Friday, June 29, 2007

Zero Tolerance in Palos Verdes


The story rocked the local news like an IED. Little toy soldiers with little plastic guns worn by little boys were declared verboten at a grammar school graduation. The boys at the Cornerstone school were ordered by Principal Denise Leonard to remove the toy soldiers, or cut off the plastic micro-guns, or be held in contempt of the district Zero Tolerance Weapon's policy. Leonard “directed students to not place images of weapons on student-created mortarboards to be used in the promotion ceremony,” according to a PVUSD statement.

Letters to the editor and to the school superintendent accused the principal of violating the student’s free speech, of misguided pedagogy and of an anti-military bias -- not to mention petty behavior.

In my opinion, the free speech argument holds no water. The US Supreme Court ruled this week that students have limited first amendment rights. In a 5-4 decision, the Supremes held that speech promoting illegal drug use (“Bong Hits 4 Jesus,” in this case) may be regarded as “disruptive” to school life, as defined by the Supreme Court in Tinker (1969). However, in my opinion and that of Justice Thomas, the Tinker decision granting free speech rights to minor students was ill advised, has led to a multitude of court case and to “cultural disarray flowing from the schools into society.”

Justice Clarence Thomas attached to the Roberts’ majority decision an essay on the decline and fall of American public education. (see
www.supremecourtus.gov )

Thomas showed that from the beginning of the Republic “the schools’ role was most certainly in loco parentis, in that they and parents broadly agreed on what made an adolescent grow into a good person.” Today parents are spending thousands on private schools “to have what American schools had from 1859 to 1959--some basic measure of the Three Ds: decorum, decency and diligence; self-control as a higher common value than out-of-control.”

In a surprising statement about the “Bong” decision, liberal Justice Stephen Breyer wrote: “Students will test the limits of acceptable behavior in myriad ways better known to schoolteachers than to judges; school officials need a degree of flexible authority to respond to disciplinary challenges; and the law has always considered the relationship between teachers and students special. Under these circumstances, the more detailed the Court's supervision becomes, the more likely its law will engender further disputes among teachers and students. Consequently, larger numbers of those disputes will likely make their way from the schoolhouse to the courthouse. Yet no one wishes to substitute courts for school boards, or to turn the judge's chambers into the principal's office.”

Thus, I stand behind the Cornerstone principal’s authority to make decisions about the behavior of students under her jurisdiction, including their speech and other forms of expression. That still leaves, however, the questions of pedagogy, bias and good sense.

My friend Dr. Dave Young wrote to the Superintendent to explain that the decision to treat the weapon on a toy soldier the same as an actual weapon not allowed under the zero tolerance for weapons on campus is bad pedagogy.

“We want, I believe, to teach children the ability to discriminate between examples of desired and undesired behaviors. We want them to learn the difference between the legal and criminal use of weapons. This decision does exactly the opposite. It not only fails to teach the difference between people engaged in the pro-social use of them (police and soldiers) from anti-social use (criminals and terrorists), but it actually implies that they are the same. This is appallingly poor teaching.”

Dr. Young continues: “Not to distinguish between representations of weapons and actual weapons also undermines the development of critical thinking skills. A toy soldier is simply not a weapon, and to argue that it is makes one look foolish.”

Finally Dr. Young asks about the motivation behind the ruling: “Did this decision inadvertently disrespect those who have died for our freedoms? Did the decision reflect either a conscious or unconscious anti-military bias?”

These are legitimate questions that the School Board and administration should address.


The argument that the zero-tolerance policy made her do it is specious at best. PVUSD Board Policy BP 5131.7 Students Weapons and Dangerous Instruments: The Board of Education desires students and staff to be free from the fear and danger presented by firearms and other weapons. The Board therefore prohibits any person other than authorized law enforcement or security personnel from possessing weapons, imitation firearms, or dangerous instruments of any kind in school buildings, on school grounds or buses, or at a school-related or school-sponsored activity away from school.

I’ve heard it said that while the toy soldiers are not covered by the policy, that they can create a hostile environment. Give me a break!

Finally, the Zero Tolerance approach in schools is harmful. A report from Harvard University (Opportunities Suspended: The Devastating Consequences of Zero Tolerance and School Discipline) illustrates that “Zero Tolerance is unfair, is contrary to the developmental needs of children, denies children educational opportunities, and often results in the criminalization of children. Even the common schoolyard scuffle has become a target, regardless of severity and circumstances.” Another report Zero Tolerance, Zero Evidence of the Indiana Education Policy Center states: “There is as yet little evidence that the strategies typically associated with zero tolerance contribute to improved student behavior or overall school safety.”


It is understandable that school boards and principals strive to be cautious about anything that could be thought to contribute to a hostile environment. In our litigious society is would be fiscally irresponsible to do otherwise. But it is even more important to teach the truth and to instill in students a sense of thankfulness and respect for the military and police who protect our lives, sometimes through the rightful use of fire-arms.



15 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I cannot believe how things have changed since I was a child as far as the idiotic "zero tolerance" rules inflicted on students in schools as mentioned in your article.

I would have been kicked out of the 2nd grade, as I was a great fan of toy soldiers, and made my own out of molten lead poured into molds. I played "cowboys and indians" which is now banned by schools. I was a member of ROTC in high school, as I thought that the military profession was respectful, and in college I took NROTC, which is now trying to be banned by many "libbies". Fortunately that was a good choice as after I finished college, I spent 3 years as Naval Officer near the end of the Korean War, and after I received the "G.I.BILL" which enabled me to go to medical school.

Thanks for your blog.

Ken

11:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ridiculous!! According to the instructor of our handgun class, who happens to be a police officer, Phillips head screwdrivers are the # 1 killing choice in LA County - not guns!! I bet the principal has plenty of screwdrivers at the school! Another stupid reaction from an uninformed supposed "educator!"

Helen

11:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill, Very interesting. I read the story in the paper and shrugged it off as an isolated case. It could have been that the kids may have had a relative in the service and this was their way of support. After thinking about it I kind of feel it was a parent that determined what went on the motor boards. And why do elementary kids need a graduation anyway? I remember leading an adult hike at Ladera Linda one Saturday and while walking up to the Quarry Bowl several college age boys popped out of the shrub dressed in camo suits and screamed at us saying that we interrupted their paint ball "war". I turned to them and said "if you guys like war games so much why don't you drive on down to Torrance, there is a nice recruiting office there and they could use your help?" It was shortly after that when I got Parks and Rec to ban paint ball from that area. I guess my final feeling is I don't like kids to play gun games, like we used to play cowboy and indian. I don't think video games where violance is the main objective is good for the kids either.

Whats your "take?"

Vic

11:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ghhhh, Bill, every other day you go cwazy. This was one of those days.
First, very doubtful that the news hit local news like an IED; the news hit YOU and your similarly-minded friends like an IED! Second, there are good reasons that the principal should insist that the school promotion ceremony should not be pushing weaponry images. Should parents be pushing their kids to face off re e.g. "yes" in Iraq or "no" in Iraq? Isn't it enough for youngsters to push their parent's army, navy and m.c. sentiments in high school and college? So now let's have parents push this in elementary school, too?--hey, why not start in pre-school?!
I think you misused the word "verboten"; that word has me recalling young militaristic kids in German schools pushing the Nazi movement, mimicking their dress and their heil salute and their military organization...I have no idea whether they were allowed to carry guns, fake or not.

Burt

11:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not really have an opinion regarding the snipping off of the toy soldiers' weapons. However, I believe, both sides have made a mountain out of a mole hill. It's time to let this story die.

Ingrid

11:42 AM  
Blogger pappy said...

Like Ken I too would have been in touble in school. But back then we were allowed to express our patriotism and our faith. And Burt the use of the word verboten is not misused its your imagery of the word thats misused. What if he used the word prohibido?

10:40 AM  
Blogger Bill Lama said...

Burt,
It's a hoot to be able to give your blood pressure a nudge; don't want you nodding off.

I'll attach the Daily Breeze article on the mini-IED so you can see the buzz it caused. The letters to the editor were stimulating, and last week the school board spent 2 hours on the subject, finishing past midnight. The board is taking up the general subject of zero tolerance as well as the interpretation of "weapon."

I agreed that the principal had the right to make that decision, although I understand from the grapevine that the Superintendent had advised the principal beforehand to back off, but left the decision up to her. The tradition at Cornerstone school is for kids to decorate their mortar boards with images that depict their interests and future occupations -- doctors, ballerinas, and yes, solders. The boys in the picture are both planning military careers, trying for the academies, and deserve at least as much encouragement as the aspiring lawyer.

Rather than fabricating an issue about the war in Iraq, how about answering the points I made in the piece?

I did not misuse the word verboten which means forbidden, prohibited, banned in German and English. http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/verboten

2:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill, words can inflame, confuse or imply more grandiose meanings. You must surely recognize that I know the meaning of verboten, you didn't have to look it up for me! What I was saying is that your use of that word implied to me --and I'm sure it was so intended for your readers--that this decision bordered on the worst dictatorial excesses, ala the Nazi regime. Please to take five whole seconds to think on that.

From the article: "Parents reacted angrily". Not at all: some (few) parents reacted angrily. As is seen later "Practically all 5th grade parents (and hey a lot of this comes from the parents!) accepted this decision and in some cases modified the student mortarboards sans the weapon images...."
These kids and parents can't wait to fight the good war--they've got to start fighting it in elementary school.

Do I read this correctly that there were 62 fifth graders and 11 (!) came with toy guns or guns pictured on mortarboards? ...sounds like a revolution is in progress. Or were the 11 from other grades as well?

No matter how the legal eagles decide this (here's another Q that we could breathlessly take all the way to the supremo court?) it's a bit more tearing apart of our country beginning at lower and lowest age levels. Where do you want this to go? One of the PC excesses that you and I are united against is the overboard necessity of giving all minorities or viewpoints full expression in classrooms. Enuf already.

2:17 PM  
Blogger Bill Lama said...

Burt,
Your statement is outright slander: I'm sure it was so intended for your readers--that this decision bordered on the worst dictatorial excesses, ala the Nazi regime. Attributing vile motives to your friends is another intellectual weapon in the liberal's arsenal. I'm sad that you have such a low opinion of me.

You argue against an idea that was not present in the portrayals: that the current war is a good one. Why don't you address the points that I made? I think I know why.

It seems clear from your words that you regard the toy soldiers as contributing to a hostile environment. Or are you against portrayals of the military life in a good light? Or do you want to indoctrinate the kids with the pascifist philosophy? All the above?

It's true that 11 kids out of 62 had prepared mortar boards honoring the military, but 9 of the 11 removed the toy soldiers before coming to school due to a letter from the principal. It seems a shame that honoring the military, particularly in wartime, has become verboten. Yet another bad liberal idea.

Schools used to be united with parents in teaching patriotism, and respect for the military used to be an important lesson. The "tearing apart" of the country that you speak of came from the left, part and parcel with the destruction of our public education system.

2:18 PM  
Blogger Bill Lama said...

Vic,
Yes, the kids had parents who served and other relatives who are serving. I guess they "graduate" from elementary school to junior high. At Cornerstone school they have a rather elaborate ceremony and kids decorate their mortar boards with depictions of what they like (baseball players, balerinas,..) and what they want to be (doctors, soldiers, indian chiefs). Due to the zero tolerance policy, the toy soldiers can't have any guns. Seems rediculous to me.

Paint ball is also rediculous. And cowboys vs indians should be replaced by Jack Bauer vs terrorists.

2:19 PM  
Blogger Bill Lama said...

Helen,
We should run for the school board. We'd get them back to what education should be rather than "anything but knowledge."

2:19 PM  
Blogger Bill Lama said...

Bill,
Let’s do it! The main job of education belongs to the parents Bill – the schools here do a terrific job but the parents have to be involved. Ethan was so prepared when he went to the Academy that he was not allowed to take math and Spanish until his JUNIOR yea!! He was that far ahead and it was due to the schools.

One of the best teachers both had was Mr Flagler – English teacher and the math teachers were also terrific. Spanish had some good teachers also.

School board and schools would never be the same as I would cut out all nonsense and get rid of principals who do not THINK of their actions and that stupid principal at Cornerstone was ridiculous!

Nothing irritates me more than folks who says, get rid of guns!! When nations do that crime increases – Australia, England andViet Nam have learned that lesson. Washington DC has a HUGE crime rate almost as bad as Compton!~ The framers of the constitution actually REQUIRED their citizens to have guns – as a government that is afraid of its citizens is an honest government much as our current congress learned in the recent amnesty bill for illegals!! Now congress will do NOTHING and no fence will be built and we will have more illegals here than ever before.

Helen

2:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An Atheist and a Bear

An atheist was taking a walk through the woods, admiring all that evolution had created.
"What majestic trees! What powerful rivers! What beautiful animals!", he said to himself. As he was walking along the river, he heard a rustling in the bushes behind him. When he turned to see what the cause was, he saw a 7-foot grizzly charging right towards him. He ran as fast as he could. He looked over his shoulder and saw that the bear was closing, He ran even faster, crying in fear. He looked over his shoulder again, and the bear was even closer. His heart was pounding and he tried to run even faster. He tripped and fell on the ground. He rolled over to pick himself up, but saw the bear right on top of him, reaching for him with his left paw and raising his right paw to strike him.

At that moment, the Atheist cried out "Oh my God!...." Time stopped. The bear froze. The forest was silent. Even the river stopped moving.

As a bright light shone upon the man, a voice came out of the sky, "You deny my existence for all of these years; teach others I don''t exist; and even credit creation to a cosmic accident. Do you expect me to help you out of this predicament? Am I to count you as a believer?"

The atheist looked directly into the light "It would be hypocritical of me to suddenly ask You to treat me as Christian now, but perhaps could you make the bear a Christian?" "Very well," said the voice.

The light went out. The river ran again. And the sounds of the forest resumed.

And then the bear dropped his right paw ..... brought both paws together...bowed his head and spoke: "Lord, for this food which I am about to receive, I am truly thankful."

Hal

2:22 PM  
Blogger fetching jen said...

More public school insanity from liberals living in their Uptoian bubble. I agree with your assessment. fj

1:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill,
Just found your blog. Sorry to add to this one so late.

If you (and Helen) are truly interested in running for school board, I'd like to put you up against Barbara Lucky in the next election. I don't think she's grasped the patriotism & conservative majority on the Hill.
Let me know. (You know how to find me)

In the meantime, I hope you'll join me in supporting Dave & Paul.

All my best,
Stamm I Am

10:22 PM  

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