Zero Tolerance?

Today during my team meeting we watched the above TED talk about reengaging boys in schools. I highly recommend you watch this and engage in some conversation with your peers about it as I did this morning. The speaker goes over some of the reasons why she believes schools are not set up for boys to be successful. While I am not saying I agree with every single point she made one struck me funny and has caused me to question my beliefs.

She claims that one of the problems with schools is their zero tolerance policy. This would apply to any sort of actions, words, or writing that could be considered violent. In addition, this applies to “toy” or pretend weapons as well as drawings that have weapons or violent acts. Now, first let me say that I do not condone violence nor do I think we should allow it to be present in our schools. In the post Columbine-era, there are too many real and sad examples of violence in schools with tragic consequences.

The intent of a zero tolerance policy to prevent such tragedies from happening and I agree with this in theory. However, I know plenty of people, myself included, that played first person shooter video games, shot guns as kids (skeet shoot, BB guns), and wrote fantasy stories with death or what would be considered violent imagery. All of these things would land a kid in the principal’s office with the psychologist and possibly a threat assessment. Yet, all of these people I know are successful adults with no record of violent acts. Surely there are those that write, speak, and communicate violence and do go forward with it. Is it because of the few that the zero tolerance policies are put into place?

With that being said I offer a perspective… In a majority of the tragic school tragedies involving violence and/or shootings, the shooters were later discovered to have been bullied at some point at school. For every school shooter there are millions of little boys playing with pretend guns that will never use a real one against another human being. However, if we continue to focus on what a kid is drawing in a notebook and not at the real root of the problem are we missing the point? If we focus our energy on figuring out the root of bullying, identify it, teach about it, and stop it, doesn’t that seem a better use of our time?


Zane said...

Funny...I had a similar conversation today with the SS teacher that teaches next to me. We talked about the 'boys being boys' idea. She picked up a note from a student that had guns and students shooting other students. I told her they were just being boys and that I remember drawing axes, pistols, assault riffles, etc. when I was in middle school. We tell our kids to express themselves in constructive ways, but who determines constructive? I teach 7th grade language arts, and my students know that anything they wouldn't mind their parents reading is okay with me when it comes to composition and expression. I have students reveal personal ideas and expressions that would be questioned in other classrooms. I wouldn't have it any other way.

TFT said...

"I get weary of this zero tolerance bullsh*t. It's annoying. To begin with, it's a fascist concept; it's what Hitler and Stalin practiced. It allows for no exceptions or compassion of any kind. All is black and white-no gradations. But even more important, it doesn't solve anything. The use of such a slogan simply allows whichever company, school, or municipality is using it to claim they're doing something about a problem when, in fact, nothing is being done at all and the problem is being ignored. It's a cosmetic nonsolution designed to impress simpletons. Whenever you hear the phrase zero tolerance, remember, someone is bullsh*tting you." George Carlin

David said...

George, I agree with you. Zero tolerance policies give no room for learning, they just shut down the conversation before it begins.

Even zero tolerance for bullying forgets that our students need to learn through repetition, patience, guidance, and our empathy.

Columbine didn't happen because that school was tolerant of guns or violence, it happened because our society is intolerant of difference and uses exclusion as a form of social control.

Anonymous said...

Good Post Josh,

The video was alright, and I definitely agree with you. Many people know grew up playing with toy guns and violent video games openly, but we turned out alright. It makes me wonder if forcing kids to hide any "violent" toys or writings will make the problem worse.