Ethics Quiz: Developing A School Anti-Violence No-Tolerance Insanity Scale

More deadly than a spit-ball? Less threatening than a pizza?

More deadly than a spit-ball? Less threatening than a pizza?

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

Good luck.

I really appreciate this.

7 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: Developing A School Anti-Violence No-Tolerance Insanity Scale

  1. OK, all the powers-that-be in question are idiots, and the ones who haven’t yet committed the most absurd of these acts aren’t better than their comrades: chalk it up to lack of imagination and/or lack of opportunity.

    Put to it, I’d rank them as follows, with the top of the list being those most deserving least undeserving of a response by school officials, paying no attention to whether the reaction (e.g., criminal charges) was ridiculously over-the-top. I’m talking about whether it’s appropriate for a school to do anything. No, actually, I’m not. I’m talking about an increasing scale of being utter idiots, and even the first on the list is pretty impressively inane.

    So, using your numbering system, and without worrying about the age of the students involved, etc.: 6, 5, 3, 8, 7, 9, 1, 2, 4, 10. The middle is pretty squishy–the problem with zero tolerance policies is that they expressly forbid the use of rational thought or the consideration of circumstances. If, for example, a student draws a picture of his father holding a gun, it’s different if he’d been asked to draw a picture of his father, who happened to be a policeman, than if his father was out on parole for armed robbery. What kind of gun is it? Who or what, if anything, is he aiming at? Is he smiling or frowning? (Etc.) It’s also important to distinguish between something the child deserves punishment for, and something that might be an indication of a potential problem, worthy of a little investigation for the sake of that particular child.

    And, the fact is, there are sometimes easy solutions that present themselves if people would only look. Might it not have been a reasonable request, for example, to look for another way to sign “Hunter”? It’s an easy sign because there’s a word “hunter.” But whereas “jack” and “rick” are also words, they’re fairly uncommon. And what to do with my friends Bilal, Chinwoke, and Meron, or current/former students Nnamdi, Sumarlithi, and Erla? (I shall judiciously steer clear of “Ingunn.”) Surely young Hunter could have adopted the same strategy of self-identification necessarily employed by someone named Jeron or Ana’Leese. (This, of course, suggests that the policy that affected young Hunter has some intellectually coherent rationale, which is, of course, a hasty assumption, at best.)

    As you know, Jack, but other readers might not, I teach theatre at a university. One of my jobs is to compile an eligibility list for productions: the idea is that students’ primary emphasis needs to be on getting a degree, and those who aren’t making appropriate progress need to concentrate on classwork rather than acting, directing, and designing shows.

    There’s a fairly complex system of eligibility. Students on probation are ineligible, period. (“Look! Zero tolerance!”) Students who aren’t on academic probation are eligible to do shows if they fulfill any of three criteria. Those who don’t do so will sit out a semester from production work, except as specifically required for a class (e.g., you can go to a light hang as part of the intro to lighting class, but can’t participate further).

    Those who fall short on standards we set as a faculty years ago, however, can appeal to the Director of the School (i.e., Department Chair). That’s part of policy: a recognition that special circumstances do exist, and that we need to be smarter than the database. Sometimes, as, for example, in the case of a student who dropped a course she didn’t need, or failed a course in his old major, or had a bad semester while coping with the death of a parent, the waiver is granted. Usually, it isn’t. Sometimes the Director brings a case to the entire faculty; sometimes he acts on his own. But always, the entirety of the case is considered.

    Thought. It’s a thing.

    • Two thoughts:

      1. “Thought—it’s a Thing” can hold its own with “A Mind is a terrible thing to waste” and “Milk is a Natural.”
      2. Your choice of the poem as the worst of all is profound. I helps me get past my rage over pizzas and Lego toys.

  2. Level 10: Complete overreaction, no action should have been taken at all. Biting pizza in the shape of a gun, playing with a Lego figure with a gun, writing a poem about Newtown, having a name like Hunter, drawing a picture of their father holding a gun, drawing a picture of a gun with no threatening message accompanying it,

    Level 9: Child should have been told that the school doesn’t allow that behavior because the administration is composed of cowardly ninnies who never played cops and robbers as children. This includes pointing a finger and saying bang.

    Level 8: Child should have been warned, maybe punished by a timeout because they were bothering another child. Threatening to shoot them with a bubble-blower fits in this category.

    Level 5: Note should have been sent home (requiring parent’s signature) with child informing the parents that even paring knives are unacceptable. Knife should have been confiscated.

  3. I guess I should have prefaced my list by stating that I am now considered a dinosaur. I have carried the same 3-inch lockblade knife in my pocket (completely legally) every since the 6th grade. All of my male classmates and half of my female classmates school also carried knives daily. I use my knife daily at work as do my coworkers. During the time I was in two junior high schools and two largish high schools, a grand total of 0 people were stabbed. There were over 1000 fights, but 0 knives pulled.

    I am continually told that the world is different now. I am told that the educational methods that worked since the dark ages no longer apply because the kids are so different. I am told that the liberties that I enjoyed as a child are no longer possible. I am told, basically, that I have more in common with the men of Galileo and Kepler’s day, than with the students of today. At the ripe old age of 41, I am an anachronism. I say that is garbage. This has more to do with the aspirations of petty tyrants and the acquiescence of society in the face of education and social science’s so-called ‘experts’ that have turned our children into institutionalized, mentally stunted sheep. I have to take my freshmen by the hand for everything. It now takes me two years now to make college students capable of functioning independently.

    • There’s a few places where sanity still reigns- or did fairly recently. Less than 10 years ago in High School I carried a (school-legal, as per our student code) 2″ lockblade knife that I used as an impromptu screwdriver and prybar doing student tech support. Nobody ever said a word until we imported a new principal from a much larger city, who tried to demand the knife and suspend me until I quoted chapter and verse of the student code for our hick-town school. In spite of her sputtering vows to “get rid of that weapon loophole” I used that knife til graduation day. Turns out the other teachers and staff liked having techs carry tools.

      Of course, by today I’m sure they’ve banned pocketknives as well- student tech support died out over concerns that they might internally hack the server. Or something like that, I forget the derp logic that went into it…

  4. These rankings are in order of most insane to least of the less insane. I deliberately avoided reading any others’ comments before ranking:

    4, 1, 9, 10, 7, 8, 2, 3, 6, 5

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