When you homeschool and your child misbehaves, you have all kinds of options. You can talk to her, to make her realize what the problem is, then move on. That’s especially useful when a child does something they don’t quite know is wrong. If they don’t do it again, yay. If they do it again, next time around you have the option of making them deal with the consequences of that. Because if they do something they know is wrong more than once, you can assume there is an element of mischievousness or possibly malice behind it. So you react accordingly. If you child does something you know they know is very wrong, you have the option of going nuclear (however your family defines “nuclear”).
It’s so simple and common-sensical it almost hurts having to write it.
NEWARK, Del. — Finding character witnesses when you are 6 years old is not easy. But there was Zachary Christie last week at a school disciplinary committee hearing with his karate instructor and his mother’s fiancé by his side to vouch for him.
Zachary’s offense? Taking a camping utensil that can serve as a knife, fork and spoon to school. He was so excited about recently joining the Cub Scouts that he wanted to use it at lunch. School officials concluded that he had violated their zero-tolerance policy on weapons, and Zachary was suspended and now faces 45 days in the district’s reform school.
“It just seems unfair,” Zachary said, pausing as he practiced writing lower-case letters with his mother, who is home-schooling him while the family tries to overturn his punishment.
Spurred in part by the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings, many school districts around the country adopted zero-tolerance policies on the possession of weapons on school grounds. More recently, there has been growing debate over whether the policies have gone too far.
But, based on the code of conduct for the Christina School District, where Zachary is a first grader, school officials had no choice. They had to suspend him because, “regardless of possessor’s intent,” knives are banned.
But the question on the minds of residents here is: Why do school officials not have more discretion in such cases?
“Zachary wears a suit and tie some days to school by his own choice because he takes school so seriously,” said Debbie Christie, Zachary’s mother, who started a Web site, helpzachary.com, in hopes of recruiting supporters to pressure the local school board at its next open meeting on Tuesday. “He is not some sort of threat to his classmates.”
Still, some school administrators argue that it is difficult to distinguish innocent pranks and mistakes from more serious threats, and that the policies must be strict to protect students.
“There is no parent who wants to get a phone call where they hear that their child no longer has two good seeing eyes because there was a scuffle and someone pulled out a knife,” said George Evans, the president of the Christina district’s school board. He defended the decision, but added that the board might adjust the rules when it comes to younger children like Zachary.
See the problem is school authorities have no leeway. If they do take some anyway, they often get blamed, because there’s always some nit somewhere who makes the inane “but what if someone looses an eye” argument about everything. And it’s true. Someone might loose an eye. I mean, it’s life, right? It’s inherently not safe.
One of the goals of a solid education is to teach children how to take risks appropriately. How to gauge danger, how to think of possible ways to mitigate risks, how to back off when something is bigger than they thought, and how sometimes to trust themselves to do something scary. But if you’re in a school system where very strict “safety” rules are applied regardless of intent you not only fail to teach children how to manage risks, you’re also teaching them that the people in positions of authority make rules that are profoundly unfair when followed to the letter and then you proceed to follow the profoundly unfair rules to the letter, which breaks whatever bond there might have been between that kid and the school authorities.
Meanwhile, real bullies who are smart enough to understand how the game is played (i.e. don’t bring knives to school), have all the time and space in the world to traumatize their victims without being bothered much by the school authorities who are unduly busy evicting 6-year-olds who bring camping gear to eat their lunch with.
If they’d tried to design a school system upside-down they wouldn’t have done a better job.