Zero tolerance policies, just like any decision-making process that makes things easy on administrators by removing their need to use their brains and good judgment, are one of many constant reminders that we live in a nanny state where common sense is the least common commodity of all.
The spectacle last week of two San Pasqual High School students being suspended and put under threat of expulsion because they had some knives in their cars is, and it can’t be said too bluntly: just plain stupid! And, let me add, idiotic.
They weren’t brandishing their blades. The knives weren’t in their backpacks or in their pockets. They were just in their cars. Some police dog in need of pain relief (apparently) sniffed out some Advil (I am not making this up!) in both cars, at which point the students found out the true meaning of a headache. They were forced to submit to various indignities over the discovery of the knives.
I hope it was not the case that the police where wearing SWAT regalia for this take down, but I suppose anything is possible. I’m not criticizing the police for this, by the way. The law is the law and the knives were longer than the legal limit. But what followed is somewhat Kafkaesque.
What would have, in saner days, resulted in the two students being hauled into the principal’s office, given a tongue lashing, maybe having their “dangerous” weapons confiscated and possibly sent home for the day, escalated into a major issue that filled a school board meeting with hundreds of people.
We all hear of instances of kids who have charm bracelets with little guns or knives hanging from them, or children wearing NRA T- shirts being brought to summary judgment before stern faced school officials who hide behind facile bromides about how they have a solemn responsibility to protect the safety of students and we smugly assure ourselves, “Oh, that’s Massachusetts” or “Yes, they are really clueless in Cincinnati” “It would never happen here.” But it did. In Escondido.
It wasn’t that long ago in Escondido, which, you will recall, was once a farming community, that boys of all ages carried pocketknives around as necessary tools. Yes, you can injure and even kill people with knives, but there are also dozens of very useful things that you can do with knives that don’t involve bloodletting. I carry around a Leatherman Skeletool with me every day of my life and call on it several times a day. And I’m what you’d call a white collar worker.
Public schools are engaged in a rather subtle battle against “boyness” and this sort of thing is part of that war. Whenever males do the things that males do they are likely to get punished for it.
I get that we don’t want little bands of hoodlums roaming the halls of the schools brandishing stainless steel implements of death, but can’t we exhibit proportionality? How about making the punishment fit the crime (if crime it actually is)?