Zero-Tolerance or Zero Discretion?

Zachary Christie holding the "dangerous weapon".
Zachary Christie holding the "dangerous weapon".

As an educator one of my biggest frustrations was the unfair enforcement of school rules. I tried to be fair with all of my students regardless of who they were or were not. I have been a supporter of zero-tolerance. However, I think that discretion must also be used when enforcing rules. There are times when the penalty may far exceed the offense.  A recent incident in the Christina School District in Delaware is an excellent example of zero-tolerance out of control when  six-year-old cub scout Zachary Christie was suspended for bringing a dangerous weapon to school.  The dangerous weapon was a camping utensil with a knife, fork, and spoon. Zachary was excited about his new tool and wanted to use it at lunch. He was not threatening anyone but simply wanted to eat lunch. In an interview Zachary responded to the questions about his motivation by saying he simply wanted to eat lunch. Zachary has been suspended for 45 days and may be sent to a reform or alternative school.

Dangerous weapon or camping untensil?
Dangerous weapon or camping utensil?

Yes, Zachary broke the school rules by bringing a knife to school and there should be an appropriate consequence. Suspension and assignment to an alternative school is not appropriate for this case. Zachary willingly gave the utensil to the teacher. He was not threatening or belligerent. A better approach would have been to confiscate the tool and explain why it is was not appropriate for school.

It is Zachary’s teacher, school and possibly the Christina School Board that is way out of line in this case. It is obvious that Zachary is not a threat to anyone but he is being treated like an incorrigible delinquent.  It is likely that making an example of this child will prevent any further similar incidents.

Response to What’s the World Coming To …

stackobooks.jpgThis is written in response to What’s the World Coming to written by Elfninosmom. In Waycross, GA a group of third graders at Center Elementary school, hatched a plot to harm their teacher. One student even brought a steak knife to school. This began as comment about the post but quickly grew into a rant.

There is and has been for several years a growing problem of children who do not develop a conscience. Some believe it is because they are drug babies, have ADHD, OCD or some other defect. Others attribute the problem to video games, TV, and toy weapons.

Yes, it is possible that violent video games or TV programs may have contributed to the problem. However, third graders should not being playing those games or watching violent TV shows. It is the parents responsibility to provide guidance and supervision. I do not believe that cartoons or toys like guns cause children to become violent. As a child I had toy guns and watched cartoons. I also had parents that taught me cartoons were not real. My parents and granddad taught me the difference between toy guns and real guns. In fact my granddad insisted that no gun was to ever be pointed at people even a toy gun. Guns were for hunting and protection. In my opinion parents are more to blame than TV or toys.

Of course, some may blame the teacher and think what has she done to create such animosity between herself and the students. The teacher did nothing wrong. She simply enforced school rules. There are some children today who control their home environment and do not want anyone placing restrictions on them. It may have been as simple as the teacher expecting the students to follow rules and actually learn. Many children do not encounter rules until they enter school. Their parents often are unable, unwilling or just do not care to control their child’s behavior. Recently, I had a parent of a young child come in the store where I work. The parent was paying for something but the little girl brought something to the counter and demanded to have it. The mom explained to the girl she had been shopping all day and did not need anything else. The little girl proceeded to whine and demand. As the mom was paying she for the book she said just didn’t understand why this always happened. They were with someone else who was still shopping and did not leave the store. As I was helping another customer I heard the sound of a CD being opened. The little girl was trying to open a CD. Fortunately, I stopped her before she did anything more than rip off the price sticker. The mother begins yelling at me from the back of the store that the little girl just wanted a sticker. I sent the girl to her mother. The mom proceeds to yell at the girl and tell her she had to apologize until the child begins crying. Suddenly, the child no longer has to apologize because she is apparently sorry. Also the mom begins to cuss loudly near where I’m helping another customer about how terrible I am because the child just wanted a sticker. Yes, it was just a sticker today the child was trying to steal. Taking something without asking is stealing. If the child had asked I would have given her a sticker. What will the child steal next time? This child was between 4-7 and had already learned how to control mom.

I think it is more likely that children reflect what is happening in society and around them. In part this due to our post-modern culture where there are no moral absolutes. Teachers and parents have been told not to tell children something is wrong because it might make them feel bad about themselves. Well, there are some things that are just plain wrong. That bad feeling is either guilt, remorse, shame or conscience.

In Proverbs parents are instructed to train up a child in the way he should go. No rules may work for steak but it does not work for children. Teachers must be allowed to make and enforce rules for the classroom and administrators and parents must be supportive of teachers.