Spork the Zero-Tolerance Rules

By Lenore Skenazy

October 14, 2009 5 min read

The big news this week was ... well, it was about health care. Lately it's always about health care. But the news that probably got the most people's blood pressure up to where they NEEDED health care was the story of 6-year-old Zachary Christie, a Delaware first-grader who brought his beloved Cub Scout spoon/fork/knife to school to eat his lunch with.

And promptly was suspended for 45 days. His school has zero tolerance for "weapons."

His parents were given a choice: They could drop everything and home-school him for the next two months (that's not an inconvenience, is it?), or they could send him to a reform school filled with kids up to age 18.

As the authorities at the school explained (using the sporks God gave them for brains), this is simply how zero-tolerance rules work.

They could have added that this is also how our country is going to STOP working sometime soon. It makes no sense to follow rules that make no sense. That makes sense to you, right? But it doesn't to a whole lot of school administrators.

Happily for Zachary, all it took was a little international media exposure, including a front-page story in The New York Times, for his school to reverse its decision. So apparently, the policy there is really more like zero tolerance for being ridiculed in the press. But bureaucrats who don't make it to the front page continue to thrive at other schools.

Consider the case of Matthew Whalen. He's an Eagle Scout. In fact, he's SUCH an Eagle Scout that he is applying to West Point this year. But now they may turn him down. After all, he was just suspended for 20 days. Why?

Well, back when Matthew was 12, he learned CPR. So a year later, when his aunt had a seizure and stopped breathing, he was able to save her life. This proved so satisfying that when he got his license, he stocked his car with emergency supplies: extra blankets, water, food and his grandpa's penknife.

I think you might see where this story is going. School officials learned he had a "weapon," and they suspended him. Yes, even though it was in his car .

His school apparently abides by zero tolerance for thinking clearly. And zero tolerance for really good kids, too.

I could go on and on, but let me just give you a few more examples of how zero-tolerance policies, enacted to keep our children safe, actually do nothing of the sort. I just heard from the parents of a 12-year-old girl who made her school's softball team. The problem is her parents have to drive out to every practice because she's not allowed to bring her bat on the school bus. Yes, that's zero tolerance for "weapons" again. (Don't tell anyone that kids sometimes fight with their fists, or God knows what'll happen!)

Then I heard from the mom of a grammar-school girl whose teacher asked the students to bring in food for the hungry. The girl got in trouble for bringing a can of green beans on the bus. Was this zero tolerance for weapons again? Or maybe zero tolerance for those jolly, green and large?

I'm not sure. But I am positive that zero tolerance is either making us into a nation of zombies or giving an already zombified nation clever cover. "Me no zombie! Me just following rules!"

Zero tolerance leaves zero flexibility for compassion, circumstances or common sense. And it's making life pretty bad for the kinds of kids we all want to raise, too — Cub Scouts, Eagle Scouts, athletes.

And those ruffians who participate in canned food drives.

Lenore Skenazy is the author of "Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry" and "Who's the Blonde That Married What's-His-Name? The Ultimate Tip-of-the-Tongue Test of Everything You Know You Know — But Can't Remember Right Now." To find out more about Lenore Skenazy ([email protected]) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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