout) brings eating utensils (an approved Scout tool) to school and is suspended because it has a blunt “knife”. It seems they are undermining the lessons being taught by a great organization. Punishing the young man for doing nothing wrong.

    Now I’m guessing that if they were to search the desks of every teacher and every desk in the office, they will find numerous pairs of scissors. These are by far more dangerous than the utensils this young man took to school. Expell or suspend the school staff!

  7. The mom should just continue to homeschool. There is a reason why many parents are homeschooling, and it is having less to do with raw academics and more to do with the concept that the state owns our children. We have mandatory attendance laws, and yet acceptable punishment is to deny them education. We have to ask permission to take a vacation during the school year, and heaven forbid that time off should happen to coincide with the state’s mandated testing that completely overrides the grades the students have earned. Why do we have state mandated testing? Because we cannot guarantee that the grades the students have earned truly reflect their academic achievement. What does that say about the state’s faith in the very teachers that they certify???? And they want to tell me that a teacher who majored in education with a math emphasis is more qualified than a math major? I am so over the organized disaster of public education.

  8. Yay for the NYT finally getting involved, no doubt it will help some.

    What I think would help a whole lot is if everyone who reads these ZT stories were to sit down and write to their elected representatives about how they feel then share this story with their friends (as in sending the link to this page) and suggesting they write.

    I write to one or more of my elected representatives a couple of times a year. I’ve found that a clear, polite but firm expression of concerns can have good effect. The more people who write and the more frequently the issue comes up the more likely it is that something will be done about it.

    You don’t even always have to make it a letter complaining each time. The occasional letter, if you don’t have ZT in your area, saying something like “Did you hear about that cub scout in Delaware who got suspended for bringing cutlery to school? Wow, I’m glad we don’t have dumb ZT laws like that here.” may encourage a local politician to not introduce them in the future. Plus it might make them listen to you more intently when you do write in complaint as you’ve shown you’re not just some whiner with nothing better to do than complain all the time.

  9. We had an incident of ZT this weekend at our homecoming. Long story short: a 14 year old was kicked out of the dance because he was helping a kid up that fell while dancing. Admin asked no questions, just grabbed arms, and showed them the door. If this boy were a girl, he would be called a wallflower. He is very shy, small for his age (5’2), and one of the most polite kids I have ever met.

    14: can’t drive, no phone call to parents, kid left wandering around outside of school (no coat because he was supposed to be inside all evening) for 2 hours till his ride home from the dance arrived at the end of the night.

    I’m pissed and disgusted and he isn’t even my kid.

    Some of these educators are just plain nuts.

    That kid needs rational adults to stand up for him. Not just his own parents, but you and everyone who is also disgusted. You need to appear en masse and make it clear that throwing the kid out into the cold is outrageous even if he did do something wrong, and it’s a double outrage since he didn’t. YOU need to stand up for other kids so that others will stand up for yours when it’s their time. Because with “thinking” like this, it will be their time sooner than you think. This must be stopped. You are in a position to stop it. -rc

  10. In Michael Moore’s new movie there is a segment about farming juvenile detention facilities out to private enterprise. As a capitalist enterprise, of course, profits increase as the number of incarcerates and length of incarceration increases, so the motivation is to find trumped up charges to get more children behind bars.

    In the movie, there was a judge who was collecting kickbacks from the corporation for sending children with ridiculously minor offenses to the prison. One has to wonder whether reform school sentences for ZT offenses might be similarly motivated.
    Democracy is a powerful tool. You should make better use of it.

  11. Wonder what would happen if dozens of parents sent their kids to school with the utensil? Every day? Make the administrator’s life hell, then things will change.

  12. The TODAY Show had Zach & his mom on this morning (10/13/09) and the “weapon” was shown. From my days as a day camp counselor, I can say that his “weapon” would have a hard time cutting most foods let alone anything else. I’ve been reading the ZT comments for years and this is just another sad case. This little boy DOES NOT belong in reform school!

  13. Be nice to the poor school administrations, Zero Tolerance gives them an excuse so they don’t have to think or be anything close to rational.

  14. “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” ~ Benjamin Franklin, Feb 1775

    Apparently this is a long term problem that will never go away. The old excuse “for the public good” can always be used to suspend law, common sense, and any liberties. Dictators and despots use that very excuse for their heavy-handed rule.

    As for Rules Are the Rules, the law is not a blanket which covers all, but a finely tuned instrument that weighs the tiniest pieces of evidence and circumstances. However, when a school becomes Prosecutor, Judge, AND Jury, all in one, then it’s unable to distinguish details. As a government sponsored entity, schools should be subject to the same separation of powers, and individual rights of procedure, as any other component of government.

    And the university law professor mentioned in the Times, Ewing seems to be primarily a forensic psychologist who also holds a law degree. While he seems to teach law, it appears that he has little practical application in real life experience. His major claim to fame are a series of books he’s written, which include “Minds on Trial”, “Fatal Families: The Dynamics of Intrafamilial Homicide”, “Kids Who Kill”, and “When Children Kill: The Dynamics of Juvenile Homicide”. He’s also collaborated on dozens of other publications dealing with ‘dangerousness’ and ‘expert testimony’. A self-styled ‘expert’ supported by others in the same select group of mutually admiring geeks.

  15. I liked Zachary’s mom’s comment:

    “We didn’t want our son becoming the poster child for this,” Ms. Christie said, “but this is out of control.”

    Gee, ya think?

    And the next paragraph offers some hope that the tide is turning:

    “In a letter to the district’s disciplinary committee, State Representative Teresa L. Schooley, Democrat of Newark, wrote, ‘I am asking each of you to consider the situation, get all the facts, find out about Zach and his family and then act with common sense for the well-being of this child.'”

    “Act with common sense”? They need to teach that to adults before they can teach it to the children.

  16. when i was 10 years old my father gave me a pocket knife that i still carry. i am pushing 60 years. he said it was a tool and if i ever used it as a weapon he would take it away from me. zt starts at home. i just know my fathers ashes would rise from his grave and take it away if i used it as a weapon.

  17. I am astounded that the Administration wants to send this sweet, innocent 6-year-old to Reform School. This Reform School is where they send Juvenile Delinquents for offenses such as assault and battery, rape, drug offenses, concealing a deadly weapon, and more.

    How can ANY intelligent body think that 45-days with offenders who are on their way to becoming hard-core criminals would be anything but damaging to poor Zachary!

    I am outraged! I’ve signed the petition, hopefully with 22,000 plus signatures this will be reversed at today’s Board meeting! Last night I sent Zachary an eMail of support and encouragement!

    For years, the collective group of National School Boards, Administrators and Teachers have chosen to dumb down our children to the lowest denominator in the class which, in fact, was usually a minority. They did it to my children years ago and I’m sure it’s continuing on today. If someone has a learning disability or behavioral issues, they should NOT be in a regular classroom, but more often than not that is exactly where they are. Or it’s discrimination. But then the President gets on the news saying our kids can’t compete with other nations’ children so we need to increase their school hours and the days at which they attend. Baloney! Plus, I don’t want any children at their mercy any more than they already are!

    Today, I will send an eMail to every Board Member and administrator listed on Zachary’s website telling them how horrendous their actions are. I encourage your readership to do the same, because once again, ZT has proven the lack of intelligent and independent thought needed to deal with today’s youngsters.

    I mean no insult when I say I had to laugh at the school’s name, because even someone suffering from severe Down’s Syndrome could make a more intelligent decision than every one of those “supposed” learned people involved in making this decision. I counted no less than 4 highly-lettered people carrying Doctorates in the District or on the Board. What is wrong with these people and those who decided to chime in in the NYT article about how necessary ZT is and how it’s saving our children? I can’t believe we did without their august opinions while growing up and still GREW UP to be responsible adults without the assistance of Zero Tolerance!

    All I can say to Zachary is… Perfer Et Carpe Diem (Be Strong and Seize the Day)!!!

  18. The irony in all this is that the child is being taught a larger lesson than the curriculum prescribes.

    It would be preaching to the choir to get into my views on zt.

    Let’s not forget that there’s a 6 yo child in the middle of this. Tossing him a note of support might go a long way towards restoring his faith in society.

  19. I posted a link to the NYT story on my facebook account yesterday and also wrote about it in my blog. I had one person, who works in the PA schools, respond with a very passionate defense of ZT and who made the following statement:

    “Steve, this issue isn’t really about what’s ethically/morally correct when you’re in the school “trenches”.”

    He goes to on to argue that this is all about protecting the schools from the hordes of evildoers who are looking to sue them.

    Sigh. If you’re going to act in an obnoxious and unreasonable fashion, and then say (through your actions) that you’ll only listen to lawsuits, what do you expect?

    I certainly hope that other folks in the district are a bit more concerned about little things like ethics and morality.

  20. “There is no parent who wants to get a phone call where they hear that their child no longer has two good seeing eyes because there was a scuffle and someone pulled out a knife,” said George Evans, the president of the Christina district’s school board.

    Couldn’t a sharpened pencil have the same affect? Eyeballs are really not pencil proof either.

  21. Publicizing this sort of insanity probably is about the best way to combat it. I believe the problem often is that too many control freaks are elected to school boards, who do not give teachers and administrators credit for common sense. It’s long been obvious that dealing with such matters on a case-by-case basis is the only intelligent way to go, whether it be butter knives or cold medicines.

  22. Unfortunately, Tom, Port Townsend, WA, it WAS a teacher who saw the “knife” in his hand when he was disembarking from the bus and confiscated it.
    15 years ago, while volunteering in my daughter’s 3rd grade class, there was an out-of-control boy who would disrupt the class when he didn’t want to do an assignment, therefore instead of tutoring students who actually required assistance, I would be put out of the room as a babysitter to make sure the boy (sometimes more than one) wouldn’t get into trouble.
    After discussing the situation with the teacher and asking why she didn’t send him to the Principals office, she told me that they were instructed, in no uncertain terms, to handle problem children on their own and to NEVER send a student to the office. When I would check on her class after volunteering in my son’s class, I was horrified to learn that they were pairing MY daughter with this miscreant for her to tutor him. I was told that that was the school policy and there was nothing I could do short of switching her school to a different county or state as my objection would follow my daughter in her records. Basically telling me that my objection was racist and would be recorded as such! Yes, it WAS a legitimate threat and not my imagination!
    So some teachers are on the ZT bandwagon as well as school administrators. BTW – my daughter was actually closer to a 5th or 6th grade level because she had reached 4th to 5th grade level in England when we lived there and the Principals refused to bump her to a higher grade because of her age even after running tests to confirm that she was at a higher level. As a result, we started having problems with her behavior AND her intelligence level dropped because she lost interest in school. We eventually moved out of state and got her back on track but she “lost” her advantage which I consider criminal.
    Later I learned that the NEVER in “never send a student to the office” only meant a poor or minority student. The city where we lived was a “planned” community with all income levels living there. The school was in Howard County, Maryland which government officials use as a sort of “test kitchen” for developing educational programs, teaching strategies and administrative policies.
    And, in regards to the “trenches” comment, where do they think the children come from… a cabbage patch? We deal with our own and other children 24/7, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year for approximately 18 years. Most of us know (as much as we can) our children and what they are capable of. Most of us are NOT at “war” with our children. If that’s how that teacher describes his job and the children he is assigned to nurture and instruct, then I’m thinking he should find another job or position.

  23. Amen, Randy! Under today’s laws I’d have been branded a career criminal and spent my formative years in prison instead of growing up to serve a career in the Air Force, then returning to work for the Air Force as a civilian, requiring a security clearance the whole time. Thank goodness our school administrators were allowed to use their own brains back then.

    The people who taught us in the “old days” weren’t “allowed” to use common sense, they were expected to! Now we have highly paid “professional” educators and administrators, yet society doesn’t seem to bat an eye when they perform with an appalling lack of sense. We need to go back to high expectations. -rc

  24. How about today’s news where the Eagle Scout was suspended for keeping a 2″ knife in a survival kit in the trunk of his car? His grandfather, a police chief, gave it to him. He was suspended for 20 days!! Zero Tolerance is actually Zero Brains!!

  25. First – When I was a manager, I went to a seminar on absenteeism and was told not to make a medical diagnosis unless I had graduated from medical school and had M.D. after my name. Now teachers and principals are qualified. I wonder if the president has thought of this. It could solve the health care debate. Teachers make less than doctors – just think of the money the country could save using this new-found resource. (I know, time to remove my tongue from my cheek)
    Second – I was talking to a classmate at a reunion and he told me that he used to carry a rifle to school every day when he was in elementary school. He lived a mile out of town and carried a .22 to shoot ground squirrels, which were a problem in the fields. The school was 1 mile from the edge of town, so he also walked 1 mile down one of the main streets of town to get to school. Nobody noticed. (Can you imagine anyone doing that these days, walking 2 miles to school or carrying a rifle openly in a town). When he got to school, he left the rifle in the principal’s office and picked it up at the end of the day. No problem.
    This nuttiness has got to stop, the sooner the better. People need to learn that equal treatment is not the same thing as fair treatment.

  26. I first saw the story on the BBC News website. They had links to other websites carrying the story, including “The Scotsman” (a newspaper in Scotland), the “Boston Globe”, and the “Washington Post”.
    The problem with wider coverage like this is that it gives the rest of the world even more reason to look down on the “stupid and foolish Americans”. On the other paw it just might shame some of the state and local governments that have implemented such useless policies to get rid of them…NOT!
    I think Rabbie Burns said it best in one of his poems: “Oh wad some power the giftie gie us/To see oursels as others see us.” (As best as I can recall that is how it goes; I have have the spelling wrong.)

  27. Hallelujiah! Zachary’s story has a successful story for now! The Christina School Board voted unanimously to amend the Code of Conduct for the 2009-2010 school year to allow individual schools and school administrators more discretion when deciding disciplinary actions for students in Kindergarten and First Grade. His website already has an update for those interested! Sanity CAN prevail!!!

    This is often what happens with enough publicity, since those in power can’t justify their actions to an enraged public. It’s a victory, but a hollow one: a lot of damage was done. We must default to common sense, not only grudgingly return to it only when the publicity for an individual outrage builds to a fever pitch. Not every victim gets featured on the front page of the New York Times. -rc

  28. Well, apparently the school board came to their senses. Somewhat. Sort of. Kind of.
    They amended the rules to change the punishment for kindergarten and first grade students:

    Under the approved amendment to the Code of Conduct, a separate category addressing Kindergarten and first grade students has been added, with revised consequences for a first or second offense. For example, a Kindergarten or first grade student charged with a Level III offense for the first time will now face 3-5 days out-of-school suspension and referral to school based counseling, but will not be required to be alternatively placed. The recommendation changed the language to read “Possible recommendation for alternative placement.”

    Of course 2nd grade and up — same ol’ same ol’.
    And note that this is the punishment for those charged with the offense, not “found to have broken the rules of conduct after an investigation”.

  29. Unfortunately, this Scout is not the only one that is falling prey to the “Zero Tolerance” nonsense. An Eagle Scout in New York is currently under suspension for having a pocket knife in a locked survival kit in his car at school.

  30. What’s scary to me about this is all the comments in the news stories from people who agree that suspending the kid was the right thing to do, that he needed to learn that rules are rules, and that he could have hurt someone. Sure he “could” have hurt someone. And the girl with the Ibuprofen “could” have choked on it. And the little toy gun “could” have gotten poked in someone’s eye. I think Zero Tolerance is too focused on what “could” happen and not open to the realization to the facts, like 6 year-olds not understanding the rules perfectly. I don’t know if I will ever send my kids to public schools if this keeps up.

  31. It seems to me that if school administrators are not required to use any personal judgment at all, they must be overpaid. I’m guessing that if pay were negatively impacted, administrators would quickly come around about the importance of their being able to use their judgement.

    I agree completely. -rc

  32. When freedom and liberty to think for ourselves is surrendered to the group think this is where we come.
    Never in our country’s history has there been a time for people to take responsibility to think for themselves more seriously than today and every day from here forward.
    ZT: mind control by the few for the masses.

  33. Please let’s look at the other side. ZT problems are more complex than just saying administrators should use their best judgment on each case by case. Taking time to assess each situation takes personnel, energy, money. When teachers are burdened with classes that are too big, more non-academic jobs, like metal detection, and bus duty, the only thing that works is a black and white policy that makes the decisions for you. It is a sad situation, but we have to blame the political decisions that take more money from education every year. No school administration can do what you are asking when it is strapped for money to even supply kids with enough text books.

    We’re already paying administrators professional wages to make the hard decisions, yet you say they need shortcuts so they don’t have to think. So why are we paying them professional wages? The decisions they’re making are terrible — the example on this page is just one of hundreds and hundreds of such destruction of our youth. If you’re saying this is the best society can do, then society has failed. We must demand better. -rc

  34. Does anyone know how ZT got its start, at least in the school system? I picture it coming out of a black sulphurous pool that bubbles up occasionally bringing ideas up to the surface to exploit people. I think the ‘basement cat’ invented this one (see for the basement cat meme). And the evil minions, like staff in public schools, perpetuate the idea with no idea of whence it came nor what it’s for – what are they trying to accomplish? Does anyone know? Is it just an excuse to body-search young women or expel decorated Eagle Scouts? WTF?

    If you read through all my ZT pages, you’ll see that it came from the laudable idea that kids should not have actual weapons or illicit drugs at school — few would argue that they enhance a learning environment. But something was added: “facsimile” drugs and weapons. Real gun = real problem. Toy gun = what? So toy guns were banned to avoid having to decide whether they were an actual problem or not. And paper twisted into the shape of a gun. And fingers held like a gun. And a piece of breaded chicken that sort-of resembles the shape of a gun (yes: really! A kid was expelled over that.) And on and on. Even drawings of military guns copied out of their school textbooks. How is a piece of breaded chicken dangerous to schools? It’s not, but because it’s a “facsimile” of a “gun”, it’s treated exactly the same as if the kid brought an actual, loaded gun to school. Yes, that’s stupid, but according to the previous comment by Chris in Northern California, school administrators went to college to learn how to man metal detectors and just don’t have the brain capacity anymore to decide whether something is actually a threat to a school, or whether it’s a piece of breaded chicken, so of course we have to expel any kid who shows a spark of creativity or even shows signs of challenging the nonsense he sees around him. Clearly, 6-year-olds are too much for them to handle and they must be sent to reform school to put them in their places. Does that make sense to you, or have you had enough? -rc

  35. It was bound to happen. And you might even lose a “This is True” subscriber because you’re picking on the poor teachers, principals and administrators.
    Chris, Northern California seems to think that it takes an enormous amount of time to use one’s brain and reach a logical and fair conclusion. This is completely amazing to me because when we were in school the police were rarely called, suspensions for a week were VERY rare, and expulsions hardly EVER happened. Our Vice Principal in high school would take the trouble-maker (possibly after one of the teachers swatted him) into his office and yell at him, then he would contact his parents and arrange a face to face meeting with them and the student to make sure a plan was in place for punishment (today they would call it behavior modification – LOL).
    You can’t hit a miscreant teenager, but you can ruin his life by putting something damaging in his school record and, sometimes, police record. I simply don’t get it. And by the way, most of us, including the girls, had pocket knives because we played in the park and woods. They were only confiscated if a teacher saw it in class and she usually returned it after class was over!
    Chris, no matter what kind of spin you TRY to put on it, ZT in its current form is unacceptable. You have our children at least 7 hours out of the day. We expect you to nurture and teach our children, not ruin their future. Sorry, I still don’t get it!

    Actually, I didn’t say anything about teachers; I used the word “administrators”. And the reason you “don’t get it” is because you’re a thinker. Those who can’t — or more probably won’t — just shrug and say “that’s the way it has to be” without trying to understand why, or trying to see if there is a better way. It’s pathetic to watch. It’s even worse to have to pay them to do it. We must demand better. -rc

  36. I served 8 years as an Elected member of the Governing Board of the 2nd largest HS-only school district in the nation (the 25k Phoenix Union district). I agree 100 percent that Z/T is stupid and most important UN-necesasary, Chris notwithstanding. But I lost my seat in my first re-election in 1994, partly because my opponent — a school teacher who later became a Principal — at one rally/speech forum alleged that I had ONCE voted against expelling a kid who brought a weapon to school. In fact our district almost never expelled ANYONE except for MASS criminal damage, guns (not knives) and assaulting teachers — and I voted for 95+ per cent of the expulsions.
    As an attorney, I DID defend three kids in suburban ELEMENTARY districts who brought knives to school. We got modified short suspensions in the case of the two younger kids. In the case of the 8th grader who accidentally brought a fishing knife in his backpack (left over from a camping trip), the best we could do (because of a Z/T policy) was to get him TUTORED the rest of the year at home at a COST to the district of $30,000!!! Such stupidity is incredible, especially because EVERYONE involved agreed the kid had NO malicious intent. The only one who “won” in that case was ME — a $1000 legal fee; ALL other parties — especially the school — was a LOSER. Instead of win-win, this was LOSE-LOSE. That law professor quoted in the NYT article should be fired if he REALLY believes that such policies are either useful or necessary.
    DISCRETION is what our criminal justice system is all about — and that should include the “school justice” system. The Supreme Court has said that MANDATORY death penalties — ie. not allowing consideration of mitigating circumstances — ARE UNCONSTITUTIONAL. SO SHOULD BE SCHOOL Z/T POLICIES.

  37. Thank you, Gary, Phoenix, AZ for your 8 years of service promoting and encouraging children. Everyone knows that teaching is a hard career, especially today! (Randy, I didn’t mean to single out teachers in my last post, I meant the collective group from Educator to Administrator to Board Member) This goes as well for Principals and the School Board.
    Unfortunately, there HAVE been too many violent incidents and threats of violence in school since Columbine in 1999 but that doesn’t mean we treat children like suspects or criminals the minute they walk through the doors of the school.
    Again, it shouldn’t take long to decide on individual cases of rule breakers with logic and reason. If it’s necessary, sleep on it or bring it to the attention of the Board, but only as a last resort because very rarely do the Board know ANYthing about individual students because usually they don’t see them!

    Of course, you know that at the time of Columbine, ZT was law in Colorado, not just suggested policy. Didn’t help much, did it? I discussed it here at the time. -rc

  38. As far as someone’s comment about how ZT makes decisions “faster”, as far as I can see it doesn’t even do that. If an administrator were to use that common sense rule to look at the Cub Scout knife Zachary brought to school, see that it wasn’t actually a weapon, and let him go (with or without saying, “Please don’t bring this to school.” It seems a bit excessive to tell him he can’t bring that for lunch, but hey), it would take a couple of minutes at the most. For the whole ruckus that was caused by such draconian measures (and would have been caused even had Zachary’s parents not protested), it took much longer. Sure, there may be cases that are going to take more time to come to a thoughtful and reasonable decision, but a lot of the cases that we’ve discussed are fairly straightforward (breaded chicken??? Really????). I am of the opinion that even if it takes longer to decide things, that is time school administrators owe to the kids they are working with, especially considering the long-term consequences this sort of thing can have. But even looking at it from a purely time-oriented standpoint, this is not a rational approach.
    I did want to say something about the homeschool comment from earlier. Someone else commented on how Zachary’s parents should just continue homeschooling him instead of sending him back to school. While I have met a number of good homeschooling parents and can see definite advantages to this in some cases, I just wanted to say that it’s not always so black and white. For one thing, in many families being a one-income family may not work. For another, many parents need to be able to get out of the house for their own sanity and for everyone’s well-being. I spent a few years working in a sort of volunteer teaching position, and discovered that I would never be able to homeschool my kids. I loved the kids I was working with, and had a great time spending time with them, but did not enjoy teaching. I hated lesson planning, I hated discipline, I often dreaded the actual teaching part of my position (while enjoying some of the other things like hanging out with the kids on breaks and such). While it was a valuable and worthwhile experience, it taught me that I am NOT cut out for homeschooling. Not to mention that my kids would not get a particularly good education from me; I don’t think people necessarily have to have a teaching degree to be teachers (they taught for centuries without it), but there are certain relevant skills that I do not have. This is a moot point right now because I don’t have any kids, but it is something I’ve given careful thought to the last few years.

  39. @Patricia – it is a myth that violent crime in the schools increased since Columbine. Violent crime in schools has been decreasing since Columbine. The difference between before and after is the media! A must read for anyone who is really against Zero Tolerance policies and the affect Columbine had on enforcement of ZT policies is the Book “Columbine” by Dave Cullen. He quoted research that indicates violent crime has been decreasing since the early 90’s (source).

  40. Randy and Judy: Thank you for the clarifications. For some reason I thought ZT policies WERE a direct result of Columbine. Probably because no one in our school system was affected by it while my children were in school.
    And Judy, my comment on violence was only indicative that these Columbine-like incidences keep happening or are found in the planning stages (perhaps not as costly, but still happening) and therefore, solidifies the necessity of ZT in the minds of school administrators and SME of the Public at large.
    If ZT worked to actually stop these tragic situations from happening, only then I would back the need for it, but the additional rules which were developed under the Zero Tolerance umbrella are, quite frankly, ludicrous! Teenagers don’t “push” Aspirin, Tylenol or Midol; they are in possession of those “over-the-counter” drugs because they are in pain. A sharp pencil or pen can do as much damage as a pocket knife and certainly more than a Boy Scout utility knife.

  41. There is just so much wrong with this it is difficult to know where to start. But what really burns me is what kind of impression this must leave on these small children. Possibly “I won’t ever carry a knife to school” but more likely – “Laws are stupid”. Now that is not a very good message to be sending to small children. After all as a parent how are you going to explain the fact of your child’s suspension from class to your child? Are you going to blame them? Of course not. You are going to say that it is a stupid rule and its not their fault, which it is, but small kids can’t easily make the kind of judgements that older children are capable of and can have a very black and white view of the world. A law is stupid can very easily be generalized by them to be all laws are stupid. You can see this behaviour if you ask a young child if stealing is wrong – you get the answer “Yes”. Then ask if a young baby is dying of starvation if it is ok for a parent to steal food for that child, a small child will still say yes but the older one will start to equivocate. Children are resilient and they will work their way though the mess that we adults have created to a sensible world view – but why should they have to.

  42. I’m just wondering if people are becoming more like computers. Unable to think laterally and only able to follow the RULES. Zero tolerance must surely be a guideline only and common sense should prevail otherwise innocent kids suffer at the hands of fools.

    “Zero Tolerance” and “guideline” are mutually exclusive concepts. The opposite of ZT is, in fact, common sense. But you’re correct that innocent kids ARE suffering at the hands of fools. -rc

  43. I firmly believe that the person who has single-handedly done the most damage to our children’s growth and lack of discipline is Dr. Benjamin Spock. Time-outs are great unless the child is hyper and/or out-of-control which most children are at one time or another because they a so filled with energy. If the child is too hyper just give them a pill!
    Today, children are taught from a very early age that they can turn their parents in if they are spanked. When a child misbehaves in a store or restaurant, you can’t give them a time out and it doesn’t make sense to wait until you get home to discipline them (by then they’ve forgotten the infraction). A swat on the rear is NOT child abuse, but after 60 years of Spock advice, you are the WORST child abuser and it’s likely the police will be called!
    There is quite a bit of difference between a swat/spanking and a beating. Believe me, I know the difference! So, today, we have kids just saying “no” and it’s not just to drugs. It’s children talking back to their elders, a total lack of respect for authority figures and I believe this has a BIG impact on what I call “school chaos!” I was appalled the first time I witnessed it, but YOU can’t do anything about it!
    Most schools do not have the “authority” to discipline a child on the spot whether by State or School Board laws/rules and have seen fit to abolish corporal punishment (mostly in the southern states and the schools who DO have the State’s OK are simply afraid to). Schools have our children for at least 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, yet they have had their authority and ability to punish a child taken away. So the easiest way to discipline a child now is by sending them home with a suspension or expulsion (it’s just a school holiday for the child) and marking up the child’s record. Most children don’t think about an idea so nebulous, they think in the present. Yes, the parent thinks about of how that record can follow their child and the fact that they now have to make arrangements for the child to be watched during the day so they MAY discipline the child, but I don’t think it has quite the same impact.

  44. I agree with Patricia re. a good spanking. I was quite a brat when I was younger, and my parents didn’t believe in spankings. I became a lot mouthier.
    As far as ZT is concerned though, I wouldn’t have learned anything by being suspended/expelled for such small “infractions” as accidentally bringing a pocket knife to school or intentionally bringing one to cut a cake. And, btw, sometimes chicken is just chicken.

  45. When I was in Jr. High, while out on the track field, our coach was trying to get a piece of rope loose from something and asked, “does anybody have a knife?” I handed him my simple jack knife with a 3″ folding blade. He used it, handed it back to me, commented on how sharp it was, and thanked me. No questions, no cops no review, nothing. The only questions came from my classmates. “why do you have a knife in school??” My reply, “I always carry a knife, it’s a handy tool.” Granting a rural setting, and I was not a “problem” kid. But whatever happened to common sense??? Considering the type of tool this kid had, I should think more damage could be done to another person with a sharpened pencil.

    Dave, your possession of a (sharp!) weapon at school proves you’re an anti-social nutcase who cannot possibly be a contributor to society. I don’t care if you’re now 50, this case clearly calls for several years of reform school to get you to be a productive citizen. (At least, that’s what I imagine the mentality of current school administrators would dictate!) -rc

  46. Sorry, Patricia (in Dearborn Heights), I would have to totally disagree with you. Spanking/swatting a child is not necessary to discipline that child.
    I NEVER spanked/swatted ANY of my children, not because of Dr Spock’s teachings or fear of being accused of abusing them. I was always afraid that I would be like my own mother, lose control, and be unable to stop hitting once I started, so I HAD to find other ways to teach them appropriate behaviour.
    Infractions at home resulted in time-out in the bedroom, which was ONLY a bedroom. No books, toys, video games or TV’s were allowed in those rooms, so a time out meant being alone in a room with nothing to do but think.
    In stores, the shopping cart worked fine as a time-out place especially once the child was old enough to walk, can you imagine the embarrassment my 11yr old felt when I made her sit in the shopping cart as punishment for talking back to me?
    In restaurants, I always requested a booth and any child who misbehaved was required to sit beside me but facing the back of the booth as a time out.
    The schools that my children went to had in school suspension rooms for students who acted out. Expulsion was reserved for the most severe infractions and usually included enrollment in a “disciplinary” school so that the child would not have a “holiday” from school.
    Yes, my kids tried talking back and saying no to me. They also pushed the limits on curfews, tried smoking and drinking, and all the other teenage stuff.
    The most serious discipline problem I ever had was a 14yr old who invited several friends to accompany her on a babysitting job where they had a party including raiding the liquor cabinet. She ended up paying for the liquor they drank, and providing FREE childcare to that family for 3 months as her punishment.
    I have 2 children of my own but have also raised 22 foster children, the youngest of my foster’s is currently 19 so my experience is in ‘today’s world’.
    Both of my children were diagnosed as ADD and one of them was also diagnosed as manic/depressive, I never gave either of them pills for the ADD. All of my foster’s came from broken, dysfunctional, or abusive homes and were placed in foster care because they were considered out-of-control delinquents.

    Thank you, CeeJay, for helping those 22 kids without homes get a taste of proper parenting. -rc

  47. This may have been said – I just skimmed the previous comments – but it seems to me the board’s adjustment of the punishment still misses the point. The sentence may be reduced, and that is appropriate for younger kids, but the brush they’re painting with is not much narrower than it used to be.
    The methodology we need and want and pay for is for administrators to consider the factors, and make a judgment call. A real weapon is (much) worse than a toy or representation, and should be treated as such. Intent, repentance, history and circumstantial factors must all be considered.
    I refuse to accept any less. Zero tolerance opposes reasonable values such as innocence until proven guilty, free speech, punishment fitting the crime, personal responsibility, forgiveness and balance.
    If cost is an issue, let’s consider the cost of charging and prosecuting hundreds of redundant cases and involving numerous officials. Consider the personal cost of false prosecution, both on the victims and on the administrators, who are all powerless to see justice done. The time wasted to prosecute trivial cases could have been used to focus on the serious cases, and perhaps prevent a problem from escalating.
    Dramatic strokes with a wide brush work well when you don’t care about what’s already on the canvas. This, however, is not the way to deal with social problems. We must paint with creativity and caring and balance and nuance.

  48. It particularly doesn’t make sense to me that any punishment would involve sending a child home during the school day. How exactly is that a punishment?

    It punishes the parents, especially if both work during the day. -rc

  49. While I thoroughly agree with everything you’ve said about zero tolerance, I would like to bring up something about this case (and many others) that also bothers me. As an educator of very young children I feel a great deal of empathy for Zachary. He was SO EXCITED about his new tool and very proud of it. His emotions were totally squashed by this event. Just put yourself in his place — I dare you not to feel a few tears well up. Let’s hope that his enthusiasm for life hasn’t whithered due to the adults that are supposed to be fostering it.

    I do have that hope, but it’s dim: I’m afraid that he, like many ZT victims, will be warped for life over this needless but intentional infliction of emotional distress. -rc

  50. But, but, but, … the blithering idiots in the school board still choose to characterize a kid bringing his Boy Scout eating utensils to school as an instance where he did “bring weapons to school or commit other violent offenses”.
    It is their treatment of an innocent child that truly qualifies as a “violent offense”.

    Yep. That’s part of the reason I was so clear that this is truly a hollow victory for the kid. -rc

  51. GPat triggered (Am I allowed to use that verb, or is it a description of a weapon?) a thought that had not occurred to me before. Zachary brought an EATING utensil to school, and for that, he was suspended.
    What do they serve for food at that school? Pablum? Porridge? Soup? Nothing solid? Most food that I eat usually requires a knife on the table. If the school cafeteria provides knives for eating, then I submit that the entire school board, from the Superintendent on down, including every teacher and aide, MUST be permanently suspended from any educational function for such egregious violation of the complete ban on any weapons in school.
    Of course, I chose to forget for a moment that Zero Tolerance only applies to students (and their parents who pay the taxes), not the school officials who consume those taxes like an entitlement.

  52. Zero tolerance is simply a way for those in authority to avoid making decisions – laziness personified. It reduces their little domain to stark black and white and absolves them from any intellectual responsibility. Given that they’ve chosen to define the world in absolutes, do we actually need them on the payroll? Seems like a chimp could be trained to select between just two buttons. And cheaper.

    And likely more empathic. -rc

  53. I love the use of the word “or” to make the “offense” more serious: “bring weapons to school or commit other violent offenses”.
    There was no violent offense in the original story … but phrasing it in that way makes it SCARY!
    Also, I hope they don’t allow pop in glass bottles in that school. If a kid drops it, do they expel him or or the helpful kids who picks up the dangerous broken bottle up to clean up the mess?
    Finally, I think EVERY kid in that school learned a valuable lesson: if you haven’t studied for a test, bring a spork to school!

  54. Rewinn, he did not bring a spork. A spork is a combination spoon and fork. Look at the picture in the newspaper article. This device does have a knife blade, unknown sharpness.
    Having vented on people not using the correct term, I agree that this was an extreme overreaction. At most, the child should have been told not to bring it to school. After that, the school needs to go through and remove all pens, pencils, cafeteria utensils, search the teachers for possible weapons, and blunt everyone’s fingernails. Then try to teach that way.
    By the way, do they still have those drawing compasses with the steel spike in the schools?

  55. Parts of this conversation have mutated to the value of spanking.
    I’d just like to put in my two cents… I have two grown children (22 and 24 years old). In their entire childhood, I had exactly ONE occasion to spank one of the children – it happened to be the younger child. It happened when he was 4 years old. Frequently he tried to cross a fairly busy street without an adult, without even looking both ways. Then came the time he darted out into the street and came VERY close to being hit by a car. His mother gave him 3 swats on the butt. The swats weren’t intended to hurt him – but to admonish him. He also had to sit through a lecture about the fact that getting hit by a car would have been a lot more painful than a spanking! From that day on he was always careful around traffic.
    The only other time that we came close to spanking, was when my older son was a teenager (13 or 14). I found out that he stole money from a neighbor. After I made him return the money and apologize, I told him that I was too angry to punish him at that moment. I seriously was so angry, I felt that I wouldn’t be in control. So I told him to go to his room, explaining that I would punish him when I had calmed down. A half-hour later he came back out of his room in tears. The fact that he had “let me down”, combined with the fact that he knew that I wasn’t bluffing, had much more of an effect than any spanking could possibly have had. I didn’t end up spanking him at all, but I’m quite sure that he never stole a penny after that.
    These incidents helped to drive home the point that they COULD be spanked, if they don’t obey their parents… and because it was driven home so well, there weren’t any other occasions where we had to do it. It isn’t the spanking itself that helps the kids; it’s the fact that they’re aware that it could happen!

  56. I can confirm, as someone who was a high school senior when Columbine happened, that ZT was already in place when it happened. It’s definitely grown worse in that it seems to be enforced far more now. I know by the time my brothers, citizenship grades were required for graduation, and you lost citizenship for any absence, including being sick. If you were sick too much, even with a doctor’s note, you would be required to do community service or not graduate. I was an honors student and a National Merit Scholar, and under the policies in place when my brothers were in high school, I would not have graduated. ZT is quite simply insane.
    As for the spanking issue, behavioral science has proven that heavy use of things like physical punishment is damaging to those who are treated that way. It is entirely possible to teach and train children to behave well without resorting to violence. AllanW and the wonderful foster mom are both excellent examples. Spanking is outright illegal in many European countries, but I don’t see widespread complaints about children’s behavior from my European friends the way I do from other Americans (or from my own experiences in public).
    The real problem is a lack of discipline and consequences from birth, not a lack of spanking. I’ve seen it in my own family, where siblings have threatened their kids over and over again, but then not followed through, so the kids run wild and do what they please. Saying, “If you don’t stop doing x, you don’t get dessert,” does nothing if the kid gets dessert anyway.
    I’m obviously kind of young to be very familiar with Dr. Spock’s philosophies, but if he helped contribute to a decrease in the acceptability of domestic abuse, he did a great thing. But maybe not. After all, look at how out of control women are now! They talk back to their husbands and even go out and get jobs rather than staying home and taking care of the house. We better start spanking them again, too, so they’ll listen to their fathers and husbands again.

    Longtime readers of course know that ZT was in place before Columbine, since I started talking about ZT in early 1997, and Columbine happened more than two years later. In fact, one reader was so tired of hearing about ZT that she ranted that if ZT were policy in Colorado, ZT would have never happened! Not true, of course: zero tolerance was the law in Colorado at the time of Columbine! (My response to that reader is here.) Your conclusion about ZT is right on: “ZT is quite simply insane.” -rc

  57. Ginny wrote: “Spanking is outright illegal in many European countries, but I don’t see widespread complaints about children’s behavior from my European friends the way I do from other Americans (or from my own experiences in public).”
    As someone who currently lives in what is supposedly one of the most civilized countries in the world, which happens to be in Europe, I can give another view on this.
    Certainly, Europeans do not complain about kids’ behavior: they rightfully recognize “kids being kids”, like we used to in USA.
    But the flip side is that Europeans totally coddle their youth, to the point of tolerating some behaviors (like littering and vandalism) that I consider outrageous. These kids also grow up feeling very entitled, having experienced significant preferential treatment during adolescence.
    Alas, Europe is dutifully following in the USA’s footsteps and beginning with fear-based policies exactly like what led to ZT in USA. There has been talk here in Switzerland of weapons bans and metal detectors, despite the fact that significant school violence is as rare here as it is in USA. (And I say this as someone who was a constant victim of bullying in school in USA and Switzerland… but that’s another matter.)
    Common sense is long gone, and the media, in its endless quest for numbers thanks to sensationalism, has people believing that our world is more dangerous than ever, when in fact, there’s never been a better time to be human.

  58. The problem is nothing new. That it’s now codified as Zero Tolerance is relatively recent, but the trend has been around since at least the 1930’s as far as I’ve been able to track it. It’s not about purpose; it’s not about logic; it’s not even about manageability. It’s all about shuffling the blame for not thinking.
    How many of you have heard the mantra, “It’s just our policy”? A mantra that removes the need to think, removes the need to apply rational intelligence to the situation at hand, and shuffles the blame to the nameless (and unreachable) Powers That Be.
    I said it before in private; I’ll say it again in public:
    Them that can, DO.
    Them that can’t, TEACH.
    Them that can’t teach, TEACH TEACHERS.
    And them that can’t teach teachers, BECOME SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS.

  59. This is an interesting discussion, one that I have followed from the beginning. I do have one concern, however.
    My wife and I have raised five children. Over the years we’ve gotten to know many teachers, principals and school board members. (Or, if you’d like, “educators and administrators,” but I prefer the plain language.) Not only that, but my wife is a teacher, I was a teacher for a few years, one of our daughters is a teacher, and we’ve therefore gotten to know many teachers and principals as professional colleagues.
    We’ve seen our share of worthless (by any measure) teachers, principals, vice-principals and school board members, but the vast majority of the education professionals that we know are not the kind of people I read about in these ZT stories. I have a great deal of respect for them. Please don’t tar all teachers with the same brush in your comments on this forum.
    The person who quoted the old saw, “Those who can’t, TEACH,” has never met my daughter, me, or any of the teachers that I know and respect. Teachers don’t teach for the money – at least not in this state. Many teachers teach the subjects they choose because they are passionate about them, find great joy in them, and want to awake that joy and passion in the next generation.
    (Oh, and the next line of that old saw should read, “Those who can’t teach, find a better-paying job in the business world.”)
    I know this comment may seem off-topic, but I just got tired of reading yet another comment slamming teachers in general, and needed to say something.

  60. Actually, the true quote is, “Those who can do, those who can’t teach.” ~George Bernard Shaw
    Ol’ Georgie is one who is held in high regard for his especially keen intellect. Another of his observations on the subject: “When a man teaches something he does not know to somebody else who has no aptitude for it, and gives him a certificate of proficiency, the latter has completed the education of a gentleman.”
    Teachers who teach the subjects they choose because they are passionate about them, find great joy in them, and want to awake that joy and passion in the next generation must be quite new to the profession and have not yet had that dedication beaten out of them by the administration.
    Where do you think that TV show got the idea from, “You WILL be assimilated; resistance is futile”? I’ll refrain from commenting about “Another Brick in the Wall.”

  61. Actually, the Borg can also be seen as a fair imitation of the British army and navy down through the centuries, and the WWII-era Japanese Imperial Navy and post-war Japanese culture and economy.
    And the Pink Floyd classic you mentioned is a big hit among a large number of the passionate teachers I talked about. See if you can figure out why. By the way, if you think that all the passionate ones are young and naive, you don’t know enough teachers.

  62. That’s called Deflection in an attempt to distract the focus from the core argument. Since it really doesn’t matter what else the fictional Borg MAY represent, I accept your inability to refute my statement that it does correlate the schools’ mission to indoctrinate all of its subjects in the current established culture of the school.
    If schools really were concerned with education of our children, then why are so many of those children systematically suspended and expelled on such minor “violations” as drawing a picture of a gun? “Violations” as dealing “drugs” by passing out actual candy? Those are values being taught to our children, often contrary to the values of the parents. These ZT stories are not rare occurrences that Randy has to dig out to expose. They are just the most egregious examples of continuous daily ZT all over America run amuck.
    Me, due to a military childhood, I’ve attended a different school in a different state for nearly every grade, so I’ve met a lot of teachers from a lot of different places. And I’ve raised 4 kids to adulthood in a similar experience of many teachers in several states. So I’m not talking about a few teachers in one school in one town. If I have to meet a thousand teachers to find one such as you describe, then it’s not worth it to try meeting more.
    I will agree with you that there really are a few teachers who are dedicated and passionate about their profession but, sadly, that’s beaten out of them over time. There is no room in a school system for independent thought. (Assimilation applies to the teachers, as well.) The vast majority of teachers might aspire to mediocrity. For what it’s worth, ZT is not the sole province of schools. It’s also prevalent in corporate structure, as well as our legal system. It’s not so evident since those institutions are not so open to daily observation. But really, ZT is a function of Society and its people. The only positive thing I can say about Public Education is that it’s better than no education.
    A parting note; Pink Floyd may have been a hit with a few teachers, but when that song was popular, most of the ones I knew admitted that they cringed when they heard that line, “Hey! Teacher! Leave those kids alone!”

  63. It wasn’t Deflection; it was Conversation. You brought up the Borg. I was simply going along with it.
    I already outlined my qualifications to speak on this subject in my Feb 11, 2010 posting. I’m not sure why you waited a year and four months to respond to it. I don’t know why, in all of your experience, you’ve never met a teacher like the ones I’ve described, while I’ve met dozens and maybe hundreds.
    I don’t know any teachers who had it “beaten out of them” or who were “assimilated” as you have suggested. I don’t know ANY teachers who exemplify or validate GBShaw’s “those who can’t” witticism. I know a lot of teachers who simply got tired of teaching. I know of several who left the profession because the low pay they were getting didn’t justify the crap they had to deal with from parents and administrators. But the vast majority of them figured out how to keep their heads up and rage successfully against the machine for 15 to 20 years, until the day they retired.
    I don’t know why my experience has been so different from yours. Undoubtedly, our perception is colored by our experiences, but our experiences are also colored by our perceptions.
    I’m sorry that you and your kids never had any “good” teachers.
    Now, to bring the discussion back to ZT:
    I also don’t know of a single ZT incident that has occurred in a school during a year that one of my family members was there — not even with two sons in ROTC, with wooden guns and ceremonial sabres in the back of the car and on school grounds. I’m not denying that these ZT incidents happen. They DO happen, and the fact that they DO happen is deplorable. Maybe we’ve just fortunate to have had wise teachers and (mostly) wise admins at my kids’ schools.
    But to suggest that they happen everywhere, all the time (I believe your words were “continuous daily ZT all over America run amuck”), is a gross exaggeration that doesn’t help the situation at all. And to blame it on all teachers, as you did, is facile and unfair, which is what prompted me to write in the first place.

  64. Perhaps my standards are simply too high. “Perfection is our goal; however, Excellence will be tolerated.”
    If you believe that mediocrity is a worthy goal, then I’m sure that it will occasionally be accomplished. I will point out that it’s not just my experiences or perceptions, though,as evidenced by 50 years of introspection such as “Why Johnny Still Can’t Read”, as well as deepening failure to meet standardized testing without “teaching to the tests”.
    My reference to GB Shaw is only one of many disparaging remarks about public education which include such notables as HL Mencken, Friederick Nietzsche, Mark Twain, and even Thomas Jefferson. And even further, Isocrates of 4th century BC Athens. And in fairness, I’ve already included Ben Franklin’s assessment, “The only thing more expensive than education is ignorance.” Point being, it’s more than just my perception and it’s more than just one pithy quote, possibly out of context. Not to mention that it’s more than just a 20th-21st century issue.
    But even if it were “gross exaggerations”, it helps even less to ignore it as a rare anomaly, which is the natural reaction of the citizenry. One cannot solve a problem until one first recognizes that it exists and, more importantly, is willing to face it.
    Perhaps I demand too much and will always be disappointed. But more disappointing is that most teachers don’t even make an attempt to aspire to a higher goal. Don’t take that as an insult; the same character is evident in industry, workers who simply put in their time, do the minimum required, until retirement. But talking about having passion is not the same as demonstrating passion. Talk is cheap.
    Lastly, since there is apparently a statute of limitations on this topic, a year and 4 months (another Deflection) before I discovered your comment, I’m presuming that my comments should no longer be considered valid. However, I do appreciate that your comments have provided me the catalyst to express mine. It’s now up to the audience to decide which, if either (or both), have merit. I do expect your closing argument, as well. Thanks for your part.

  65. @Mike: sigh Whatever.
    Your mind is made up. The world exists the way you see it, and you can safely ignore any evidence to the contrary. In your world, all teachers are worthless, and the U.S. public school system suffers from “continuous daily ZT all over America run amuck”.
    If that’s the world you want to live in, you’re welcome to it. I’m done with this discussion.

  66. “Evidence to the contrary”…?
    What? Your wife is a teacher?
    So were you? Temporarily?
    And your daughter?
    Oh, and a few professional colleagues. Well, I’d hope you’d only have competent colleagues. (By the way, keep in mind that assembly line workers in a factory are competent; it just means there’s been no reason to fire them.) Still, here is the important part… Stay with me for a moment.
    OF COURSE, you’re not going to change my mind! Nor was my intent to ever change yours! We both have experiences that shape our opinions. The point was to present evidence, not anecdotes, about what is perceived to be a widespread problem all across the nation. I am the “prosecutor”, you are the “defense.” Your job is to convince the jury that your client is not guilty.
    “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: I’ve presented examples of my family to show my client is not guilty, but the prosecutor refuses to change his mind. So I’m done; I quit. If this is the world in which you want to live, so be it.”
    Sadly, that’s the typical response I encounter of most teachers. Essentially, “if you don’t change your mind to agree with me, I’m done with you.”
    Education is much more than just “It’s so because I say it’s so and I’m the teacher; otherwise, you’re not worth my time.”
    I continued to dog this topic because you seem to insist that ZT is a rare, occasional abberation in the educational system. I read about it daily, in schools all over the country. But what permits it to continue is the desperate, unfounded hope that it’s only somewhere else, “never here in MY school.” And it’s not just rogue principals who install secret spy cameras all over the school to catch “violations,” but teachers who report the students.


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