scouts-l Mail Archive for June of 2000: Re: Zero Tolerance [off list]
Anthony Mako (ajmako@NLS.NET
Sat Jun 03 2000 - 10:01:03 CDT
<Kevin Woods wrote>
Freedom my butt!
Freedom is my not having to worry that I or my children are going to be
injured or killed by some little 13 year old who is allowed access to a
The fatal flaw of your argument is the same one that allowed "zero
tolerance" to become an issue. Zero tolerance is NOT a set of rules - it is
a punishment policy. Rules have always existed prohibiting certain items and
substances in schools. What has changed is the punishment policy attached to
Before, judgments could be made based on the individual involved - his
INTENT with respect to the rule. Zero tolerance forces us to ASSUME the
individual INTENDED TO DO HARM. So, a 14 year old who takes a knife to
school is ASSUMED to be intending to do harm. Zero tolerance says "all 13
year olds who are allowed access to a weapon will do harm."
Do your Scouts carry knives in camp? If so, what is the difference? If a 13
year old who carries a knife in school will do harm, what keeps him from
doing harm in camp?
Would you be willing to discuss this with the parents of children killed by
Yes, I would. The only problem is, discussing "zero tolerance" will do
nothing to comfort those parents.
As we've already seen, implementing a zero tolerance policy does little to
address the real problem of violence in schools. Sure, it makes everyone
feel safer, but the reality is that a 13 year old intent on harming someone
else isn't going to be deterred by rules.
The incident in Florida, sadly, illustrates this. Here is a school with a
policy against weapons in school. That policy didn't deter the 13 year old
boy who shot a teacher, so making the policy even stricter wouldn't have
stopped him. It's true that the teacher wouldn't have been shot if the boy
hadn't had access to the weapon, but zero tolerance doesn't address his
access to the weapon - merely his possession of it on school grounds.
Would you fee the same had YOUR child been kill?
This question is argumentative. No one can know how they will react to such
a situation. We can imagine how we would feel or react, but we can't KNOW
until it happens. The question is also a typical loaded question. If we
answer "yes" we appear heartless and uncaring about our own children. If we
answer "no," we not only appear hypocritical, but serve to advance the
opposing view. Answering the question serves only to emotionalize the
Would you feel the same if your child had killed someone? (no answer
Give me a break, He knew the rules. If it was an honest mistake it will
play itself out.
Another fatal flaw in your argument. For a situation like this to "play
itself out" requires some measure of justice. All too often, however, we
find that justice is not part of the zero tolerance equation. Yes, he knew
the rules. Yes, he broke them. A compassionate society would evaluate the
circumstances of the situation; determine that the boy 1) made a mistake,
and 2) did not have harmful intent; and punished him accordingly (i.e. short
suspension, loss of school driving privileges, or some other punishment). In
a zero tolerance society, however, the circumstances aren't evaluated, his
possession of the "weapons" is determined to imply harmful intent, and his
punishment is harsh and predetermined (i.e expulsion, long suspension,
When you or I break one of society's rules, we have guaranteed rights that
state: 1) the state must prove we broke the rule (innocent until proven
guilty); 2) the circumstances of the situation have to be considered (jury
trial); 3) we can't be ganged up on by the state (right to counsel); 4) we
can't be forced to confess to a crime (self-incrimination); and 5) the state
must have compelling evidence of the crime before they can search our
property for evidence (illegal search and seizure). Even with mandatory
sentencing laws, judges (and prosecutors) still have some discression when
it comes to determining punishment.
When a student breaks a rule he or she doesn't have these rights. The school
doesn't have to prove anything. The circumstances of the situation need not
be considered. The student is often confronted by one or more adults with no
one on his or her side. The student has no right against
self-incrimination - refusing to confess is often taken as evidence of
guilt. Students have no privacy rights in school. And, with zero tolerance
policies, administrators have no discression when it comes to determining
One final comment: the overwhelming majority of citizens in the United
States, learned how to be a citizen in public schools.
A. J. Mako, Scoutmaster, email@example.com
Old Portage District, Great Trail Council