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Zero tolerance

May 28, 2014 - Jim Anderson
In childhood days, we sometimes played “war” in the school yard.

Massive battles, sticks in hand, complete with medics. Everyone was a medic. If a schoolmate was wounded, or dead, a tap on the shoulder and the phrase “tic-toc” restored them. Such imagination.

Based on reports of school crackdowns on simulated gun play, our friendly war games might be punished today. Which is understandable — given Columbine, Sandy Hook and other horrors — but open to debate.

From Ohio, the Columbus Dispatch reported that a 10-year-old boy drew a suspension for putting his finger to the head of a fellow student during class and pretending to shoot.

Even the “victim” supposedly missed the stunt, but the teacher saw it.

The boy had been warned about zero tolerance, a school district spokesman said, and everyone should know the rules. Although the boy had no history of trouble, his suspension was three days.

His father was puzzled.

He told the newspaper he would have been OK with an in-school suspension. But three days? That the dad couldn’t grasp. “He said he was playing ... it was his finger,” he said.

The student’s opinion on the suspension?

“I was thinking it was dumb,” he said.

Sure, it was over the top. But even Theodore Cleaver in Mayfield, or Opie Taylor in Mayberry, would have been scolded for a similar gesture. Suspended? Well, maybe from dessert.

When we played the roles of hero soldiers in the school yard, I’d like to think our fantasies stopped at the border of the classroom. The larger word had its awful violence, which we also understood. How much different is it today?

Of all youth homicides, less than 2 percent occur at school and this percentage has been stable for the past decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That said, the tragedies mentioned earlier have led to a change.

Pretend violence in the classroom might be likened to joking about bombs on planes. The legalities might be fuzzy, but most everyone agrees there should be no “lighthearted” airline threats. In the end, it’s a useful cultural taboo.

Measures of discipline, sometimes, are just a guess. Maybe the suspended student already gets that.

Maybe he’ll grow up to be a medic.



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