Thursday, February 24, 2005

Assault with a Deadly What??

One thing about listening to talk radio every now and then--you never run out of blog fodder...

A middle-schooler in Orange County, Florida, was suspended for ten days because of a "level 4" violation. This highest level of offense generally has to do with things like making bomb threats, bringing explosives to school, assault and battery and arson. You might think that this kid brought a knife to school, set a wastebasket on fire, or beat up his teacher. But you would be wrong. This kid was accused of an attempted assault on his teacher, with...get this...a rubber band.

That's not a typo. A rubber band is now considered a weapon in this school system:
A 13-year-old student in Orange County, Fla., was suspended for 10 days and could be banned from school over an alleged assault with a rubber band, according to a Local 6 News report.

Robert Gomez, a seventh-grader at Liberty Middle School, said he picked up a rubber band at school and slipped it on his wrist.

Gomez said when his science teacher demanded the rubber band, the student said he tossed it on her desk.

After the incident, Gomez received a 10-day suspension for threatening his teacher with what administrators say was a weapon, Local 6 News reported.
Need I say, read the whole thing, including the comments at the bottom.

I'm sorry, but I have zero tolerance for "zero tolerance" policies like this. Maybe there's more to the story than we've heard so far, but it sounds on the surface like the teacher was just a bit too thin-skinned, and the administration overreacted bigtime. Nobody got hurt; nobody even got as much as grazed. Give the kid a couple days' detention and make him write 500 sentences about how he'll be more respectful next time. Sure, the administration is trying to gain--or should I say force--the respect of the students by enforcing every rule to the letter in the most punitive way possible, no matter how small the infraction. So far, it's not working too well (just like it didn't for the Nazis, as Charley Jones, the host of the show I was listening to, pointed out last night). The problem is, if administrators keep making idiotic rulings like this, they're going to lose the respect of not only the parents in the community, but the students themselves.

I had the chance to call in to Charley's show last night, when this story took up most of the first hour. I had two points to make:

1) Charley asked if teachers had ever been known to throw things in classrooms. I told the story of my middle-school band director, who threw chalkboard erasers with regularity. They were mostly aimed at the drummers (who, ok, deserved it most of the time), and by the end of the year, he could hit them with pinpoint accuracy, making little chalk marks right in the center of their foreheads. If he tried this today, he'd probably get sued, or at least have to take classes in anger management.

2) I also proposed a theory as to why some administrators act like this: They simply don't get out enough. In other words, they don't hang out enough with people who aren't other school administrators. After sitting around in all their meetings long enough, making contingency plans for every possible horrible thing that could happen, eventually those things become part of their reality. Think like that long enough, and eventually, all those awful things that could happen become things that probably will happen, maybe even today. There's nothing wrong with being careful, but things like the rubber-band incident go beyond reality and into the realm of the absurd.

Please note that I'm not painting all school administrators with this broad brush; there are plenty of people out there who actually take the time to consider each infraction individually instead of lazily sitting back and letting a one-size-fits-all policy do the thinking for them. But it's evident, from stories like this and others recently, that this problem is not an isolated one.

One more sidebar here: It could be said that the reason that school districts have to react so harshly to even the smallest incidents is due to the total lack of respect given by many kids to adults these days. One could also counter that such respect has been eroded by the end of capital corporal punishment in schools. (Whoops, that typo was the lack of sleep talking...) Which came first here, the chicken or the egg? Is there another way to engender respect besides beating the crap out of a kid when he gets out of line? And finally, does anyone think that this school district responded to this incident in an appropriate manner, and that their actions will gain, rather than lose, the respect of the parents and students in their district? The comments await...

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "All of my mistakes are giving me ideas."--James Lileks, quoting his six-year-old daughter "Gnat," in his Bleat for today. That sure sounds like a metaphor for jazz improvisation, doesn't it?


Anonymous said...

One could also counter that such respect has been eroded by the end of capital punishment in schools.No wonder death penalty opponents hold such a grudge against the State of Texas. I'm having a hard time myself imagining the text of the letter that must have gone home from the principal with the student's belongings.


Kev said...

Crap; thanks for the proofread, I'll fix that right away.

Eric Grubbs said...

Jack, Carsley and I talked about this on KAAM yesterday. Between lots of laughs, all I could say with a straight face is something I heard on CBS Evening News a few weeks ago: "The land of the free has become the land of the easily offended."

Kev said...

That's the problem with the whole "political correctness" thing, in my opinion. When I used to get teased in elementary school, my mom would always give me those little pearls of wisdom like "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." PC has turned all that on its side, so that now it's more like "If you hurt me with words, I'll break your bones with sticks and stones."

Somewhere along the way, somebody twisted that one phrase in the Constitution and "the pursuit of happiness" became "the right not to have one's feelings hurt." It's like Charley Jones said the other night, we're becoming a nation of wimps.