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Where is our common sense?Posted Monday, October 19, 2009, at 7:55 AM
Zachary Christie, age 6, plays with the Boy Scout knife/fork/spoon which caused him to be expelled from his Newark, Delaware school a few weeks ago.
"Okay, Mrs. DeJournett," I remember him saying. "Let's go talk about it," and we would go into the little make-shift room that functioned as a teacher's lounge, sit on folding chairs and drink a nickel Coke. (Okay, maybe it was a dime...I don't really remember, but it was cheap!)
He had such a sense of humor. By the time he had analyzed my "problem," we had a solution which often (back in those Dark Ages) involved a swift swat to the bottom for the student who was giving me trouble. He referred to it as "adjusting his attitude."
I often thought about him in later years, when the issues of discipline became cloudy and uncertain. Our world was so simple back then. We had no way to know how it would change.
A recent news item hit home, when I saw the picture of 6-year-old Zachary Christie, who was so happy with his new Boy Scout tool that he wanted to take it to school and use it to eat his lunch. I was struck by his innocence, which reminded me so much of my oldest child. Todd is 35 now, but I can see him in my mind, being so pleased with a similar knife that his father gave him.
That little boy from Newark could be my boy. I wonder how many parents related to the incident in the same way. Our eyes tear up when we think of the harshness that our children will face out there in the hard, cold world.
Surely, the zero-tolerance laws weren't meant for these naive little children, so innocent in the ways of the world.
In doing some research on this topic, I learned that 87% of all schools have zero-tolerance policies for alcohol and drugs, quite often resulting in mandatory expulsion. Ninety-one percent of schools have zero-tolerance policies for bringing a weapon to school.
This all seems straight-forward and obvious: I'm sure most of us would say, "Well, of course, those rules are quite reasonable!"
But what about the second-grader who brought her grandfather's gold-plated pocket watch to school? She was booted out, because the ancient timepiece had a tiny knife attached.
What about the 10-year old in Colorado, whose mother put a small knife in her lunchbox to cut an apple? Or the kids who have been kicked out of school for possession of Midol, Tylenol, Alka Seltzer, cough drops and Scope mouthwash?
What about the students who have been expelled for Halloween costumes with paper swords and fake knuckles? How about the kids with rubber bands?
I found a quote by Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation's second largest teachers' union, which has pushed hard for zero-tolerance policies. "I'm terribly embarrassed when I read about some of these cases," she said. "These are examples of adults not exercising proper responsibility. I'm always in favor of just plain common sense."
Well, Ms. Feldman, you should be terribly embarrassed. Zero-tolerance law would seem to be a broken system, crippled by a fear of lawsuit when school administrators use a little judgment on who to discipline and how to do it.
It reminds me of the plight of airport security personnel, who drag a little old couple aside and subject them to horrible search procedures, just because they don't want to be accused of "profiling."
Zero-tolerance laws date back to 1994, according to my research, and statistics don't make it clear if these policies are having much effect on the violence in our schools.
I wonder what my old principal would have to say about all this, if he were still around? I heard that he left education not long after our association. He must have seen the storm coming.
For those of you who would like to read more on this very complex topic, I recommend the article in USA Today where I got most of my figures. You can find it at http://www.usatoday.com/educate/ednews3.....
From the cool, sunny hills of Tillman, Mo., where the greatest discipline problem I have these days is teaching my big pup Bucky to "sit," this is your rural reporter Madeline, glad to be alive and out of teaching!
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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.