Playground Bully by Anita Patterson at Morguefile.com

Zero Tolerance FAIL

I probably think about word definitions more than I should – or at least I let them irk me more than I should when I hear them used, as I perceive it, out of place. For example, express lane doesn’t mean go-40-mph-over-the-limit lane, it just means you don’t have local exits and you can still be stuck behind someone going the speed limit. The latest one comes from my kids school and its discipline system. It’s not a system that we’ve ever had to be a part of, since our wee scholars tend to the law-abiding camp. But recently we heard about a classmate who had accumulated enough zero tolerances to be suspended for a day. Accumulated?

I know some people don’t like Wikipedia, but it gets to the point with zero tolerance:  automatic punishment for infractions of a stated rule, with the intention of eliminating undesirable conduct.  That may not be your definition, but it seems to me to be pretty close to what most people would think.  The part I can’t reconcile is how you can have something accumulate that is automatic?  Unless the child “acts out”, to use a ridiculous phrase (misbehave, perhaps?), multiple times simultaneously, I can’t think of why a zero tolerance would be cumulative.  I can also understand where someone who has received multiple zero tolerance punishments may be deemed incorrigible and the result is that the child disappears for a day.  But it shouldn’t be labeled an accumulation.

As my wife said in a slip, the policy becomes one of zero consequences if zero tolerance doesn’t really result in an automatic punishment.  I honestly don’t care whether there is or isn’t zero tolerance about certain behaviors, but it would seem to me that whatever the guidelines are, the behavior and the consequence should be aligned.  If something is serious enough for zero tolerance, it shouldn’t be a cumulative measurement.

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