Homeroom Security: book about the insanity of zero-tolerance classroom policies

Salon's got a blood-boiling interview with Aaron Kupchik, author of Homeroom Security: School Discipline in an Age of Fear, a close look at four very different US schools. Each school has a different demographic and different location, but the thing they all share is a set of zero-tolerance policies that turn them into Kafka-esque nightmares:
They started in the '90s, and they were spurred by the federal government's Safe and Drug Free Schools Act, which required schools to implement zero tolerance for certain things like weapons. What schools have done across the country in the last 15 years is to expand greatly what falls under zero-tolerance policies. So they extend to not just deadly weapons and drugs but sometimes fighting and prescription drugs and other types of substances. What they mean is that if you're caught violating this broad rule, there's no discussion and no elaboration of why you did this. No investigation. We just punish you with the one-size-fits-all punishment.

We're teaching kids what it means to be a citizen in our country. And what I fear we're doing is teaching them that what it means to be an American is that you accept authority without question and that you have absolutely no rights to question punishment. It's very Big Brother-ish in a way. Kids are being taught that you should expect to be drug tested if you want to participate in an organization, that walking past a police officer every day and being constantly under the gaze of a security camera is normal. And my concern is that these children are going to grow up and be less critical and thoughtful of these sorts of mechanisms. And so the types of political discussions we have now, like for example, whether or not wiretapping is OK, these might not happen in 10 years.

America's real school-safety problem

Homeroom Security: School Discipline in an Age of Fear

(Thanks, Pete_Darby, via Submitterator!)


  1. So what the author is saying is that kids should be encouraged to break serious rules such as not bringing guns to school — because it’ll somehow make him a better American? I guess by “American” you mean the industrialized nation with the HIGHEST % of our population in jail, then yes. Or proud we have cities with some of the highest homicide rates in the world? Maybe a little respect for authority wouldn’t be so bad for a teen who gets “respect” by carrying a blade and ignoring school rules?

    1. Funchy, where do you get any of that from?

      The author is talking about kids who don’t break rules, and are still growing up with constant surveillance, rules taken to ridiculous levels, and punishment with no appeal as the expected norm. “Respect for authority” translates to “control by intimidation, bullying, and threats.” Every student is treated like a criminal, and they’re learning that that’s just how it is.

      He also argues that zero-tolerance rules and surveillance don’t seem to reduce actual crimes or trouble at school.

    2. Funchy, try RTFA sometime or do you consider bringing legal prescription drugs into school to be a crime?

    3. “Kiss the shiny, shiny boots of leather” is a Lou Reed song, and not a mandate for citizen interaction with civic employees.

    4. I think I can clear this up: pardon me, but you’re signed in to BoingBoing, not Drudge Report.

      But seriously, the author isn’t saying any of that. Of course a child who brings a potentially dangerous item to school should be made to understand the gravity of their actions. But there’s a difference between a third grader bringing a cub scout cutlery set for show-and-tell and a high-school gang member with a blade in their boot.

      As much as fear may be in play, I think it’s also symptomatic of our increasingly lazy/desperate educational bureaucracy. They have neither the interest nor the resources to effectively deal with infractions on an individual basis.

    5. How do you teach children tolerance when you have a 0 tolerance policy? How do you demonstrate critical thinking and descernment with reactionary knee jerk policies where everyone is guilty IF charged? Some schools have classified a nail clipper or a compass (the drawing kind) as a weapon. Show kids that Adults can think.

  2. I went to a middle school with a zero-tolerance policy. Kids were mean. We weren’t allowed to carry book bags from class to class for some reason-I think because having items stolen from your bag by the person standing behind you became common. So we had to carry books in our hands. This brought on another phenomenon called “book-checking” or possibly “book-jacking” where somebody would come up from behind you and knock the books out of your hand. This happened to me a few times. I got into a few fights. There were other fights I got into which literally got started because somebody punched me in the face. I got put in detention when these things happened. It didn’t matter if I wound up on the ground bruised and bleeding. I was always equally as guilty for getting mad as the person who knocked books out of my hands, punched me in the face, made fun of my name or my ears.

    Kafkaesque is a good word to describe middle school.

  3. I think you are missing the authors main point, the whole unquestioning and openly accepting of Big Brother and the power of the law enforcement without justification. The Thing that stands out to me is; “What they mean is that if you’re caught violating this broad rule, there’s no discussion and no elaboration of why you did this. No investigation. We just punish you with the one-size-fits-all punishment.” Personal privacy will be a thing of the past and you will be guilty without any thought of innocents and future generation will accept this as the norm because we have/are implementing and instituting these ideals in our children at a very young age. I could be wrong though I have not read the book.

  4. I don’t think the book is arguing that kids who bring in actual guns and real weapons shouldn’t be punished- but there are plenty of absurd examples of zero tolerance and how f’ed up it is as policy.

    Example: “Administrators saw three students at the Union Colony Charter School in Greeley, Colo., playing with a water gun. According to the school’s interpretation of the state’s “zero tolerance” weapons law — which mandates suspension of students who “carry, bring, use or possess a firearm or firearm facsimile at school” — the unnamed boys have been suspended. According to standard practice in “weapons” cases, the boys must now face expulsion hearings.”

    There are more examples are collected here – http://www.thisistrue.com/zt.html

    I know when my brother was in school he was suspended for having a broken rubber band – they said he could use it to shoot at someone and disrupt class. These are the kind of bullshit policies that are supposed to keep us safe? I don’t think so.

  5. funchy, you seem to have missed the point that the zero tolerance policy that protects other kids from weapons and drugs is being used to punish kids for anything deemed intolerable. Having worked in schools in the UK, I feel that we are nowhere near as bad as some US schools, but I do feel that there is a war clearly being waged against most kids by some very paranoid and pathetic individuals.

    As for the US jail population, it always makes me laugh at how many people are imprisoned in the “land of the free”. Cognitive dissonance seems to be becoming a widespread problem.

  6. In the 1950s kids practiced hiding under their desks for when under a nuclear attack. Today kids practice hiding under their desks for when a gunman enters the school. It was foolish in the 50s, it is foolish now.

  7. In an era when my kid can be suspended because he happens to bring aspirin to school, it’s about goddamn time someone like Kupchink blow the doors off this culture of fear and loathing we’ve woven into today’s secondary school system.

  8. No, it’s about kids getting suspended/expelled for perfectly reasonable but technically forbidden things like:

    swiss army knives
    exacto knives
    insulin syringes
    stuff they brought for show and tell (e.g. Grandpa’s Korean War souvenir)
    Sikh ceremonial blades
    An unloaded, disassembled, cased rifle because the conservation club’s going hunting

    of course, “zero tolerance” policies are inevitably applied unevenly in the end, too.

    The argument isn’t that rules against serious infractions shouldn’t exist, it’s that administrators should have discretion in how penalties are applied, so incidents where “that’s dumb, don’t do that again,” or even “I can see how this situation wasn’t forseen by the rules; carry on,” should suffice are instead ruining lives, involving the criminal justice system, and teaching a terrible civics lesson to the student body at large.

  9. Good to see you back with these topics Cory.

    To #1 because of one size fits all rules means that a cap gun or a drawing of a gun is punished exactly the same as using an actual firearm to menace other students.

    Students should be schooled to disrupt the standing establishment as required, not to become used to a Stazi police state.

    If there is to be an armed cop on campus he should never be allowed to do anything other than act as an armed response unit, none of this resident snoop, bag search, and drug investigator crap. An on site officer is like a corporate legal department, since you are paying them to sit there they might as well earn their keep. Those idle police hands are a real devils playground.

  10. I’m with coop, I think funchy had a small bout of Narcolepsy.

    Obviously the rule existed as a zero tolerance policy for serious offenses like guns and weapons.

    Like the article stated…it now encompasses an even larger list of offenses, some of which do not warrant a blanket fix.

    Fighting for example.

    Fighting is unacceptable to be doing in school, but I was taught that if the standard issue methods of reporting a bully do not work (notifying a teach, speaking with a principal, having principal speak with bully’s parents etc), the next time the bully gives you a hard time and puts you in an uncomfortable situation, you punch him in the nose.

    Nobody forgets what it feels like to get punched in the nose. Bully’s pick on easy targets, and getting punched in the nose by a target does not make it easy.

    While that would warrant some type of suspension or disciplinary action, it does NOT fall into any stupid zero tolerance policy. God forbid administration in schools actually has to do work and sort through the variables involved in a situation.

    1. Anytime kids I knew in school were being bullied, we would just take care of it after school and off school grounds.

      In fifth grade, we actually threw a kid off a bridge once. It was like a six foot drop into a drainage canal, and not particularly injurious, but it certainly got the point across. Never heard a peep out of him again.

  11. When a child is shown compassion, understanding, respect and trust, they will respond to and adopt those qualities. A child who is respected simply for being who they are will question why they might need to resort to violence or threaten others to gain respect.

    If our educational system were functioning (and I mean a system which includes parental involvement) the kids would all be smart enough to know better.

  12. “Zero tolerance” is an admission of failure, not a policy. And that failure is on the part of the society, not the schools. All that is now expected of students (?) is that they show up, take up a bit of space, and not make too much noise or bring/display/think about anything too disruptive.

    Kids have been suspended or expelled for such things as Cub Scout utensil kits, Tylenol, and similar nonsense.

    Kids also assault each other and teachers, vandalize, and occasionally more.

    It’s a set of gray-head cliches, I suppose, to say that the failure is that of parenting, that we are seeing an erosion of society’s fabric, that as such foolish, anti- or asocial behavior becomes more commonplace, the sadly predictable overreaction to it will become ever more extreme.

    So be it.

    Conviction without trial is only a symptom of the failures described above.

  13. “We’re teaching kids what it means to be a citizen in our country. And what I fear we’re doing is teaching them that what it means to be an American is that you accept authority without question and that you have absolutely no rights to question punishment.”

    But this is, in fact, what it means to be an American citizen today, is it not?

    1. This is a decent point, if the cases of Dr. Peter Watts’s border stop and the motorcyclist’s helmet camera recording the cop are any indication. Citizens need to know the the laws and their rights to the letter. It’s sad when the citizen has to be more educated about the laws on these than those who enforce them (like photographers vs the “Picture Police”). But then, we should know the laws… but then we have cases where laws cannot be published, right?

      I’m definitely concerned about the conditioning which seems to be infiltrating society… so glad this is a topic revisited on BoingBoing, be it fingerscans at DisneyLand or body scans at the airport.

      To what degree are the fearmongering profiteers of flashy but ineffective technology to blame?

      Frankly, I’d think there would be just as many kids who would be ENCOURAGED to act out for a school surveillance camera to earn their “fifteen minutes” as it were.

      How did we get here?

    2. Yes. Authoritarian schools are good training for the real world.

      I credit my anarchist beliefs on (among other things) the fact I was expelled from public high school for telling other students they could use a proxy to avoid the web censorship.

      Dealing with cops in schools helped me become more comfortable, yet less trusting and more guarded, around thugs in uniforms. Stay calm, be alert and stoic. Don’t tell them anything you don’t have to.

      I genuinely believe that students who are home schooled, or in a free school that gives students some reasonable autonomy (Sudbury, Modern School, Montessori, etc), are being overly coddled and sheltered. We don’t live in some kind of hippie utopia with democratic self-managed institutions. Youth need to learn some time or another that those in charge do not have your best interests at heart.

      Now, if a young person has no free activity outside of school, I can see authoritarian schooling becoming a real problem. They will begin to accept oppression as the norm and resign themselves to a subservient role. However, if students can see that state/religious/capitalist bureaucracies are irrational and oppressive and that there is an alternative (mutual aid, free association), than we will begin to plant the seeds for rebellion and ultimately a freer society.

  14. I remember not too long ago when I was in school and some of my friends getting in trouble hardcore for things under this policy that were really ridiculous. Things such as:

    *In high school a girl being written up for having drugs (Midol, she was on the rag) and another guy for keeping a bottle of Advil in his locker because his after school job involved manual labor and he’d ache the next morning.

    *Weapons charges because a kid had a plastic knife in his lunch box to put jelly on his PB&J. He didn’t like it soggy. Oh nos! He’s gonna cut a man!

    *After Columbine, one friend got suspended because a teacher heard him say the word “bomb” and thought he was going to threaten the school. The context of the word was “The reason a lot of us left early last week was because someone called in a bomb threat” which was true. Someone called in a bomb threat from the pay phone in front of the school the week before.

    Conversely my mom works in an elementary school where they can’t expelled 6 year olds who throw desks and chairs and threaten to shoot teachers because of some other policy I can’t remember.

  15. I don’t agree with the conclusion about what the zero-tolerance policies are doing to our society and children specifically, but I agree that what Columbine did in response, is the most sensible solution. I’ve always thought that kicking children out of school was exactly the opposite action we should be doing. I think we’re teaching kids to operate outside of the system and remain disconnected from society, by kicking them out, as opposed to encouraging them to accept authority.

  16. If kids nowadays did some of the things that my friends and I did when we were in high school, they’d almost certainly be expelled, and would probably end up in jail. And my friends and I were the “good kids” in our school — which was a private, religious school, whose students were widely regarded as far better behaved than students in the public schools in our quiet little town in the Bible Belt. So, if OUR behavior would be considered unacceptable in today’s schools, I cringe at the thought of the stifling totalitarianism that today’s students are forced to endure.

    Here’s just one example of how behavior that was considered perfectly innocent when I was in school is treated as an unpardonable crime today: I used to carry a pocket knife to school with me, as did many other students. (And, even to this day, I would feel lost without my trusty Swiss Army knife in my pocket. MacGyver taught me well.) Back then, carrying a pocket knife just wasn’t seen as a big deal. But a student who carried a pocket knife to school in this day and age would be branded a security threat and locked away, and probably forced to undergo psychological counseling for this “antisocial” and “violent” behavior.

    Yes, I realize that things have changed a lot in the nearly three decades since I was in high school; but I seriously doubt that the world is really any more dangerous today than it was back then — people are just a lot more paranoid today than they were back then. Statistics show that the rate of violent crime in our society has actually declined over the past several decades. Yet fear of violent crime has been on the increase. A lot of that has to do with the expansion of the media (largely via 24-hour cable TV channels and the internet) which has made people more aware of crime today than they were in the past. But I also have to blame fearmongering by politicians (especially conservatives) who have discovered that the easiest way to get elected is to base their campaigns on the tired old shibboleths of “security”, “law and order”, “get tough on crime”, and “WON’T SOMEBODY PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!!!!!”.

    1. “Here’s just one example of how behavior that was considered perfectly innocent when I was in school is treated as an unpardonable crime today: I used to carry a pocket knife to school with me, as did many other students.”

      Oh, you’re not even close. Students have been suspended or expelled for leaving pocket knives *locked in their cars* too close to the school.

  17. Whenever you see the words “zero tolerance” think “zero intelligence”, because that’s what it is.

    Zero Tolerance involves taking all the judgment and thinking out of a situation, and substituting an pre-programmed response [IF X > 0 THEN Y], not worrying whether X is .00001 or 10^10, or even *why* X was not zero.

    Petty bureaucrats love this, because they are no longer the bad guy, instead they can just point at “the rules”, and say their hands are tied.

    1. “Petty bureaucrats love this, because they are no longer the bad guy, instead they can just point at “the rules”, and say their hands are tied.”

      Teaching as a job has been de-powered, now teachers are treated as fast food workers. Look at the paradox that teachers face; they cannot make up the curriculum and must teach all students the same material, but almost 2/3 of students in classrooms now have their own lesson plans because they have some sort of classification like ADD. So a teacher is expected to teach from a standardized curriculum but have a different lesson for each student.

      The classrooms are also very dull. Chalk? Really? This is still considered a technology acceptable to be used, why not provide them with a bucket of sand and stick to draw lines in. If you cared about the quality of your kids classroom you would demand 1 or 2 field trips per week, not per month or year. How hard is it to walk or take the bus with 30 students, apparently too hard. There are so many museums, arts groups, that do a wonderful job giving hands on learning.

      But teachers have no power. Compare a teacher’s attitude to designing a lesson plan, “I need to cram a dozen random points, that have nothing to do with each other, into one lesson to meet all the expectations of the curriculum, so this will be a math lesson, language lesson, and a science lesson all in one”, with what an engineer does when inspecting a building “I deem this building to be unsafe, you’re shutting it down now”. One has no power and see’s their job as delivering something that they did not design, the other sees the logic of the build codes they enforce and use their personal power to enforce it. So yes the system in teaching is filled with “petty bureaucrats”, but I feel sorry for them.

      I’ve always wondered what the ratio of students is to the total ratio of people that work in the education field – students : teachers, principles, administration, board members, text book manufacturers, curriculum developers, teaching assistants.

      Zero tolerance just means that really nobody believes in schools anymore, not the teachers that work in them, the people that develop the curriculum, or the students that get short changed. Zero-tolerance is naked power trying to assert itself after everyone has stopped believing. When the circuses no longer work, the cannons are rolled into the streets.

  18. I suspect the zero tolerance hysteria is criminalizing more kids than it is desensitizing. Kids are learning that society is brutal and irrational. That will make some kids want to be thugs on the enforcement side and make others want to ‘beat the system’.

    The only time zero tolerance works is when there is zero tolerance for something the kids themselves experience as a threat in their daily lives.

  19. As a 20 year old that was drug tested in school for BEING IN BAND and dealt with a great many of these zero-tolerance policies I completely agree with everything this article is bringing up. It’s a guilty until proven innocent system and you better believe that the first 18 years of a persons interaction with authority will shape how they expect to be treated throughout their life.

  20. It’s not that it teaches kids to “accept authority without question” (which is an argument that can be used against any implementation of authority), but it teaches the kids, and hence the next stage of the country, that things are black and white. That you’re either completely in the right about something, in which case we can talk about it, or you are completely wrong about it, in which case I label you a failure and stop listening to your ideas.

    I wonder what that kind of thinking would do to a political system? I’ll check around for an example of it somewhere and get back to you all….

  21. Both this article and the one about kids in kindergarten wearing electronic tags miss one thing:

    They both worry that the kids who grow up under the system will learn to accept such a Big Brother world. What they don’t consider is that it is these kids who will also be creating the Big Brother world.

    If you grow up with electronic tags, and think it normal, when you become a politician or a chief of police you’re going to think it good and proper to expand these sorts of rules.

  22. What’s sickening is that the zero tolerance even applies to self-defense in the schools around here! If you try to defend yourself against someone, you get the exact same punishment as the person that attacked you, it’s completely ludicrous. If anything, zero tolerance makes things WORSE because if they know they’ll get the same punishment, why not use a more permanent method than your fists?

    Here’s an example from when I was still in High School. They had recently installed cameras throughout the school (yay…) and the Vice Principal walked up to some people near where my friends and I were and told em to tuck in their shirts cause he saw them untucked via the camera (yay stupid public schools with uniform policies that aren’t even uniform). If that is not the most retarded use of a video surveillance system, I don’t know what is.

  23. Rufus, you’re 100% dead on with your comment about things being considered Black and White and how that relates to this joke of a political system(or at least how the rules are applied and created).

  24. There’s an analysis of school violence that the FBI did a few years back, looking at commonalities with school shootings across situations. They include the point that an inflexible culture could be a contributing factor to violence down the line, which I think is often overlooked. It’s a pretty good read, for anyone who is interested in seeing if their local school follows the recommended guidelines.


  25. My kids recently switched from parochial to public middle school. The numerous zero-tolerance rules and weird dress code make it clear that the rules were patched together and added to to address this and that as it came up until they are altogether Byzantine.

    No zipper folders, see-through backpacks only, and no loose pockets. Why? So they can’t hide cigarettes (or other contraband).

    Can they have cell phones? Yes, but phones must remain hidden. Excuse me? If they can hide a phone, they can hide cigarettes.

  26. I love how amazon’s “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” has the Communist Manifesto and “An Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory”.

    Maybe the right wingers are correct that only commies worry about civil liberties.

  27. “School is like starting life with a 12-year jail sentence in which bad habits are the only curriculum truly learned. I teach school and win awards doing it. I should know.” -John Taylor Gatto

  28. I home school my kids, and I am thrilled with the results. I’m jealous even – I wish I could have grown up like they are. They have ‘field trips’ almost every day. They work with a great group of other home schooled kids in mixed age groups, which works out much better than having everyone the same age. Every kid becomes a teacher and a student of some other kids. They accomplish more in three morning hours than the public school kids do all day. They can get obsessed with a topic and run with it exploring it deeply for weeks with no regard for a curriculum set by lawyers and lobbyists.

    I’d love to repair our broken schools and government, but I won’t sacrifice my kids education while I try.

  29. Zero Tolerance just hurts the good kids who don’t know that they are ‘doing wrong’ (because they aren’t doing anything wrong) when they get caught. This either causes extreme disdain – perhaps to the point of lashing out – for authority, or a realization that once you obtain a position of power, you can and should (in a social, not moral, sense) do whatever you want to those under your control, cuz hey, you had to live through it, why not them.

  30. I graduated from high school in 1994.
    I carried at any time one or all of these things:
    My inhaler, and some aspirin.
    A mini super soaker (they had just become super popular)
    My girl scout knife and occasionally other equipment for after school troop meetings.

    I never got in trouble, because people were rational. I think about homeschooling more and more every day.

  31. @Miss Cellania

    A Mesh Backpack!!? how could that even carry everything, I remember having to carry practically my entire locker full of books the whole day. We never got enough time to go to our lockers and I always wondered then what the point of lockers really was…

  32. I got into a really good “debate” with a hardcore authoritarian right-wing bible-thumper about the concept of “zero tolerance” once several years ago. The argument ended like this:

    me: “What would Jesus have to say about ‘zero tolerance’ policies?”

    him: “Uh….”

    1. What the heck does that even mean? “What would Jesus say about zero tolerance policies?”

      I can tell you exactly what he did say about rules imposed by the government or civil authorities:

      “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and unto God that which is God’s.”

      I’m not a fan of zero tolerance policies at all. They end up washing away all kinds of fun, creative activities. In my son’s school, they stopped playing capture-the-flag because it was deemed “too violent” when a couple of the boys got in a fight. Well… fighting is too violent, yes. But why ban a game entirely that the other kids were enjoying?

      Be that as it may… I just don’t get the WWJS comment…

      1. > What the heck does that even mean? “What would Jesus say about zero tolerance policies?”

        Jesus was pretty big on tolerance.

  33. School administrators tend to be pretty horrible at interpreting even simple rules with minimal punishments.

    While I was in school, there was a rule that was along the lines of “playing cards, betting, and other forms of gambling are not allowed on campus”. The administration liked to interpret this as saying that a deck of cards was banned… even if the cards were unusable for playing a game (if the cards had been heavily modified for a magic trick, for instance). They were completely unable to understand the difference between “playing cards” (the action, a form of gambling) and “playing cards” (the object, not a form of gambling).

  34. Just another personal example of this…

    Back when I was in school, my brother was attending the same school. I was standing on a balcony and see my brother walking by underneath. He shouts up that he has lost his pencil, and that he will get in trouble if he does not have one. I drop him down a pencil. A teacher sees, and I get suspended for assault. No questions asked, will not allow me to explain myself.

    Going back even further, in elementary school. I’m having lunch with a few friends. I have a pudding. My friend has cookies. I wanted to trade my pudding for his cookies. He agrees. I hand him my pudding. I reach over the table and grab the cookies. I get detention for stealing. Teacher won’t let me explain, just sees me taking cookies and writes me up.

    Beyond the rules being “black and white”, they also always seem to assume the worst in kids, and any excuse they have is just that, an excuse. If I am going to get in trouble when I am not doing anything wrong, why bother being good?

  35. Every time I hear that a school is “under lock-down” I’m reminded that the term “lock-down” derives from Federal Prisons.

    How about instead of teaching “Zero Tolerance” we teach DUE PROCESS . . . ???

    How about instead of teaching “Just Say NO” we teach the Bill of Rights ???

  36. Discerning the truth is hard. There are so many factors and caveats and variations, causations, motivations and intentions.

    It’s so complicated!

    But Wait!

    For only the price of some wrecked futures (not your own!) a fair whack of alienation and an awful lot of injustice, you too can dispense with the tricky and complicated evaluation process! Dispense with discretion, judgement and fairness; worry no more about making decisions for which you may be criticised for leniency (especially should something go wrong later) and sign up for our Zero Tolerance program!

    No thought or judgement required! You too can be the mindless, unfeeling cog in a giant machine, grinding to dust the lives of others!

    Zero Tolerance, a solution to cognitive effort and a real time saver!

  37. what i don’t get about a. the people making these stupid rules, and b. the people who enforce dumb@ss cr@p by doing things like suspending a kid who gave her classmate a midol, is –

    DON’T THEY FREAKING REMEMBER HIGH SCHOOL?! HAVE THEY NO SENSE OF PROPORTION? HAVE THEY NO SENSE?! DID THEY HIT THEIR HEADS ON SOMETHING?!! How would they have liked to have these arbitrary rules enforced on them?

    you know? there’s ‘the letter of the law’ and ‘the spirit of the law’. the spirit of ‘no drugs on campus’ is to prevent illegal stuff, like oh selling illegal drugs. but people on a power trip seem to reproduce themselves, generation after generation, don’t they.

    oh yeah, and teachers? like good cops, the good teachers understand people and know what’s going on. but most are *not* good. cr@p. most aren’t even *smart*. *and* they always yell at, or even penalize, the WRONG KID. (cf. #37 above.) the ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ attitude is really destructive.

    #32 above is right, too. the real ‘problem’ kids are savvy enough to hide their sh!t. oppressive societies mainly punish their innocent people.

  38. When my mother went to school in the 1930s, students were required to leave their rifles and shotguns in the coatroom.

    Parents didn’t allow their kids to carry guns without supervision until they’d demonstrated they could use one properly… so typically I guess the kids would be over 11, and rarely less than 9 years old.

    Nobody ever got shot, as far as I know.

    Of course, if someone did get shot, the kids who were not involved would not be punished for it with a gun ban. Collective punishment was abhorrent to the masses in those days.

  39. “…Pacified. Classified.
    Keep in line. You’re doing fine.
    Lost your voice? There ain’t no choice.
    Play the game. Silent and tame.
    Be the passive observer, sit back and look…”

    The tyranny & hysteria levied against children (in school, in the US) has come to a peak. iirc, was about 2000 that I began noticing headlines in the papers/online like “6 year old boy touches girl, police charge him as a sex offender.” or “8 year old starts a fight, police arrest him and considering trying him as adult.” etc. Of course, websites like drudgereport looove pasting these attention grabbers up for all the world to see & believe in. To me, it’s deliberate. The systematic dumbing down of a populace. Train them that authority is in all ways right, that you are not sovereign that you are, in fact, a zero. Hive mentality prevails, your rights go away, and you just became assimilated into the corporate profit machine.

  40. I once told my high school principal that I had a zero tolerance policy for his zero tolerance policies and walked out of a meeting with him. They seemed to have a pretty flexible policy welcoming me back and about letting me graduate after missing almost a month to suspensions, despite having a stated policy that you couldn’t miss more than 12 days, since my average was high enough to make them look good. Zero tolerance policies exist so that the person enforcing them can sidestep responsibility for their own actions, and a certain breed of bureaucrat seems to welcome the opportunity to exert even more authority while denying any responsibility for how they do it.

  41. My son who has Tourettes attends a zero policy “award winning school” for non violence.
    He is not allowed to carry a back pack. He has to have his shirt tucked at all times and a belt on.
    Regardless of whether I agree with the rule or NOT it is a rule and I expect compliance. He has several challenges.
    My son like most who have a disability wants desperately to fit in. He used money he earned to buy a belt buckle that looked like a set of brass knuckles from a kid on the bus. When I found them I explained the seriousness of the situation and that they are illegal. Someone not standing close enough to see what they are would mistake them for a weapons and he could be expelled.
    I through them in the trash and then in the dumpster. Without me knowing he went dumpster diving and retrieved the offending belt buckle.
    He is 13 but looks 16. He is very benevolent and wanted to look cool. So last night he went to a football game off campus. It is not a supervised school activity but it is was on school property.
    He took it out of his pocket at the game to show another kid. Sure enough one of his “friends” turned him in this morning. Despite no adult witnesses and no intention of harm and it not being an official school activity he got suspended for 5 days. It could have been an expulsion.

    The good news is Finley was honest. He apologized, he admitted I had told him it was illegal.

    This is the same school district that suspended in
    kindergarten for drawing a picture of a gun.

  42. Here’s what you need: 8 Differences Between the 1950s and Now [2007] http://listverse.com/2007/10/26/8-differences-between-the-1950s-and-now/


    Scenario: Johnny falls while running during recess and scrapes his knee. He is found crying by his teacher, Mary. Mary hugs him to comfort him.

    1957: In a short time, Johnny feels better and goes on playing.

    2007: Mary is accused of being a sexual predator and loses her job. She faces 3 years in State Prison. Johnny undergoes 5 years of therapy. Johnny’s parents sue the school for negligence and the teacher for emotional trauma and win both cases. Mary, jobless and indebted, commits suicide by jumping off of a tall building. When she lands, she hits a car and also damages a potted pot. The car’s owner and the plant’s owner sue Mary’s estate for destruction of property. They both win.

  43. When my brother was in high school he was called out to the parking lot by campus police and asked to open his car so that it could be searched. My brother didn’t carry weapons or anything that could be used as a weapon (pocket knife) nor did he do any sort of drugs (not even cigarettes). We later realized that the police suspected something was in his car but had no proof which is why he was called out to open the car, an act that he could’ve refused until one of my parents was called and showed up. However, he had nothing to hide and gladly let them search his car. What they found was a carpet knife that my dad had left in the car after he was doing some repair work to the floorboards. The knife was confiscated and my brother suspended immediately for 10 days while a committee reviewed the case and decided whether or not he would be suspended for the remainder of the school year. Eventually he was brought before the committee to explain why he brought the “weapon,” as they called it, to school in the first place. My brother corrected them stating that it was not a weapon until used as such and when the police found it it should have been considered a tool which would have had a practical purpose in the car at some point. Ultimately the committee ruled against his longer suspension but upheld the 10 day on his record citing the ensuing investigation.

  44. I went to a very very large High School in on of the richest county’s in Texas. Why build a Senior High/Junior High or a school on the east side of town and one on the west when you can construct on massive learning compound? It was blanketed in surveillance cameras in the halls, outside the building, and in the lunch room. High quality pan/zoom/tilt cameras. The only class rooms with cameras in them were the detention rooms, which included multiple microphones hanging from the ceiling over students desks. In addition each teacher in normal classrooms were equipped with a microphone, strictly for giving lectures over there PA systems of course. Some teachers used the systems others didn’t. On occasion I could sweet talk a teacher into letting me hook up my mp3 player to it playing appropriate music of course something from there generation that they could enjoy too. There were multiple police officers assigned to the school who has there own office. I’ve been in there and spoke to them. And I quote “Do you know thats a felony, that you could be sent to prison with murders and rapists for that, I’m just kidding it’s only a misterminer and there not even pressing charges.” I was told that after getting into an car accident and not reporting it while not in school and nowhere near the campus. They just used the school to identify me somehow. They said they matched paint in the parking lot. My insurance covered it and the other party wasn’t mad at all. If you were caught with a weapon, something that look like a weapon, using something as a weapon, started a fight, attempted to defend yourself, or were found with drugs illegal or illicit prescription, you would be sent to the “other school” a ex grocery store the school system bought. A “special achievement center” or so it appeared from the outside. I would tell you more about this achievement center, but I cut a deal with an employee there I’m not supposed to talk about.

  45. I’d like to read this book, but for some reason a $25 price has put me off completely. It’s probably great, but $25 great?

    I’d buy it for $10.

  46. You have to sue the principal and every member of the school board as individuals. These policies are risk management. They exist to avoid lawsuits. Take their houses. Take their cars. Take their bank accounts. Take their dogs. Take their reputations. Change the risk management equation to make zero tolerance policies more costly than not having them and they’ll stop using them.

    1. Absolutely! Or at least try and scare the crap out of them personally.

      This is what is required with any large organization because the organization itself enables dead wood, free riders and ethically-unconstrained behaviors by its members.

  47. The problem with “zero tolerance” is far more fundamental than anyone typical talks about.

    These are systems with feedback. All feedback systems work by taking an ideal and subtracting reality. This difference is the error signal: the bigger the error, the more correction is required to bring the system back to its ideal set point. The part that does correcting and acting upon the environment is the control which uses the error signal to correct the output of the plant which alters the outside environment. The output of the plant is then resampled to provide feedback.

    Anything that “regulates” is a control system thus this includes the legal and political systems themselves plus the executive functions that obey the definitions and outputs of these. The ideal set point is what laws define. The error generation and control may or may not be defined in the law – often enough in the US laws get passed which define none of this nor how they should correct. The plant is the executive branch which includes school administrations. The environment includes students and their behaviors – the plant tries to control the behaviors (as far as they are detectable) through feedback.

    Insisting on zero tolerance is precisely insisting that the ideal must equal zero and that you must measure zero in the environment.

    In an ideal world this is possible but in the real world it is impossible: there are Bayesian sampling limits, noise floors and resolution limitations to measurements that assure that zero can’t be measured in the first place. Bayesian sampling error looms large here – it is often impossible to with modest measurement to do better than 50% chance actual correctness when the sampled quantity is a needle in the haystack (e.g. preventing students from going postal). The false positives are more likely than true positives.

    But worse: 0 – 0 = 0 and generally “very small” – “very small” = “very small with even more inaccuracy” so that the error signal of your feedback control system is essentially nonexistent.

    There’s another name for this: an open-loop, uncontrolled system. There are even technically interesting reasons from complex analysis that show how tiny error signals are equivalent to no feedback at all. It’s simply a mathematical imperative that a control system with zero tolerance *must fail* to achieve its goals entirely.

    So in the name of controlling something you are in fact not controlling it at all – a very small excursion in the “plant” output is completely undetected and undetectable – the very opposite of the goal of negative feedback control systems. In fact this is an excellent way of creating a Black Swan failure.

  48. Of *course* we brought our Boy Scout knives to elementary school when we wore our scout uniforms on days there were meetings. Being a scout was being a Good Citizen, and the fact that we had scout knives showed that we’d passed the knife and axe safety test (point the sharp end away from you.) (By junior high we were too cool to actually wear uniforms to school, of course, but it was still occasionally useful to have a knife.)

    The only time knives ever came up in a negative context was in metal shop, where we were strictly not allowed to make knives or anything weapon-like (even though the teacher did have a battle-axe on the wall :-)

    There was one time that a girl asked one of my high school teachers for a hall pass to go to the school nurse to get aspirin. His reply was that the pass was on his desk and he could trust her not to steal any aspirin out of the drawer under it while he was looking the other way writing on the board.

    And for a decade or so, before Reaganoid political correctness set in, kids were allowed to smoke in a couple of designated areas outside next the the school building. For those of us who didn’t smoke, it was great, because they could successfully enforce not smoking in the bathroom, and they could get everybody to clean up their cigarette butts.

    For the most part, the various school administrations were reasonable and proportionate about things, though there were a couple of hardass vice principals who sometimes overreacted. And there was occasional bullying and fighting in elementary school, and occasional fights in junior high though most of them were off the property after school, but for the most part we were treated like good kids, and teaching us responsibility as we grew up was part of our education.

  49. I really don’t think this problem will be solved until the US gets its legal system back under control. Schools in particular (but businesses as well) live in constant fear of litigation. It used to be that accidents will happen because “kids will be kids” but nowadays, there seems to be no such thing as “an accident.” SOMEBODY must be held responsible (and liable), and since lawyers are not held accountable for bringing frivolous or pointless lawsuits to court there will always be one or a dozen who will push the parents to sue if Little Johnny or Mary gets hurt (physically or emotionally).

  50. As far as bullying is concerned the zero tolerance policy is complete BS. Serious anti-bullying programs recommend against it as it does not work. Once a school implements zero tolerance that seems to be the end of any serious effort to deal with bullying.

    My son went to an inner-city school with a zero tolerance bullying policy. He, being out and gay, was physically attacked and threatened with death, the police were called in, parents talked to, and nothing at all happened to the bullies. Nothing.

    I think zero tolerance in the case of bullying means zero will be done about it.

    Ask the administration of any school what a zero tolerance policy for bullying really means and they will tell you it’s not really zero tolerance.

  51. I work for a school district (one of the 25 largest in the country), and all I can say is: we are what you have made us. We barely have enough money to provide minimal instruction; we certainly don’t have anything extra to lose to litigation, so we have to take (often ridiculous) steps to protect ourselves as much as we can from liability.

  52. In Victoria, Australia you don’t have to be in school to be an evil knife wielder. There has been a Zero Tolerance knife campaign here “Knives scar lives!” complete with appropriately damaged faces plastered over public transport. I looked up a copy of the new laws and made a call to a Police Station to clarify details. The sale of any knife to an under 18 year old is forbidden. Table cutlery and plastic knives as explicitly included in the ban. police have extended powers to search on suspicion and the Swiss Army Knife that I have carried in my pocket for 25 years is now illegal under penalty of substantial fine and/or jail. There is no minimum length allowed, the blade on a pair of nail clippers would not be permitted. My 8 year old daughter was hoping to get her late Grandad’s SAK for her birthday to have outside of school. There is little chance of that now.

    1. I’m sure it won’t be long before sporks get banned, too.

      I would be tempted to start a satirical “BAN THE SPORKS” campaign to point out the absurdity of these sorts of bans if I weren’t so afraid that people would take the whole thing seriously, and that sporks might actually get banned. (I’ll give up my spork when they pry it from my cold, dead, greasy fingers!)

  53. And, of course, I cannot forward the link for this story to my wife — who is a teacher — because bOINGbOING is blocked by the school system’s firewall.

    Guess they have a zero-tolerence policy on open and free discussion. Somebody might learn something, and then where would we be?

  54. A teacher said “Take that tuque off,” as I passed in the halls, I responded “Why?” then, she stared at me in horror, it seems that what I said was worse than a simple “No.” In a stuttered response: “It’s a hat,”
    “You are in doors?”
    “So… Why?”
    “…It’s a rule.”
    “What is the rationale?”
    “…It’s a rule.”

  55. I am glad that so many people are commenting on this subject, as a School Resource Officer, I have a lot of people question my job and if it is necessary. My response is yes. I don’t take kids to jail for silly violations, nor do I sit around and “watch” kids waiting for them to screw up. I do more than just enforce law, I counsel with kids who have problems and get them information on places that can help them with their problems. I also try to help them see that officers are people too and that we are all here for more than just “busting” people. I’m also there to protect the teachers, who do not get paid enough for what they do, from being abused by the students they try to teach. So much is made about security measures at schools, but look at your own jobs and the places you shop. The same measures are there every day and drug testing is a requirement before you can be employed…so what’s wrong with kids getting used to the real world now. Society as a whole is established on rules and respecting others, if we don’t teach that now, then when? I believe the reason we have so many in jail is because we wait until they’re adults to hold people accountable and by then it’s too late to teach anything.

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