Saturday, November 15, 2008

Zero Tolerance as a club....

Randy Cassingham's delightful "This Is True" includes frequent discussions of the Zero Tolerance insanity. His most recent posting along these lines is Zero Tolerance Trick, No Treat about:
"An art class at Pooler Elementary School in Savannah, Ga., was assigned to draw a "scary" Halloween mask. Fifth- grader Jordan Hood drew a bloody vampire with the caption, "I Kill For Blood"
. ... when Melissa Pevey, the boy's home-room teacher, saw the drawing, she found it "disturbing" and called in the assistant principal -- and a school police officer. Pevey claimed the caption "could" be a reference to the street gang "The Bloods", and the drops of blood "looked a lot like" gang tattoos ... Jordan was required to pass a psychological evaluation before he could return to class."
Naturally, I had to learn more.
The original Savannah morning news report and publicly available information about Pooler Elementary draw a scary picture indeed:
  • It seems that the teachers had received "gang-identification training"; this may be where she got the idea a bloody teardrop was a gang symbol instead of standard Halloween issue. I would suggest this "training" was, to say the least, not very effective.
  • It also seems that Jordan was a new student from out of town. "We moved to Pooler thinking he'd be in a more diverse school with better opportunities," [his mother] told the newspaper. The mother's name, LaKisha, is used almost exclusively by African-Americans; we can assume the boy is mixed-race or black.
  • The racial makeup of Poller Elementary's student population is posted on the as 74% white (state average 48%), 15% black (state average 38%).
  • Can it be that no other student drew a mask with something that could be interpreted as a "gang symbol"? No blood? No flames? No skulls?

Put it together, folks.

It is comforting to think that Zero Tolerance is merely Being Stupid. We can mock the foolish and hope to cure ZT with education ...and of course more mockery!

But ZT is not merely stupidity. It is a convenient tool for pushing out an unwelcome student, or at least making life troublesome for him and his family.

We have little knowledge of Jordan himself, other than his ability and willingness to follow the direction of his art teacher (Clearly he deserves high marks for his artwork, since it satisfied the express requirements of being "scary" ... it scared the bejesus out of his home room teacher!)

Be he and his family must have learned something from this. Will Jordan spend the rest of his school career editing his work to avoid run-ins with authority? Or has he learned that he can get out of schoolwork by freaking out teachers?

Which would be worse?

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