Have we collectively lost our minds? I am so glad I am a retired school teacher. Emphasis on the word retired. The idea of sending a six year old first grader to reform school for bringing a camping utensil to school is preposterous.
Many of you have probably already read the article that appeared on Tuesday or perhaps saw the interview on the Today show. In case you didn’t, this young boy wanted to eat lunch at school with his Swiss army knife-like utensil he got to take on Cub Scout and family camping expeditions. When he got to school it was confiscated and he was suspended and looking toward spending forty-five days at a reform school. All of this because of a “zero tolerance” policy.
When I was still teaching I had a sign above my door stating “This is a zero tolerance schoolroom”. At the beginning of each year we had a discussion on what that sign meant. By fourth grade everybody in the class knew the rules. They already were well aware what proper and improper conduct was. Their job was to act in a polite, civilized manner. My job was to intervene if they chose not to act in such a way.
My idea of zero tolerance very seldom had to involve the principal. It was much easier when cell phones came out the last few years that I taught. The children knew if they were disruptive the first time they got a warning. If the same behavior continued, they got to do something very old fashioned. They sat in the corner. If there were still problems, they got to call their parents usually at work and explain to them what they had done wrong and why they were calling. After that, they wrote in their own words what they were doing and their plans to correct the behavior from happening again. They took that home and the parent signed it. If there was a second occurence, there was the warning and then the phone call followed by a conference between the parents and me. If there were ever to be a third, it was straight to the phone followed by a visit to the principal with complete documentation of all that had transpired prior to this visit. All of them knew this. I never once had to have a third call. It’s amazing the change in behavior the first time a student has to call a parent. Of course it took place in the classroom by my desk with the fellow classmates “busy” with seat work.
As far as bringing forbidden objects to school, I was just like the teacher in the 1983 movie A Christmas Story. I had a drawer full of junk. If the child wanted it back, all he/she had to do was write a letter to the parent telling them what was confiscated and why. If the parents wanted the child to have the item, they wrote a note to me requesting that it be returned with the promise it would never be brought back to the class again. Over the years, once in a while a parent would make that request but surprisingly not often. That was my idea of zero tolerance.
Now I guess I can see the need for suspension. I’ve been in some first grade classrooms as a substitute years ago where I have actually seen some pretty dangerous kids. The children today from what I understand in some situations are far worse. But it was always questioned whether suspension did any good because some of these kids were left home alone for the week. To some that was a reward and not a punishment.
My first question regarding this incident, however, would have been if the rules about bringing knives of any kind to school had been thoroughly explained to these first graders. If that hadn’t been done, that’s like learning the rules of the game after the game has already started. You can’t commit a foul if you don’t know what constitutes a foul in the first place. Rules have to be explained in ways all children regardless of age can understand and teachers must check for understanding.
The district says they have to treat all cases the same way. To do so otherwise would lead to suspicions of discrimination. I don’t buy that. As the mother says, I agree with her that each case should be dealt with on an individual basis. The basic question should be, “What was the intent?” It is one thing to have a child waving a knife, threatening to kill a classmate or a teacher, and shouting some of the obscene things that come out of the mouths of these kids. It’s another to have someone wanting to eat lunch with a favorite utensil. Yet, in order to seem to not discriminate, both cases are treated equally. Where have our minds gone?
I can see that if this child is left off the hook there is someone who will immediately go around shouting favoritism and play once again the old, dead race card. I would not like to be on that school board. In the mean time however, I do hope that board and boards and principals and teachers across the country start standing up to those who see life as totally unfair. Somebody has got to start controlling the school rooms in a civilized fair way before everything goes down the tube once and for all. We have to forget the fallacy of one size fits all. It isn’t true in the clothing industry and it certainly isn’t true in the school system.