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The Stupidity of "Zero-Tolerance": 6-Year-Old Suspended For Bringing Food Utensil to School

What can this teach us about U.S. foreign policy? Quite a lot, actually.
 
 
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NEWARK, Del. -- Finding character witnesses when you are 6 years old is not easy. But there was Zachary Christie last week at a school disciplinary committee hearing with his karate instructor and his mother's fiancé by his side to vouch for him.

Zachary’s offense? Taking a Cub Scout utensil that can serve as a knife, fork and spoon to school. He was so excited about joining the Scouts that he wanted to use it at lunch. School officials concluded that he had violated their zero-tolerance policy on weapons, and Zachary now faces 45 days in the district's reform school.

via It’s a Fork, It’s a Spoon, It’s a … Weapon? -- NYTimes.com

When great tragedy happens in this country (say, planes flying into towers or two young men shooting up their high school,) Americans typically react in the following fashion:

  1. Freak the fuck out
  2. Believe whatever the loudest politician tells them
  3. Assign blame to a convenient, but usually incorrect target
  4. Participate in a reactive, hyper-totalitarian government policy
  5. Repeat at next tragedy

The list applies to the post-9/11 hysteria, but it also applies to post-Columbine America. "Zero-tolerance" policy arose from the string of shooting sprees in American high schools. As usual, schools did not thoughtfully analyze what kind of school environment (complete with hierarchical sects and rampant bullying) is inspiring such horrific shootings. Rather, schools followed steps 1 through 5, and opted for a hyper-totalitarian state within a state where children are all treated as suspects, including little Zachary Christie.

Really, Delaware? The six-year-old is going to shank someone with his Swiss Army knife? Such overzealous, reactionary policies distract from the very real problems in schools: low test scores, budget cuts, bullying, and so on.

In Going Postal, author Mark Ames looks at the phenomenon of school and workplace shootings in America, but rather than assigning blame to obvious (and incorrect) targets like Marilyn Manson, Ames digs deeper. He proposes that modern workplace and school violence emerged soon after Reaganomics began in the 1980s when the wealth divide widened, and Reagan did everything in his power to support his friends, the CEOs of corporations, while screwing the workers. The result is a corporate culture where Americans work harder for longer hours for less. They have no job security, are buried in debt, and occasionally one of them snaps and shoots their co-workers.

Ames argues -- quite convincingly -- that schoolyard and office massacres are modern-day slave rebellions. The overly oppressive and exploitive nature of hyper-Capitalism, the neutering of unions, and the overall degradation of employees, neighborhoods, communities, and society have resulted in a culture of fear and violence. While Bowling For Columbine blamed the guns, Ames blames the culture, which includes reactionary policies like "Zero tolerance" that end up hurting innocents like Zachary while the real causes of our sick society go untreated.

Even if one doesn't buy the "Blame Reagan" theory, Ames's solution of treating the sickness, and not just the symptoms, is compelling enough to warrant some kind of implementation. The opposite approach, which is the current "solution" of treating workers and students like suspects, is an excellent way to breed more paranoia, fear, and violence. If kids weren't ready to snap before, a day of bag inspections, metal detector, and locker searches guarantees they’ll at least hate their schools if not harbor fantasies of putting down their oppressors.

Furthermore, the problem goes deeper than the workplaces and schools. The culture itself is sick, which is why America has a military budget that is almost as much as the rest of the world’s defense spending combined, and is over nine times larger than the military budget of China, and yet Americans feel more afraid, and more paranoid, than ever. Everyone is against us, we're told. Everyone hates our freedom, and our amazing culture. China wants to overtake us. The entire Middle East wants us dead. Europeans laugh at us, and think we’re stupid. Emperor Penguins are plotting something. Canada is about to attack.