The latest example of mind-numbing school no-tolerance hysteria comes from rural Pennsylvania, where a kindergarten student has been suspended for threatening to shoot another student with a pink Hello Kitty bubble gun. I confess that I have nothing new to say about this idiotic and cruel incident that I haven’t said before about, say, the school principal who attempted to punish a 4th grader in 2010 for playing with a LEGO figure who was carrying a two-inch LEGO “gun”:
“The ethical duty being violated here, along with the ethical values of fairness, prudence, proportion and respect, is competence. A school administrator who does something like this is not competent, and any school system that gives such a person responsibility for the education of young children is also incompetent.”
…Or about the school administrators that punished a 10-year-old who had bitten a slice of pizza into the shape of a gun, an incident that admittedly sent me over the edge when I wrote:
“This is the Apocalypse, the bottom of the barrel. This disgraces teachers, schools, administrators, the U.S. educational system, America and the human race. Incompetence, unfairness, abuse of power, irresponsible behavior and stupidity, all flowing from a system that has lost its way and is in despair. We are officially in the Twilight Zone, Bizarro World, Cloud Cuckoo Land, and Oz, all to the detriment of our poor students, needing an education, and encountering only rigidity, cowardice and foolishness.”
In the wake of Newtown, however, with supposedly responsible elected officials running around making absurd statements about how we have to choose between the Second Amendment and “saving our children,” the entrenched no-tolerance fanaticism in the schools has become more virulent and widespread, though it could not have become more damaging, irresponsible or stupid than the pizza episode. In San Francisco, for example, a teenager who wrote a poem— for herself— reflecting on what Adam Lanza might have been thinking was suspended from her school, adding a First Amendment wrinkle to no-tolerance madness. There is hardly any point in writing about what is wrong with this any more: if you can’t figure that out by yourself, you’re either beyond hope, or you’re a school administrator.
In an effort to continue to advance the discussion, therefore, Ethics Alarms is presenting this variation on an Ethics Quiz, in which you are invited to rank actual cases of violence-related no-tolerance excesses inflicted on students from most (#1) to least (#10) justifiable. Please note that none of these are in fact justifiable or rational in any way, but some are much worse than others. I have listed ten, in no particular order, and your Ethics Alarms Quiz is…
Rank these real life example of school no-tolerance insanity!
There are factors I am leaving out that might change the ranking. For example, a toddler making a gun with his fingers is arguably less culpable than a 14-year-old doing the same thing. Similarly, the level of punishment can raise the level of idiocy. I mentioned the punishment in the Spotsylvania spit-ball massacre case, where some punishment was due, because the elevation of a traditional classroom stunt to a criminal act by the school is what puts the incident on the list. Punishment in the other incidents ranged from being suspended to being expelled and arrested. The standard for your ranking should be degree of actual or threatened mortal danger posed to other students, school personnel, or the school itself, justifying punishment. The objective of the exercise is to develop a scale of no-tolerance derangement. Once that is in place, when a student named “Gunderson” is told that he poses a threat to his classmates and is expelled, we can identify it neatly. “Ah! A Category Eight!” we can say, saving me the trouble of writing a redundant 700 word post.
Here is the list:
1. Biting pizza into the shape of a gun.
2. Pointing a finger in the shape of a gun and saying “Bang!”
3. Threatening to shoot a student with a bubble gun.
4. A deaf child who makes the obvious sign-language symbol for gun, to “say” his own name, because his first name is “Hunter”
5. Expelling a student and bringing charges of criminal assault for shooting another student with a spitball through a straw
6. Accidentally bringing a paring knife to school in a lunch box
7. Drawing a picture of your father holding a gun
8. Playing with a LEGO figure carrying a LEGO automatic weapon
9. Drawing a picture of a gun
10. Writing a poem about the Newtown shooting
I really appreciate this.