Tuesday, October 05, 2004

0 Tolerance

Zero tolerance has raised its stupid head once again at a local high school. I was going to make a comment about how foolish it is to remove all human judgement (however fallible) from any system of punishment, but it occurred to me that zero tolerance policies (especially as enacted by the schools) involve a lot of judgment calls, and even some imagination. As they stand, teachers and faculty seem challenged to find new ways of extending the policies to see how many students can be pushed over these blurry lines, and when this occurs: zero tolerance (i.e. only the maximum punishment will do).

Zero tolerance is not a bad policy if the lines are clearly drawn and publicized, and they are enacted with responsibility and common sense. For example, sometimes the Atlanta police practice zero tolerance with respect to the posted speed limits. The limit is clearly set (55 mph), and during these periods the police pull over everybody going faster. The difference is that speeders receive punishments commensurate to their crime; 1 mph over the limit will bring you a small fine, while 50 mph over will land your butt in jail. If the police practiced zero tolerance in the way of the high schools, you would get pulled over if you exceeded fifty-five, or looked like a speeder, or were driving a fast car, or had been seen in the company of known speeders, or ever had a dream about speeding, or watched a movie involving fast cars, or... Once it had been determined that you were a speeder, regardless of which type, the maximum punishment would be applied - fine, jail, and revoked license.

0, out

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