They're words we hear fairly often these days. "Zero tolerance on drugs." "Zero tolerance on guns and knives at school." "Zero tolerance on seat belts and child seats."
The intentions behind zero tolerance policies seem good, in the abstract: people are prone to make up excuses when we try to bust them for things they shouldn't be doing -- to try and take advantage of the better natures of whomever it is that's busting them for whatever they shouldn't have been doing. ZT policies are an attempt to counter that; to make sure that "people get what they deserve".
Well, I think that as a society, if we continue to encourage, and indeed, to permit, ZT policies, we're going to get what we deserve, alright. It just won't be what we expect.
Or what we want.
It goes back to school, really. School-age children, and especially elementary age ones, are given rules to follow, and very little -- if any -- leeway in following them, because the younger you are, the less capable you are (and are considered to be, though they're not always in sync) to exercise good judgement.
That's the goal, right? Teaching kids good judgement.
So how, exactly, does not ever allowing them to break the rules to see if they've figured out what constitutes good judgement contribute to that? That's how you grew up, right? You decided you were "old enough" to break the "don't ever touch the stove" rule, or the "only cross at lights" rule, or the "don't have sex" rule, and you lived to tell about it, and the costs, if any, weren't too high.
But in a ZT environment, you can't do that. In fact "You Can't Do That" is the slogan of the zero tolerance movement.
But it's even worse than this.
Completely ignoring for a moment those ZT rules that apply to adults, the ones that apply to (let us say) high school age kids have their own problems -- you know, high school age kids like the valedictorian who was suspended, blew her perfect attendance record, wasn't allowed to walk at commencement, and lost her scholarship to college from the state because her Bright Future was tarnished by... a left over butter knife on the floor of her car (from a weekend move to her own first apartment).
She was almost arrested on felony weapons charges in the bargain.
And there's nothing the administrators can do about any of it, because they have Zero tolerance rules about weapons on campus.
A butter knife. Not even a sharp edge, there, folks.
What do these zero tolerance rules actually tell these kids?
Well, I think they tell them that their Adult Supervision... needs adult supervision. When we tell the kids we're trying to teach that we don't trust their teachers, administrators, and even the police and judicial system to exercise mature judgement, why should we be surprised when so many of them seem not only not to aspire to the things we aspired to as children... but not even to care much at all about anything in life.
We're getting exactly what we asked for. It's just not what we wanted.
Guess we exercised bad judgement, eh?
Probably the leading proponent against ZT is Randy Cassingham of This is True fame, who makes, or relays, the best counter-suggestion I've ever heard: If principals are so highly paid because we're compensating them for ... judgement that ZT requires them not to exercise, cut their salaries.
UPDATE: I note that they finally made butter knives legal. Five years later.
This was some original coverage of the Lindsay Brown incident.