Charlie Sykes

In Indiana, an eighth-grader who realized that he had inadvertently brought a Swiss Army knife to school in his jacket pocket, turned it in to the office as soon as he arrived at school, but was suspended for 10 days anyway. The principal recommended that he be expelled, even though the student had told the truth and done the right thing. Assuming that the point of the no-weapons rule was to keep knives out of school, it had succeeded when the boy turned it in. But the message his suspension sent to other students was probably to keep any weapons hidden and as far away from administrators as possible.

This sort of bureaucratic obtuseness extends to the enforcement of drug policies. In Louisiana, the Bossier Parish School Board voted to expel high school student Amanda Stiles for a year for possessing a single tablet of Advil. The over-the-counter pain reliever was found during a search of Amanda’s purse after a teacher received a tip that Amanda had been smoking in school. No cigarettes or lighter was found, but the search nailed the Advil. The superintendent said the suspension was “consistent with the board's zero-tolerance policy.”

None of this, of course, is really about keeping children safe or even teaching them how to behave: it is about administrators protecting their backsides.

Instead of encouraging children to exercise sound judgment, “zero tolerance” shows adults at their most arbitrary and stupid, especially when it punishes students for doing the right thing.

This is ironic, since these are the folks who are supposed to teach our children “critical thinking skills.” (PS: I also drew pictures of dinosaurs eating people.)