‘Zero tolerance’ policies in America’s schools were originally applauded as a definitive approach to making schools safer for all young students, but the policies have led to the unnecessary suspension of innocent children doing innocent things.
• At a Maryland elementary school, a 6-year-old was suspended recently for making a gun gesture with his hand and aiming at a classmate and saying “POW!”
• A father was arrested after his 4-year-old daughter drew a picture of a gun at school.
• Shooting rubber bands in school have resulted in arrests.
• ‘Zero tolerance’ drug policies in schools have led to the suspension of students caught with Advil or Midol on school grounds.
• In Portland, OR a high school expelled a student who ‘mooned’ a teammate at track practice after the act was defined as sexual harassment. On my show in Portland I was so critical of the school that the student was reinstated.
Following the tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, America has again been plagued with an irrational fear that everyone is a potential threat. But the irrational fear that is running so rampant through our nation was growing long before that recent tragedy.
‘Zero tolerance’ policies have been robbing children of innocent activities that have been part of child’s play as long as any of us can remember.
A 3rd grader was suspended for drawing a picture of a soldier holding a canteen and a knife. Equating what was probably nothing more than innocent patriotism with some kind of potentially sinister plot against fellow students is an embarrassing function of a society that can no longer distinguish between fantasy and reality.
I remember drawing pictures of soldiers holding guns and knives in elementary school and making gun gestures with my hand as I simulated wiping out the entire school yard. But those actions were motivated by an innocent attempt at fantasy and were not interpreted as an actual threat. I’m sure you can recall countless things you did when you were young that, today, would be viewed as a threat that would lead to suspension.
‘Zero tolerance’ policies remove the human factor from judging human behavior, which can never be reduced to predictable mechanics. This ‘zero tolerance’ mentality that has spread throughout our society is further proof that Americans will desperately jump at ridiculous solutions to difficult problems and then develop a false sense of security that the problems have actually been solved.
Let’s work on solving the real problems rather than seeking ‘feel-good’ solutions that allow us to quickly move beyond tragic moments. America has lost something precious when kids can no longer be kids.