March, 2002 – A ten-year-old boy, along with seven friends, was suspended from Dry Creek Elementary School in Centennial, Colorado, for pointing their fingers like guns during a game of ‘Army and Aliens’ on the school playground. – Washington Times
February, 2010 – A twelve-year-old girl in Forest Hills, New York wrote ‘I love my friends Abby and Faith. Lex was here 2/1/10.’ Police were called, and the girl was arrested, handcuffed in front of her classmates, and taken to jail. – CNN Justice
February, 2013 – A seven-year-old boy at Blair Elementary School in Loveland, Colorado was suspended for throwing an imaginary grenade at imaginary bad guys at recess while playing a game he’d invented called ‘Rescue the World.’ – Fox News
March, 2013 – A seven-year-old boy, while eating breakfast at Park Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland, received a two-day suspension for chewing a Pop Tart into the shape of a gun. – Fox News
March, 2013 – An eight-year-old girl at Love Joy Elementary School in Alton, Illinois threw a tantrum, and was subsequently handcuffed and held by police for two hours. – KMOV.com local news station.
These are just a few examples of rampant abuse caused by Zero Tolerance rules adopted by school districts in the U.S. Personally, I thought we had hit rock bottom when a high school senior in Dallas was suspended because a butter knife was found in the back of his pickup, after he’d helped his grandmother move. Not so much.
A reader sent me a note after a recent column, castigating me for claiming that political correctness was the greatest threat to America today. His opinion was that our country faces many greater threats, such as drug abuse, racism, and terrorism. And those are certainly legitimate problems.
Most of the issues we must overcome as a nation, however, could be addressed much easier if political correctness were not a factor. We are so afraid we might fracture someone’s delicate feelings, we err far to the side of caution. And in the above examples of zero tolerance in schools, such an effort was made to protect the rights of students that the rights of other students were disregarded in toto.
In two of the cases mentioned, girls were placed in handcuffs, as if a twelve- or eight-year-old girl posed such a threat to her classmates, even while in contact with a police officer, that physical restraint was necessary. Are our cops so feeble they have to handcuff little girls to maintain control? If so, we have other issues to address.
Granted, the other students in those classes have rights, too, such as the right to study at desks unmarred by graffiti, and the right to learn in a calm environment. But I submit those rights could have been restored without the debasement and humiliation of the offenders.
As unbelievable as the treatment of those girls may be, the other cases mentioned, while expected in today’s atmosphere of gun fear, are even more ridiculous. The girls, at least, physically damaged property and disrupted class. The boys harmed no one, and in fact did nothing but act like boys.
Far more disturbing than the boys being punished for doing nothing wrong, however, is what happened in one of the cases after the fact.
After the boy in Maryland was suspended for chewing a pastry into the shape of a pistol, the school sent a letter home to parents offering counciling for any children who were ‘troubled’ by the incident. I imagine more students were troubled by the behavior of school administrators than by a Pop Tart shaped like a gun, but the implication is that the mere shape of a firearm might be emotionally traumatic for a child. Pfffft.
All of that is entirely too politically correct (in other words, wrong), but far more bizarre the case (Fox News) of the 16-year-old Florida student who was suspended for having a gun on a school bus. But it wasn’t his gun. Another boy had brandished the loaded weapon, and pointed it at a third student. The hero then wrestled the gun away from its owner, and was subsequently suspended for it. The school evidently has a rule that all parties involved in any incident involving a weapon must be suspended.
So a boy could have stayed out of trouble by allowing a fellow student to be shot. Since he acted, and possibly saved a life, he is being punished. Doing the right thing has become the wrong thing.
Without question, there are risks that must be taken into account for doing the right thing. My best friend was once stabbed when he came to the defense of a girl being threatened by a boy with a knife. The Florida student, or someone else, could have been shot as he wrested the gun from the other kid. Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.
But if we stop to consider all the bad things that can happen before we act, we will never make a difference. Personally, I’d rather live in a world where people try to help others and fail, than a world where everyone sits idly by and watches evil run rampant with no opposition.
As a society we can be politically correct, or we can be right. We can’t be both.