It appears that no-tolerance policies in the schools may not be alienating students after all. Some of them, at least in Michigan, are learning the no-tolerance way and applying it in the workplace.
Not John Chevilott, though: he just doesn’t get it, probably because when he went to school, they didn’t have no-tolerance policies. A veteran public-works employee in Wayne County, Michigan, he was mowing grass in Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood when he found a loaded revolver. He called the police and waited for them to pick up the gun, but they didn’t appear. Chevilott finished the job and took the weapon to the police after work. The gun had been stolen in 2005, records showed, and police told him that he had handled the situation well.
Wayne County, however, has a no-tolerance policy forbidding employees from possessing weapons on work property. After all, there’s no reason for a worker to have a gun, except in the extraordinary situation where one is just hanging around, loaded, and the worker picks it up. But how often would that happen? It’s no wonder nothing about that situation was written into the rule, and rules, as they say in the schools—the schools where kids chew their pizzas into the shape of pistols and get suspended, the schools where kids disarm fellow students of knives and are expelled, and the schools where four-year-old boys kiss girls and get arrested for sexual assault—“rules are rules!”
John Chevilott, who had been on the job 23 years and scheduled to retire in two days, was fired for violating the policy, even though his supervisors understood that the gun wasn’t his, that he had turned it into police, that it was loaded, that it was as much a threat to public safety lying in the grass as any weapon brought to work by an employee, and that he had “possessed it” only to get it into the hands of law enforcement officials. To be fair, they also suspended Chevilott’s foreman, who knew about the incident, for not reporting the infraction.
You see? The schools do educate students, and those no-tolerance policies work. They teach students to be incapable of independent judgement and common sense, and to be so frightened of the consequences of discretion that they follow rules to the letter even when the provisions of the rules make no sense in the context they are being applied. They learn this by watching how teachers and school administrators act, and what happens to the unlucky or foolish student who behaves responsibly or innocently but still violates a lurking rule. This is how you train bureaucrats. This is how you crush initiative, and stifle ethics alarms. This is how you raise citizens who refuse to act when crimes are taking place right in front of them.
But really, who can argue with the results? This is one of the reasons Detroit is the safe, thriving metropolis it is today, and that our country is in the steady hands of courageous, innovative, problem-solving leaders.
Pointer: Mike Martin (Thanks, Mike!)
Graphic: Bards Coliseum
Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at firstname.lastname@example.org.