Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Using Common Sense is Not Impossible

In Are You Dumber Than A First Grader? from SpeEdChange, the author states,

“The Christina School District is the latest poster child for the need to wipe the entire idea of "Zero Tolerance" from our school vocabulary. They became this when they "zero tolerated" a first grader who had an awful lapse in judgment.”

The author is referring to the story about the first grader who brought a Boy Scout tool to school which included a pocket knife. He had just become a boy scout and wanted to show it off. Of course now they are planning to expel him. He is just a first grader and this is how we want him to begin his relationship with the education system?

I still can’t understand why school boards can’t use their common sense. I have heard that they do things like this so that they can show everyone that they are being treated equally and fair. I tell my students that life isn’t fair and it is impossible for it to be that way. We can try to be as fair as possible but when we are working with people, they need to be dealt with individually. You can’t deal with situations but you can deal with people.

This reminded me of another situation at a high school where I taught. A young girl was in the process of being expelled because of the zero tolerance policy. This girl was a straight A student and expected to be salutatorian of her class when graduation rolled around plus had already been accepted into college with lots of scholarships. It was around January and there was a class field trip planned. When the girl got on the bus, she realized that on her keychain was a tiny plastic case holding a pocketknife and tiny scissors. I saw this item which was about an inch long and probably wasn’t even sharp enough to pierce skin. If it did pierce skin, it could not have gone deep enough to do much harm because it was so tiny. She immediately turned it in to her teacher so she wouldn’t get in trouble. The teacher turned it in to the administration when they returned to school and they jumped into action. They acted like this girl was planning an act of terrorism and suspended her. Due to the zero tolerance policy, they were recommending expulsion. I couldn’t believe that they were going to ruin this girl’s life over something like this. She would lose her scholarships as well due to disciplinary actions against her.

As educators, we expect our students to show some common sense when they are interacting with their peers. Yet, this is the role model we give them? We expect our students to learn critical thinking, yet the people in power show none. The system is so hypocritical that it is no wonder our students are confused and rebellious. For many years I have taught my students steps to problem solve. First they identify the problem and brainstorm possible actions. They make a list of the pros and cons of these actions and then decide the best way to act. We expect our students to look at a situation then weigh the pros and cons of their actions and make a decision based on these but yet the adults don’t seem to do the same thing. When adults have a set policy that they follow, I don’t see them weighing the pros and cons of their actions. They blindly act without thinking. They follow this set path without looking at any other possible avenues.

I think this is a way for school boards to get out of thinking. They don’t have to think, brainstorm possible avenues to follow, or even evaluate their actions. Rather than acting responsibly, these people are just reacting. They stand behind a wall and hide saying that it was the district policy. These people are the policy makers so change the policy! Maybe they need to come up with a policy that when situations occur, they will need to use their common sense and look at each case individually when it is brought before them. I really don’t understand why this is so hard but maybe I’m just using common sense. I think if school boards did this, they would be more successful in running the district. What do you think?

Original image: '(im)possible - 282/365' http://www.flickr.com/photos/18271014@N00/3842815564 by: Niklas Morberg


Fred Deutsch said...

Just a quick note to say hello and to thank you for your blog. I read blogs to learn about education in my role as a school board member. I’ve learned plenty from you!

I’ve subscribed to your blog and also have it listed on my site as one the 50 education blogs I read nightly.

Thanks again for your work.

Fred Deutsch
Watertown, SD

luckeyfrog said...

I agree that discretion needs to be used, especially in cases like these where no damage was done and no malicious intent was suspected. Few situations are exactly the same and require exactly the same consequence, in my experience.

I firmly believe that consistency is important, but I also think we lose all respect if we don't listen to students and treat them as humans. We need to show understanding at times, and even if a punishment is merited, a student should feel as though the teacher or administrator has listened to them first.

loonyhiker said...

@Fred Deutsch Thanks so much for reading my blog. I'm glad you are enjoying it!

loonyhiker said...

@luckeyfrog You hit the nail on the head! I don't think this situation showed respect to anyone. Thanks for commenting!