- The Student-Teaching Model Is Outdated: Here's How We Can Do Better - September 15, 2021
- Visualize: How Seeing What's Coming Changed My Teaching - August 16, 2021
- 10 Lessons About Teaching from My Youngest Son - June 24, 2021
- Ending the Epithet “Try-Hard” Once and for All in Classrooms - June 18, 2021
- From STEM, Let's Pivot to the BRANCHES of the Humanities - May 25, 2021
- Would Education Collapse If Teachers Stopped Working for Free? - May 20, 2021
- 10 Ways to Teach Like Ted Lasso: Part II - April 21, 2021
- 8 Tips So Your Substitute Plans Don't Suck - April 14, 2021
- 10 Ways to Teach Like Ted Lasso: Part I - March 12, 2021
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teachers: Habit 3 - First Things First - February 26, 2021
As Russell J. Skiba points out in his research on zero-tolerance policies, it's quite difficult to find the "moment" when our schools implemented zero-tolerance policies in our school, but we can trace the impact of them to the 1994 Free Schools Act as a time when districts were quick to suspend students for fear of losing federal funds.
And now it's time we suspend zero tolerance.
The American Psychologist, Dr. Paul Mattiuzzi, Educational Research Magazine, Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, notable newspapers like the Baltimore Sun, the American Bar Association, President Obama, and anyone with half a brain-full of common sense has seen that zero tolerance policies not only don't work, they don't prevent, discourage, or redirect students from problem behaviors. These behaviors, which began with the 90's campaigns of the "war on drugs" and in opposition to the increase of gang violence have now enacted zero tolerance on how far they'll go.
Any middle school student can perform a Google search to find the simple cases that have just gone too far. Here's what we turned up with just a quick news search of our own:
- Eighth-grader gets detention for hugging friend (Chicago's WGN, 11/04/15)
- 6-year-old boy suspended for shooting imaginary bow-and-arrow (Las Vegas Review-Journal, 11/03/15)
- Washington State school bans tag for violating "no touch" policy (Mother Nature Network, 10/10/15)
- Student suspended and arrested on 2 felony accounts for volcano experiment going awry (News One, 11/01/15)
The list goes on and on... Why?
Many teachers are in favor of zero tolerance policies. When there's a problem child in the room, it's just easier to not have them there or even have them in their school. Los Angeles's teachers have noted how the elimination of these policies puts more problem children back in the classroom.
Those who don't favor zero tolerance policies also have been silent about the effects of them, mostly because we're so involved with so many battles right now. But this social justice issue involves someone we've taught in our lifetime, and it can ruin their lives when they're teens or in elementary school.
As Carly Berwick points on in her March 2015 article in The Atlantic, the road back from zero tolerance is a long, winding one that is especially difficult for students who are minority, have disabilities, or attend charter schools, as they're suspended at a much higher clip than others. Ms. Berwick touts that schools often suspend students because principals don't really know what else to do. She noted that 1800s punishments, such as "rote memorization and physical obedience" had a way of "imposing discipline and routine," which is what the offending students needed, compared to zero tolerance suspensions, which the offenders took as "personal."
In fact, the zero tolerance policies are more than personal - they're the highway of our school to prison pipeline.
There certainly is room for suspensions and expulsions. Students who deal drugs, sexually harass / molest, or who bring weapons to school never belong there again. There are high-water markers leading up to these egregious acts of behavior that also merit similar, hard-line discipline measures.
It's hard to find a justice system so broken that the minor offenses, like the kid who hugged someone else, gets suspended. If "the juvenile justice system eats kids for breakfast," as Dahlia Lithwich reports in Slate, it's up to teachers to stop serving it to them. It's up to us to educate the whole child the best we can. It's up to us to find proper placement for our students, from our most dangerous to most dilettante offenders. It's up to us to find alternatives to zero tolerance policies.