scouts-l Mail Archive for March of 2000: Re: Zero Tolerance Policies
Anthony Mako (ajmako@NLS.NET
Sun Mar 19 2000 - 03:28:32 CST
<Donna Buss wrote>
Zero tolerance policies aimed toward knives are not prohibition policies,
but safety issues. Does a school aged kid always have his head screwed on
right and will NEVER do anything foolish with a knife? (I'm not even talking
about using it as a weapon at this point.) Will a kid NEVER lose his knife
in his pocket and have it fall in to the hands of student who has violent
tendencies? Not every student is rational, well-behaved, thoughtful,
trustworthy, honest, etc. You cannot make rules that say it is okay to have
a knife if you are a scout, but others can't.
The problem is that zero-tolerance ASSUMES that something foolish WILL be
done or, worse, was INTENDED. Yes, school-aged children often do things
without thinking about them. And, yes, school is not an appropriate place
for a pocket knife. But I continue to insist that there is a considerable
difference between a kid who accidentally brings a knife to school, and a
kid who intentionally brings a knife to school.
The rule usually states "knives are prohibited." Accidentally bringing a
knife to school is an infraction that should be punished. Intentionally
bringing a knife to school also breaks the rule, but the intention worsens
the infraction. Both kids may know they are breaking the rule, but only one
of them shows premeditation.
If you don't like zero tolerance policies, think about running for a school
board and listen to the garbage that comes from SOME OF the mouths of the
parents and students in a district. It is truly frightening. We come from
a small rural school district (under 350 total) and you would not believe
how many parents complain their child lacks control in the classroom because
the child has a personality conflict with a teacher! My husband is a
principal and was told by one parent that if he stayed beside her child all
day (every day), the child would not be a problem anymore....The parent was
SERIOUS. I don't know when he was supposed to do everything else for all
the other students, teachers and parents if he sat by her child all day.
I don't see how a zero-tolerance policy solves this problem. If anything, it
probably causes more problems for the school. I agree that there is a
problem, and parents share part of the blame. But the schools are in the
business of education. Zero-tolerance doesn't educate. It doesn't provide an
opportunity for personal growth. It simply punishes.
It appears to me we all have a little zero tolerance in us even in scouting.
Some in scouting have no tolerance for improperly uniformed scouts, some no
tolerance for merit badge mills. Still others have no tolerance for
untrained leaders (or in some cases on this list it appears there is no
tolerance for excessively trained leaders). Some even have zero tolerance
for zero tolerance policies (a wimpy attempt at humor.)
The difference here is that, even with minimal tolerance for these things,
most of us still give some consideration for the circumstances and attitudes
of those involved. I have little tolerance for merit badge counselors who
make up their own requirements, or don't challenge the Scouts they work
with. That doesn't mean I go around re-testing my Scouts or refusing to
acknowledge the work of ALL merit badge counselors.
The difference is we can agree to disagree without casting judgement on one
another as people. The same will be true of all rules our society places on
one another--we may not agree, but we're not willing to break them and
jeopardize ourselves or others.
The reason we have zero-tolerance policies in society today is BECAUSE some
of us ARE willing to break the rules. Because our society has developed an
attitude that certain rules don't apply to us, and this is often reinforced
by the examples we see around us (professional athletes, polititians,
celebrities, the media), we've come to believe that the only way to change
this attitude is to punish everyone equally regardless of the circumstances.
Even with zero-tolerance, though, the examples remain. Someone always
manages to get away with breaking a rule. That leads to others telling
themselves "if he can get away with it, why can't I?"
Unconsciously, we teach it to our children. Speeding down the highway at ten
miles over the speed limit is breaking the law. What's our excuse? The speed
limit is only a suggestion? I'm in a hurry? It's a stupid law? And, when we
get caught, our reaction also provides an example. "I can't believe that
stupid cop gave me a ticket!"
In Scouting, we learn about setting the example for our Scouts. In all
phases of training, this one simple concept is repeated over and over again.
How we act speaks louder than what we say. When we implement a
zero-tolerance policy, it shows everyone that we have no concern for the
individual. Our focus moves from the behavior of an individual, to the
infraction committed. At that point, the law becomes more important than the
individual. That, my friends, if I remember my history correctly, leads to
By all means, keep your rules about weapons in school. But please try to use
compassion and common sence when applying them. Take responsibility for
enforcing the rules (zero-tolerance removes that), and show the person
committing the offense that being responsible for your actions is of prime
importance. That, after all, is what the rule was created for in the first
AJ Mako, Scoutmaster, Troop 381 http://www.scouts381.org/
Great Trail Council, Old Portage District