Friday, May 24, 2013

What are the implications of Zero Tolerance?

One of my grandsons was suspended from school after he brought a toy gun to school.   No adult saw the toy.  He was in an after school program and showed it to another boy and was reported by three other students who saw him showing the toy to his friend.   When the Principal was informed about the incident, several days after it happened, she called in this boy and confronted him - without another adult in the room.  The Principal ultimately commented that because he had used his hand, while playing with another kid as a gun, in the second grade, this represented a "pattern" of behavior.  (From my point of view, that comment was nonsense.) He was then suspended for two days.

There are a number of issues here.   But let me comment first that I think if an organization establishes a rule, it should be followed.  So in one sense I do not disagree with the ultimate result.   I would question however the thinking about these kinds of rules.   Here are some thoughts.

#1 - Does a Gun Free Zone rule actually improve safety on campus?   That is a hard one to evaluate.  It certainly does not improve the possibility that a person cannot come on campus with a gun.  Witness Sandy Hook.   But it may reduce the likelihood that a student will bring a weapon on campus, and that may be good, especially in some schools.

#2 - Does the rule improve student discipline?  There is always a problem with children and attention spans and a rule which prohibits them from brining toys on campus, is probably good for keeping their attention on studies.   This morning I showed one of my other grandsons a bird feather that I had found on a recent fishing trip, and he commented that he could not take it to school because it was a toy.  Even at five that is a good thing to encourage children to do.

#3 - Does this kind of rule isolate guns and diminish the attention to and respect for the Second Amendment?  I wonder if you make something so foreign in the long term will the proper role of firearms in a free society be lost on its citizens.   The debates about gun control bother me because so many of the strongest advocates on both sides make such outrageous claims.   Ideologues against guns like Diane Feinstein (who arguably is where she is because of a gun incident early in her political career) have no understanding of guns and therefore diminish the strength of a reasonable argument that there should be some limits on the use of firearms in society.   I am especially skeptical of the Principal's interpretation of a gun free zone to include any action which might be quite normal for a boy, such as using you hand to play cops and robbers.   This is not a slippery slope - forming you hand into the shape of a pistol - will not cause you to become a gun toting criminal.  

#4 - What is the role of parental involvement? - In this incident the three children who reported the toy to the principal and the one kid who my grandson showed it to were called in an questioned by the principal.  Then my grandson was called in and confronted with the issue.   In this case, because there was a suspension involved, it would have been good to try to engage one or both of his parents in this conference.   This was not an emergency (the actual incident in question had happened several days before) so it would have been smart of the principal (and I think professional) to get the parents on the phone.  As it was done, an opportunity for learning was turned into a most punitive event.

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