Monday, May 13, 2013

Hiding Behind a Policy

There is a difference between justice and fairness.  Fairness calls on us to treat everyone alike.  We award all the children trophies or medals for participation in a sport.  We recognize that they all tried hard and did their best.  We agonize over self-esteem issues.  This is fair, but is it just?  Try giving trophies to adult bowlers or softball players regardless of their scores or how they fared in the tournament.  They would see it as a sham and an insult.  Why would they bother to compete if everyone is treated the same.  This is not a reward for skill.  It is not justice.

Somehow we have gotten it into our heads that we must treat everyone the same and be fair, but especially in more complex situations than sporting events, the objective is to solve a problem in a way that treats everyone involved in the way they deserve to be treated.  Justice does not treat everyone the same.  Justice requires wisdom and leadership.

This is why the trend toward “zero tolerance” policies is disturbing.  They are designed to be fair, but not necessarily just.  They do not take individual situations into account.  They require no wisdom or leadership, only that the administrator follows the rules.  They require no thinking and insulate the administration or bureaucracy from blame.

So we end up with situations like this one, where two second graders were suspended for pointing pencils at each other while making shooting noises.  (The policy “also bans drawing a picture of a gun and pointing a finger in a threatening manner.”)  Earlier this year a seven-year-old in Maryland was disciplined for chewing a pop tart into the shape of a gun.  Are these examples of justice, leadership and wisdom that solve a problem, or one of teachers and principles hiding behind a policy to avoid conflicts in future situations?  Shouldn’t we expect more of public schools officials?

My 75-year-old friend told me that in his third grade class picture, one of the students was wearing a holster with his “pearl-handle” cap pistol.  Ah, but those were simpler times; today the world is more dangerous and frightening.  It makes me wonder, where did all those dangerous and frightening people come from?  Presumably they had parents.  Did we as a society let them drop the ball on being responsible parents?  The children today also have parents, parents who are ready to jump to the defense of their child before hearing all the evidence, ready to trust the word of a child over that of an adult, the teacher or principle.  Thus, public school officials are backed into a corner, forced to hide behind zero tolerance to avoid arguments or possible legal action.  Yes, it’s crazy, but we’ve made it that way by our past and continuing behavior.

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