End the zero tolerance policies.
There are very few things were a zero-tolerance policy really makes sense. When the PC-police prevent us from discussing any cultural, ethnic, or racial differences in even the most casual, passing way, they make it worse. It’s obvious to even the littlest kid that different people look different. Observing differences isn’t judging them.
Are we entirely free of racism? No, of course no – don’t be daft. But to equate a white kid today telling a black kid they didn’t think they could get sunburned with skin that dark to living in 1961 Alabama as a black person, San Francisco as a Japanese-American after Pearl Harbor, an Irish person in mid-1800s America (or Britain), a Tutsi under the Rwandan government, American Indian tribes on the Trail of Tears, etc.etc. etc. is delusional.
When we say “no weapons or weapon look-alikes” on school property but don’t define a “weapon,” kids are left uncertain of what they can bring in. Will their souvenier pencil sharpener shaped like a cannon earn them a trip to the principal? Will a keychain with a bullet casing (not actual fire-capable ammunition) on it result in suspension? What happens if they have a screwdriver or other tool in their backpack, or under the seat of their vehicle for older kids?
When the dress code targets “sexually provocative” clothing, that leaves girls (and it is always girls) vulnerable to missing hours or even full days of class because someone else has an issue with an outfit they thought was fine, and that they might even have worn before. (No one is saying no dress code at all; simply that common sense and clarity are important.) Ankles were once considered “sexually provocative” and, as we know, many countries require women to be completely covered because even the slightest glimpse of flesh or hair could be “sexually provocative.” A zero-tolerance policy on “leggings” might cause a girl to be sent home if she wore them under a longer skirt on a cold day to stay warm. And no, that really isn’t a paranoid or extreme interpretation.
Ask any middle or high school girl if she thinks a school might actually do that. Ask her what might happen if she grabs the wrong bra when she’s getting dressed at 6 am and the straps show at the neckline of her shirt. Ask her if she ever worries that she’ll get in trouble at school over something she is wearing, and what those outfits might be.
A culture of fear.
That’s what today’s school kids live in. I showed my elementary son the “clock” in a metal suitcase that a Texas middle schooler brought to school in 2015. (This link has the best picture of the actual “clock” I could find.) I simply asked my son if he would bring that in to school. His panicked look at the mere suggestion of taking something that looked like that into school (what it might be didn’t even enter the equation) was the sort of thing I would expect to see if you told someone to pick up the murder weapon at a crime scene and get their fingerprints all over it. He clearly knew that taking something like that to school would lead to Very Bad Things.
Our kids live in a culture of fear in our public schools – and so do their teachers. Most of them aren’t afraid, not really, of some wild gunman coming in and randomly killing them. What they are really afraid of is that they will do something innocent, like eating a Poptart or sharing some watermelon with a classmate or wearing a slightly-too-small shirt, and someone else will decide it is threatening or racist or “sexually provocative”.
Our teachers are in fear because if they see something that even might be dangerous or later causes offense and they don’t report it, they could lose their job, as could the administrators if they don’t punish the “perp” (once known as a kid, or possibly a troublemaker). They are in fear because they can do things out of genuine kindness and end up in trouble for it, even lose their job.
How is this education?
Seriously, what are we teaching our children? This doesn’t teach tolerance and it doesn’t teach inclusion. It teaches them that being around people who are not like them can lead to a whole lot of trouble because there might be misunderstandings if people are different from you. It teaches that if you are with people who are different from you and they do something you even think might be ill-intentioned, it is OK (even good) to run to an authority figure and demand they be punished without even trying to determine if they understand your concerns, much less actively sought to offend.
One day, I heard some boys mention a monkey in a conversation with a black boy. They literally meant a monkey – the kind in a zoo – and that was clear from the conversation. The black boy immediately cried racism. The two white boys looked utterly and absolutely confused: they knew no one who would use “monkey” as a racist term. When asked point-blank, the black boy admitted that he didn’t think they meant it racist – but his experiences with zero-tolerance policies made him very comfortable accusing others of racism because he knew they, and not he, would be accountable. End result: at least two boys were introduced to the concept that blacks were considered a lesser breed, akin to monkeys. How is that possibly a good thing?
We are also teaching our children that they cannot defend themselves. If even the words to describe weapons and any words that might offend are forbidden, then how can they ever learn to defend themselves? The truth is, they can’t – not at school and not in a lot of other places. If they defend themselves or others, they end up in at least as much trouble as the person trying to harm them. A good kid who defends someone defenseless can end up suspended, missing their own graduation, and more. How is that fair? How is that right?
What on earth are we teaching our kids?
How can we stop the insanity?
This is the real question. It needs to stop, and we have to do it. We have to stop accepting the PC police who cry out in outrage at even the slightest thing that might cause offense. People have to accept that sometimes, people say stupid things and there is no ill intent. Sometimes, yes, they mean what you think (or fear) they mean – but not most of the time. Sometimes they are tired and simply cannot think through all the meanings of their words. Sometimes they mis-speak. Sometimes they genuinely don’t know, like the boys above. And sometimes, other people are just being too darn sensitive.
There was a man who shot his coworkers on live TV in Virginia in 2015. One of their “offenses” was to have a watermelon in the office that kept moving around. It wasn’t an attempt to taunt him – it was a summer snack that was shared throughout the office. Another “offense” was to discuss “hard work.” This commonly used term has somehow been taken as equated with working as a slave in cotton fields. Frankly, I think the term “back-breaking labor” is a better descriptor of working in a cotton field, but even then – slavery is slavery and work is work. The two are not synonyms. There are plenty of paid jobs that involve “hard work” and “back-breaking labor.”
When we allow those terms to be taken to mean slavery, then we make it unacceptable to require either for a paid job. (Back-breaking labor is simply part of the job in some fields, and workers know this when they sign on and are paid accordingly.) Where are we when “hard working” is a forbidden term? What happens when a boss praises an employee for being a “hard worker” and gets slapped with a lawsuit for it?
And yes, there are times when these things are done with racist or cruel intentions, but those are far less common than the over-reactions. Take the time to sort out whether it was on purpose or not before making a complaint, and think about the impact on to the other person and their life, and those they impact, with a complaint. A teacher has an impact on dozens of kids year after year. If they are in the wrong and need corrected, then it is important to do that because they can hurt many kids. But if they are not in the wrong, think about the very real harm a false complaint could do.
If people take time to think it through, hopefully they won’t risk either punishing an innocent person or actually increasing racism by bringing up old racist ideas that need to be left in the dust bin of history.
Zero tolerance must end.
Zero tolerance is insane. It is strangling our country. It is damaging our educational system, kids, teachers, and even administrators. It is hurting our small businesses. Zero tolerance must end.
I have zero tolerance for zero tolerance.
That was a bit of hyperbole, but the truth is there really aren’t a lot of areas where zero tolerance makes sense. Those were it does are already covered by criminal law. We need to be safe, but school officials and businesses need to be able to make the call based on their own knowledge of the person and circumstances. They need to be able to look at the Eagle Scout who have never been in trouble, whose dad is a firefighter, and say that yes, the fire axe in the truck was clearly not intended for any nefarious purpose; as long as it stays home next time, there are no further consequences. They must be able to say that the people in the office were just sharing a watermelon, no offense intended. They need to be able to look at the kid whose record was spotless but who has been in three fights in two weeks and recognize something is happening and they need to help them, now.
When we take that right and ability away from the people who are there, who know all the details and specifics, then we start to cripple our society with insane rules and consequences.
We must end the proliferation of zero tolerance policies.