Sunday, May 08, 2005

Zero Tolerance run amok

As the parent of a child about to go to kindergarten next year, and who intends to send his kids to public schools (no limousine liberal here), I have always hated the public school's fascination (and the public's at large, for that matter, since it spills over into my job, oh, just about every day) with Zero Tolerance.

This is the idiotic policy that says, for instance, we have zero tolerance for guns in school, so the fact that a 6 year old brought a toy plastic gun that's about one inch in size, and resembles a gun as much as a hot wheel resembles a car, we will expel that kid from school for the year, or kick them out of the district, or whatever other idiotic thing they'll do to the kid. All this does, of course, it ruin the kid's year, perhaps many years, and teaches them to become an idiotic automaton who can't think or act for himself or herself. I guess this is what conservatives generally want, since thinking people are questioning people, and we can't have that.

So we have seen the explosion of these "zero tolerance" rules with more and more absurd results. Kids expelled for having Midol, or aspirin, kindergarteners getting trouble for holding hands, or kissing someone on the cheek. High schoolers expelled or even arrested for writing fictional stories that involve violence. It's really crazy.

Comes now 11th grader Kevin Francois in Georgia who's (single) mother in Iraq got to make her monthly call to him while he was at lunch in high school on his cell phone (interestingly, they are allowed at school, you just can't use them). Sin of all sins, he answers, and even refuses a teacher's instruction to hang up (after all, his dad is dead, and his mom is away and he only talks to her once a month), resisting when the teacher grabs the phone and hangs up for him. They take him to the office for punishment, and now he's in even more trouble because he gets mad at them when they won't let him answer when she calls back (she left a voicemail message scolding him for hanging up on her when they so rarely get to speak). Now, he's been suspended for 10 days, the grades he's finally begun to bring up since his mom left are going to plummet again, who knows what irreparable damage has been caused to this person. All in the name of an idiotic, insipid, unthinking, unnuanced policy that allows people to feel good about getting tough on "evildoers."

I know, people will lambast me, saying that it's not Republicans that push this stuff, but I stick with my view, these are conservative values, as opposed to the tolerant, nuanced, thinking views of progressives or (don't say this word!) liberals.

Maybe the fact that they've gone and done something unpatriotic towards a family serving in Iraq will finally give some impetus to change this idiocy.


Windypundit said...

When I was in high school (class of '82) I carried a Swiss Army Knife every day. And I used it every day to do things like cut rubber tubing in the chemistry lab or strip wires when I worked on the stage lighting instruments. Everybody knew I had it. Teachers would borrow it from me. Nobody thought this was unusual.

Sometimes I think the people who run our schools these days are just pussies. I kid, of course...but not entirely...

Anyway, you wrote,

"I know, people will lambast me, saying that it's not Republicans that push this stuff, but I stick with my view, these are conservative values, as opposed to the tolerant, nuanced, thinking views of progressives or (don't say this word!) liberals."

Well...James Taranto's not-so-liberal "Best of the Web Today" column at the Wall Street Journal has been running "Zero Tolerance Watch" pieces for years. He mentions the Kevin Francois case here:

He's written about a lot of the other toy gun and asthma medicine incidents.

Intolerance and oppression are not just conservative problems. I used to think they were because in my high school years the conservatives---as exemplified by outfits like the Moral Majority---seemed to be against sex, drugs, rock-and-roll, and fun in general.

But the liberals have problems with tolerance too. Some feminists started a crusade against pornography, which I think of as free-speech issue and a matter of tolerance for the tastes of others. When Bill Clinton got into office, he did nothing to stop the excesses of the War On Drugs. In fact, things got even worse.

I think you weaken your position by making it about the political parties, when it should be about the principles and values. The reason is that the parties are a mixed-bag of people and ideas. Heck, even individual people are mixed up: Thomas Jefferson was a tireless champion of freedom and also a slave owner.

My point is that I think you'd do better to argue the issues rather than the politics. By focusing on the parties, I feel you alienate some number of people who would agree with you on the issues.

Anyway, I enjoy reading your stuff and I'm sorry this turned into a rambling lecture. I'd make it shorter but I've gotten too sleepy to edit it down. Later, Dude.

PD Dude said...

Windy - You do your name well, but I don't complain, believe me, I'm the same. Thanks for the feedback.

I tried to point out that it was not a Republican thing, zero tolerance, but conservative value. The civil rights movement, civil disobedience, these were liberal values. Conservatives used the same techniques, and called their actions the same thing in promoting a conservative cause - anti-abortion, but the methods they used vis-a-vis civil non-violent disobedience (when that is what they were doing) were liberal values.

Zero tolerance, making hard and fast rules, demanding absolute, unquestioned obedience, not tolerating dissent, dislike of nuance, seeing things as black and white, hatred of intellectuals, these are age-old conservative values. Have these techniques been used by liberals in pursuit of liberal goals (like rolling back racism)? Absolutely. I believe they are wrong, whether, in pursuit of lofty liberal goals (my view), or in pursuit of wrongheaded conservative goals (also my view).

This is why I spoke of Conservatism, rather than Republicans or Democrats. Clearly, Democrats have learned to use the language and techniques of Republicans (public schools are often liberal domain, and yet these rules are prevelant there), as have Republican managed to use the techniques of Democrats (a Healthy Forest Initiative designed to give away large amounts of land and trees to developers and loggers).

This is why I talk about values, since they apply to my job. The police and prosecutor values, which are generally conservative (seeing people as generally bad, broaching no dissent - cops rarely sit around and listen to civilians telling them they're wrong, etc, DA's tend to be made of the same cloth), are similar to zero tolerance. PD values tend to be generally liberal (seeing the good in many a bad person, finding nuance in the actions of people who have done wrong, looking for the positive in people where possible, understanding that the world is not black and white).

Obviously, there are many police and prosecutors with liberal values, just as there are plenty of PDs with conservative values. These values tend to be generalizations, accept them as that.

I think that these values are inherent in the political struggles we have today, I try to bring out the ones that relate back frequently to the things I see in Court every day.

Windypundit said...

You're using a more traditional definition of "conservative" than I thought. I see your point.

You know, I can understand some of the motivation for zero-tolerance: People in charge of enforcing the rules want rules that are simple to understand and apply. For example, alcohol consumption has a fuzzy relationship to impairment, and impaired driving has a probabalistic relationship to car accidents. Rather than have to make judgements among all that fuzz and randomness, we have per se DUI laws. We're trading accuracy for efficiency (sort of).

Sometimes, though, the bright line gets separated from the underlying reality. For example, in order to prevent drunk driving, we prohibit drinking while driving. To make enforcement more efficient, we prohibit open containers. So now a totally-sober non-drinker like me can get in trouble because one of my passengers has a flask of JD in his jacket pocket. (Never happened yet.)

I think that's what's happened in a lot of these zero-tolerance incidents: The desire for efficiency has caused the decision-making process to become disconnected from reality.

What I can't understand is why they call it "Zero-Tolerance." Don't they realize that tolerance is a good thing? It just sounds so wrong. It's like some factory manager launching a defect prevention effort and calling it a "No Diversity" plan.

markm said...

I won't argue with you about the definition of conservative, because I remember when Richard M. Nixon was a "conservative" - who instituted the USA's first peacetime wage and price controls, expanded the federal government in every way possible, pushed for far more punitive drug laws, and sucked up to totalitarians and dictators in China and all around the world. I'll just point out that the school administrators who enforce these zero tolerance rules with zero intelligence tend to be pretty far to the left in most ways. So yes, I think that the left has adopted the "conservatism" of Tricky Dick and other post-WWII fascists.

Unfortunately, that doesn't mean that the right or the Republicans have become old-fashioned liberals.

Anonymous said...

My parents were public school teachers, I went to public school/university, and I sent my sons to public schools, at least for awhile. By high school I removed both from public schools to other learning environments.

Public scools have become prison tracks - teaching kids that bowing to authority is the highest value, and mutual respect a pipedream. The police state mentality has permeated every aspect of public school, at least in cities. I live in San Francisco, where one would not expect that outcome, so I can only imagine how bad it must be elsewhere.

Consequences of any type of misbehavior can be police involvement, juvenile court, criminal record, probation, etc. Some schools allow police to use yearbooks as "mugshots" to identify suspects. Massive indoctrination.

Besides its identity with the police state, read this book for other ideas about why school is bad for kids: "The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School & Get a Real Life & Education", by Grace Llewellyn. Check it out.

Maybe one ought to think twice before sending any child into the public education system today. While teachers themselves are as committed as ever, the real power lies in the school administration, which administration, more than ever, aligns itself with the power (and consequent corruption) of the police state.


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