Most people don't own and few might remember those large grandfather clocks with the huge pendulum swinging back and forth from one extreme to the next, ticking off time. It's too bad because a pendulum is a great example of the way society tends to deal with problems. Pendulum solutions strive to reduce issues to black and white extremes. The subtleties of the "grey areas" world we deal in are lost with this technique, but it is usually applied to concretely illustrate a point and will remain in place until people "get it" and move off the opposite extreme, hate this new extreme and so eventually arrive at a new, reasonable, grey area middle ground. But this process can take a long time.
The controversy in schools today over "Zero Tolerance" is definitely a swinging pendulum. Or a more accurate image might be the pendulum swings of arm wrestlers. One side will push and push against the other, bending to painful extremes until one finally gives in, gives up, capitulates. With all the violence and drug use experienced in schools over the past decades, teachers, principles and administrators were pushed to the extreme. In order to learn, children need to have a safe environment. So they pushed back - in the extreme opposite direction - Zero Tolerance.
We soon began hearing the news stories about students who got in trouble (either suspended or expelled) for a variety of Zero Tolerance transgressions. One elementary school boy brought a GI Joe to school and included it's miniature plastic rifle, another young boy, from the south, brought to show and tell his family's heirloom, glass encased, antique military weapon and a high school girl who drove her mom's car to school unaware that there was a can of Mace in the back seat.
Some say, "These Zero Tolerance rules are extreme." or "Stupid" or worse. What they don't seem to realized is that "Zero" means zero...otherwise defined, in part, by "www.Dictionary.com" as: goose egg, nada, naught, nil, nix, nothing, void, zilch, zip. It became a black and white extreme issue for schools as a reaction to the serious disregard with which children and families seemed to respond to repeated aggression, violence, physical intimidation and drug use which was increasing at school. It will stay an extreme until parents and families really realize how much over tolerance for violence and chemical use our society absorbs.
Evidence has now clearly shown that this trend has been due in large part from much of recent decades television and even cartoon violence, sports language, toy production, commercials, wrestling - the examples go on and on - pushed to the "XXXtreme" limits of what could be acceptable standards. Adults watching these programs (hopefully below their intellectual level) would complain about limits being established because they felt it was their right to watch these shows, regardless of what effects they might have on the targeted, younger audience. Parents would be told that if only they supervised their kids better, it wouldn't be a problem (black and white thinking). Partially correct, but not completely. Many TV shows suggest you go for the simple solution to your problems (black and white) Got a pain? Take a pill.? Too heavy? Take a pill. Sad? Take a pill. So the grey areas of life, who's rights should prevail, who's perspective is correct allowed these violence and drug messages to continue, unabated. Issues much too complex for children to watch, analyze and come to an objective opinion.
Impressionable young minds who actively were targeted by the program's marketers and watched or might merely be friends of someone who embraced this aggressive/violent way of looking at and interacting with their world were affected. If it's on TV and the person is considered cool, successful and "gets" the other guy in the end - why couldn't this work for them? Who could miss the kids "Power Ranger" kickboxing each other in the store aisles as you tried to do your shopping or walking down the street got a gush of water from the "Super High Power Action Portable Water Cannon" on a summer's day - fun and relatively harmless. But what about the kid that was being harassed at school so like the guy on TV brought a gun to protect himself? What about the girl who like her heroine on TV brought pills to school to show everyone just how upset she was? Parents blame schools, schools blame children - what a mess!
Similar instances were happening in schools throughout the country and where much time was spent trying to sort out what was acceptable and what wasn't. Children seemed to have absolutely no idea but neither did the parents, who either were unaware of what their child brought to or did at school or decided it was ok for their child. Schools finally decided that they did not want to be the arbiter of what was mildly ok, what was definitely dicey or continually re-clarify what was not acceptable.
Therefore, as an opposite response (black and white extreme) to how non-responsive families were responding to their child's violent/aggressive/drug actions and behaviors, the schools decided to make a point, make things clear - to try to (black and white extreme) illustration that school was not going to be the place for violence or drugs no matter what, when, how or why.
Every time a new incident comes up, people argue that the schools are wrong, unreasonable, an exception should be made for this reason or that child - all grey suggestions. But moving off the extreme end of a pendulum doesn't usually happen until people really "get it", learn something new, understand, realize and finally change their behavior.
Life, ideally should be lived in the middle, somewhere between the extreme swings, the grey areas. As far as "Zero Tolerance" is concerned, schools aren't ready to get rid of it because they haven't seen enough change, enough understanding of "zero". Schools should have policies for dealing with inappropriate behavior of their students. If any flexibility might be employed it shouldn't be to stop the policy but make brief modifications based on previous occurrences or the amount of time a child is suspended. The problem is - you never know if the one you let off the hook is planning the next Columbine. Maybe we should just get the "Zero" down - for now.