Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Zero Tolerance Teaches The Wrong Stuff

Here's a story making the news today:

A six-year-old American boy has been ordered to spend 45 days at a school for troublemakers after he brought his favorite Cub Scout camping cutlery to school.

Zachary Christie took out the combination knife, fork and spoon at lunch, in violation of the school policy of not bringing in knives.The Delaware school officials immediately suspended him and sent him off to reform school for 45 days. His mother, having better sense, withdrew him and will home school him.

As a mediator and peacemaker, I see the results of school zero-tolerance policies destroy relationships, children, and people. It is a concept born of fear and bereft of common sense. More dangerously, it does not teach children how to deal with conflict or violations constructively. Instead, zero tolerance polices teach kids that he or she who has the most power wins--exactly the wrong lesson we need to teach our future leaders if we want our species to survive another generation or so on this planet.

The solution is to invest in relationships and create the space, time, and resources to deal with conflicts and offenses appropriately. Can we teach school leaders not to be fearful of children? As a Cub Scout, I am sure Zachary is proud of his camp utensil and has great memories. Why wouldn't he want to bring it to school? An enlightened leadership at the school and in the school district would see this very obvious motivation of a six year old and respond appropriately. Imagine what the results would be if instead of investing in fear-based, one-size fits all policies that spectacularly blow up in the adminstrators' faces, the same energy were devoted to problem-solving, collaborative thinking and teaching, and compassion, even for six year olds?

Get rid of zero-tolerance policies. Invest in leadership and peacemaking skills. Model these behaviors. Our students and schools will be much better places because of it.

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