Me and Zero Tolerance Policies

Zero-Tolerance-Policies-redZero Tolerance is Not Something to be Proud of

Each time I hear an official speak proudly of how they support Zero Tolerance Policies I cringe. Something in me knows that behind the self-important posturing they are dropping the ball. What can we do to stop the madness, the unintended consequences that are committed under that banner? They otta be ashamed…

This is an excerpt from my book, Naked Visionary. Such official policies are totally at odds with non-conformists or visionary thinking. But they are also intolerant of common sense.  [start of excerpt]

Zero Tolerance Equals Zero Sense

I have an intense aversion to a type of thinking that is quite popular these days—Zero Tolerance Policies. Proponents treat them as so objective, so fair and reasonable, so unbiased and evenhanded. They are none of those things! Such policies should be called “Zero Judgment Policies or “Cover Your Ass and Avoid the Hard Choices Policies.”

There is no proportionality in their enforcement, and any hair-trigger event could bring down the full force of retribution without warning. Rather than “one size fits all,” it gives us “one size fits nobody.” Not only is the punishment unlikely to fit the offense, it can easily deliver a penalty without there being an actual offense. Authorities wedded to such policies are not showing leadership, but an abuse of their authority, along with an abdication of judgment or responsibility.

How else could anyone account for the absurd consequences such policies deliver? They lead to “consequences” that almost never suit the circumstances. In what universe does it make sense to arrest a preschooler as a sexual predator because he kissed a classmate? In my opinion, anyone in a position of power who endorses, or hides behind, Zero Tolerance Policies deserves to be tarred and feathered.

Besides, these inflexible approaches do not work. They produce too many negative results and unintended consequences. The American Psychological Association reviewed the data about the impact of zero tolerance policies in education. Quoting from the final report of the task force:

Concern has been raised in the literature that zero tolerance policies may create, enhance, or accelerate negative mental health outcomes for youth by creating increases in student alienation, anxiety, rejection, and breaking of healthy adult bonds.… The overwhelming majority of findings from the available research on zero tolerance and exclusionary discipline tend to contradict the assumptions of that philosophy.[1]

Some confusion about the value of unbending objectives arises because virtues themselves are absolutes. Ideals like Truth, Honesty, and Integrity are non-relative. They transcend the everyday world. However, for the world we live in, everything is relative. And it is our responsibility to do the best job we can to make our behavior and ideals correspond.

Human judgment is the tool that makes discernment and adjustment possible. It permits us to respond appropriately to each specific circumstance. Nothing good can come from official policies that insist our best judgment has no place.

[end of excerpt]__________________

Stand Up – Speak Out

Stand up to those who hide behind this misguided policy.

If you want this T-shirt, get it here.

Let’s Point the Finger

I’d like to think some clear-sighted individuals will be able to turn this official stance into “the emperor has no clothes” moments. Then others will be emboldened to say “Zero Tolerance Policies are not a good thing.”

But even for those not prepared to object too loudly, let’s at least stop applauding. Let’s insist on finding solutions (or even punishments) that really do fit the circumstances. Let’s hold out for insightful and workable solutions, rather than “tolerate” such pig-headed ones.

Note: Excerpt from Naked Visionary, Off the Page Press, © 2012


[1] American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force, “Are Zero Tolerance Policies Effective in the Schools?” American Psychologist, December, 2008.
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