Thursday, April 29, 2004

Common sense must be a
factor in school discipline

From a Houston Chronicle editorial:

Many school districts across the United States adopted severe disciplinary policies laying out rigid punishments, especially after two Littleton, Colo., students killed 12 classmates, a teacher and themselves five years ago at Columbine High School. Parents and school officials demanded measures to keep schools free from weapons, drugs and violence.

An April 18 Chronicle report by reporter Rachel Graves presented evidence that some districts have gone too far, greatly expanding the number of prohibited behaviors and possessions considered contraband, and punishing even first offenders with special discipline school, suspension, expulsion, police citation or arrest.

Now a backlash is growing against draconian measures such as random drug and weapons searches. But the policies also have their staunch defenders, including anxious parents and school administrators who like the idea that zero tolerance requires them to employ almost no judgment of their own.

Click here for the rest.

This is, of course, no surprise when one considers the overemphasis on discipline that has been the core philosophy of public education in the US for over a century. Throw in our general society's gradual drift toward "get tough on crime" attitudes, and all it took was one high-profile massacre to transform our schools into the soft-touch gulags that they are now. The Chronicle is right to condemn "zero tolerance," but it won't be enough to simply call for an end such policies: the schools are about discipline; we must eradicate what we have now and begin anew. Nothing less will halt the rise of such policies.