The Craziest Zero Tolerance Stories of 2014

This was the year a second grade teacher learned never to bring carpentry tools to school, even as a high school student in a bathing suit was forced to stand outside in the Minnesota winter. And then there’s the kid who was crazy enough to share his lunch.

1. Student, 13, shares lunch, gets detention

brown bag

A 13-year-old boy at Weaverville Elementary School in California shared his school lunch (a chicken burrito) with a hungry friend. For this, he got detention. Superintendent Tom Barnett explained, “Because of safety and liability we cannot allow students to actually exchange meals.”

2. Sunscreen not allowed on field trip—kids might drink it

A San Antonio, Texas, school forbid students to bring sunscreen on a field trip. Why? According to spokeswoman Aubrey Chancellor, “We can’t allow toxic things to be in our schools.” The children, “could possibly have an allergic reaction (or) they could ingest it. It’s really a dangerous situation.”

3. Kindergarten cancels its year-end show to allow more time for college prep

A letter home from the Harley Avenue Primary School in Elwood, New York, read, in part: “The reason for eliminating the Kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers.”

4. Teacher suspended on weapons charge for demonstrating carpentry tools

A second grade teacher at Chicago’s Washington Irving Elementary School was suspended for four days without pay for bringing screwdrivers, wrenches and other shop tools to class, and demonstrating how to use them. These are dangerous items.

5. School bus driver loses job for keeping kids warm when bus breaks down

This one’s in Canada! On a day when the windchill dipped to -34 Fahrenehit, school bus driver Kendra Lindon’s bus broke down. Knowing it could take a long time for a replacement to arrive—and that kids would be waiting outside till it did—she picked up the few children on her route (including her son) in her SUV. A neighbor noticed two kids sitting in the cargo hold without seat belts and called the bus company. She was promptly fired.

6. 79-year-old substitute teacher fired for having student-friends on Facebook

Carol Thebarge was a substitute teacher at Stevens High School in Claremont, New Hampshire, for nine years and was friends with about 250 current students on Facebook. She was told to unfriend them or lose her job. She chose to lose her job. Superintendent Middleton McGoodwin told the press, “She’s loved by many, but that doesn’t give you allowance to ignore a protocol designed to protect all.”

7. Student suspended for slicing apple with knife during health food demonstration

Da’von Shaw, a Bedford, Ohio, high school student, brought apples and craisins to school for a “healthy eating” presentation. When he took out a knife to slice an apple, his teacher told him he was not allowed to use it. He immediately handed it over to her. Case closed? Nope. Later that day he was suspended for a week because he brought a weapon to school.

8.  School goes on lockdown when mom fails to sign-in

The mother of a special needs child in Walnut Grove, Missouri, raced to school when she got a “frantic” call from her kid’steacher. After she was buzzed into the building, she ran straight to his room, thereby committing the cardinal sin of not signing in. The school went into lockdown. Cops arrived and took the mom to the police station, where she was charged with trespassing.

9. Girl in wet bathing suit forced to stand outside… in February… in Minnesota… due to school policy

After the fire alarm went off in Como Park High School in St. Paul, Minnesota, everyone evacuated, including Kayona Hagen-Tietza, 14, who had been swimming in the gym pool and didn’t have time to change. School policy forbids teachers from having students in the car, so she stood outside, barefoot, for 10 minutes in 5-degree weather until a teacher obtained “permission” to let her sit in her car just this once.

10. Student suspended for twirling pencil, subjected to five-hour evaluation

Ean Chaplithn, 13, was twirling his pencil, which made the child sitting behind him feel “threatened or uncomfortable.” That’s all it took for the Vernon, New Jersey, school to send Chaplin for a 5-hour physical and psych evaluation. His urine was tested and blood drawn. “We never know what’s percolating in the mind of children, okay?” the superintendent, Charles Maranzano, said. “When they demonstrate behaviors that raise red flags, we must do our duty.”

And a very Happy New Year to everyone who goes to school, works at a school, or is suspended from school for a sandwich swap, monkey wrench, or pencil twirl!

This piece originally appeared on Reason.com

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53 Responses to The Craziest Zero Tolerance Stories of 2014

  1. BL January 1, 2015 at 5:22 pm #

    ‘Ean Chaplin, 13, was twirling his pencil, which made the child sitting behind him feel “threatened or uncomfortable.” That’s all it took for the Vernon, New Jersey, school to send Chaplin for a 5-hour physical and psych evaluation. His urine was tested and blood drawn.’

    Zero tolerance policies make me feel threatened and uncomfortable.

    I demand the perpetrators be evaluated!

  2. Earth.W January 1, 2015 at 9:12 pm #

    10 More Reasons To Homeschool.

  3. Havva January 1, 2015 at 10:19 pm #

    “We never know what’s percolating in the mind of children, okay?”

    What about the mind of a teen who felt threatened by a pencil twirling? Or an administrator who would freak over this? I hope everyone involved got fully evaluated.

  4. Michael January 1, 2015 at 11:40 pm #

    The fundamental idea of a zero-tolerance policy is that we don’t trust ourselves — or whoever is implementing the policy — to apply judgement to specific cases. So when we hear of cases and ask “What were they thinking?!” the obvious answer is “They weren’t; they’re not allowed to.”

    A ZTP is therefore practically a mandate to occasionally do something idiotic.

  5. MichaelF January 2, 2015 at 8:13 am #

    These sorts of things lead me to mentally generate graphs like this</a?

  6. Trey January 2, 2015 at 8:25 am #

    Any follow ups on these?
    Or are you stuck on the raise Hell part of “Report the news and raise Hell?”

  7. Warren January 2, 2015 at 10:11 am #

    The real problem with zero tolerance rules, is trust. These rules are a direct statement to those staff that are supposed to enforce them.

    The school board is telling the staff “We do not trust you to use common sense, and good judgement, therefor these are zero tolerance rules. To be enforced no matter how severe or minor the infraction.”

    My question is, if they cannot trust these teachers and admins. then why hire them or keep them at all?

  8. A Reader January 2, 2015 at 10:19 am #

    I am a teacher and I HATE HATE HATE zero tolerance policies. They leave no room for nuance or mitigating factors, and it’s terrible. That being said, the story about the teacher on Facebook does not belong on this list. My school, the schools my children attend, and all of my teacher-friends’ schools have a clear policy against teachers and students being FB friends. And it has very little to do with “worst first” scenarios. Teachers really need clear boundaries between themselves and their students. Socializing on FB is highly unprofessional and can lead to all sorts of ethical lapses (again, not talking about scary things like sexual impropriety, I just mean loosening of certain standards of professional ethics. And all professions have some sort of code of ethics, so this is nothing unusual). Anyway, her school had a clear policy which she violated. All workplaces have the right to make rules and to fire those who refuse to follow them. I also seem to recall when the story came out that had she not held out, they would have simply disciplined her and moved on, but because she had to make a point of refusing to follow the stated policy, they terminated her employment. Which is what any workplace would do in a similar situation.

  9. Warren January 2, 2015 at 10:48 am #

    @ A Reader,

    And for those reasons you outlined, is why this story belongs here.

    Because the board does not trust it’s teachers to show good judgement and common sense, it came up with this zero tolerance rule.

    And I applaud this teacher for taking her stand against the rule. I would much rather have her teach my kids, than someone like you that will just rollover and take it where the sun don’t shine.

    If a teacher is like you, and cannot be trusted to friend their students on social media, then they should not be teaching. Telling a teacher they cannot be on social media with their students and former students is like telling them, they have to cross the street and ignore the students in public. Absolutely no different.

  10. Cynthia812 January 2, 2015 at 12:13 pm #

    I’m pretty sure my brother has a separate professional facebook account for interacting with his students. If I were a teacher, that is what I would want, since I’m not shy about posting controversial opinions on a wide variety of topics on my facebook page. He’s a distance-learning public high school teacher, so almost all of his interactions with students are online anyway.

    I understand the reason for such policies, and have less complaint with them than with most things that come up on this site, but the zero tolerance causes most of the problem, anyway.

  11. Amanda January 2, 2015 at 12:21 pm #

    I’m curious — how many people DO choose to home school their children after hearing about these things? My little guy is only 3 right now, but my husband and I are very seriously considering the home school option.

  12. Jenny Islander January 2, 2015 at 1:11 pm #

    Re followup: I wrote to the school district administration that banned sunscreen (in Texas?!) with links to the facts about the incidence of both sunscreen poisoning (very rare, generally just a yucky afternoon) and skin cancer (not nearly so rare and what do you know it kills people). Somebody actually wrote back! Their response was the usual euphemism for “Screw your facts, I reject your reality and substitute my own in which my organization did not do something flagrantly stupid and must be backed up to the uttermost because their reasons must, MUST I say, be the most valid reasons EVAR.”

  13. Beth January 2, 2015 at 1:40 pm #

    Hey Trey? Looks like you have the internet and computer access. You could probably follow up yourself instead of dissing Lenore’s blog.

  14. Warren January 2, 2015 at 2:34 pm #

    Trey,
    If you had bothered to do anything other than complain, and try to discredit Lenore, you would have seen that Lenore does post follow ups on stories.

  15. bsolar January 2, 2015 at 2:45 pm #

    @Jenny Islander, if possible it would be nice to make the response public: I’d be interested to read their arguments.

  16. lollipoplover January 2, 2015 at 3:01 pm #

    What bothers me most about these stories is the assumption of the worst for our kids and treat them like mindless, incapable blobs unable to solve problems and in need of such *zero intelligence* laws.
    A friend gives his food to a hungry classmate in an act of compassion and good use of resources.But we punish them with explanations of safety and liability.
    Yet we educate kids to Go Green and celebrate Earth Day, but 24% of cafeteria food is wasted and thrown away to clog landfills because of these stupid policies.
    Why can’t they share? Why?? There has to be a better way.
    http://endfoodwastenow.org/index.php/issues/issues-schools

  17. Angela January 2, 2015 at 3:19 pm #

    Amanda – I have, at one point or another, homeschooled 3 of my children (the youngest, my step-son, is still in elementary school). Because I work full time + occasional overtime, I have never felt confident enough to begin until after the children are capable of reading/writing and doing basic math, so I begin when they’re about middle-school aged. Once a child understands those subjects, I have found my children to be extremely competent in educating themselves as long as it is clear that it is expected and their progress is checked regularly. The first two opted to return to public schools, one after a semester and the other after three years, and the third is just completing her first year. Those eldest are graduates, now employed and on their own.

    I didn’t begin homeschooling because of anything I saw on this site or anything in the news at the time; I began homeschooling because my son was being underserved. This was when I started paying attention to these issues, however, and it has made me very glad that I took that step. I don’t have a problem with classroom learning or teachers or administrators or any single item, it’s the atmosphere I’m uncomfortable with. I realized that the schools don’t have to please me to get my money, nor do they have to educate my child, so these are not their focus. They have to please ‘the government,’ ‘the public,’ and other quasi-entities that are incapable of a coherent will because they consist of multiple minds.

    It does help that in WI, the only thing I am required to keep track of for the authorities is attendance. A calendar for the child to record what they did that day, which is how my children communicate with me, is sufficient. I don’t know that I would be able to homeschool in some areas, where I have heard complaints that filling out the paperwork for the authorities takes more time and effort than the homeschooling itself….

  18. CrazyCatLady January 2, 2015 at 10:51 pm #

    I homeschool, but this was not the reason. As mentioned by Angela, my daughter was under-served. My son was VERY active at kinder age, and was put with the one teacher who CAN NOT stand very active boys. I figured he would be a distraction to the other kids and the teacher would crush his sweet personality. My daughter was definitely not working to her potential.

    I do school with a charter style school that helps to pay for curricula. And my kids do take some classes one day a week. My oldest decided this year to attend a magnet science high school. And reading all of the stuff in here, we have had lots of discussions about what NOT to do when they are at classes. We talk about what we read here, as well as what we hear locally, like the kid who was “almost” suspended because in 2nd grade when the bell rang to go home, he did a downward stabbing motion. (Which easily could have been an NFL touchdown motion.) Too violent for his teacher…he had to have a conference with parents, teacher and principal. Stupid.

  19. Michelle January 3, 2015 at 10:12 am #

    Amanda, like the others who have responded, I didn’t start homeschooling because of the news but because of personal experiences. My husband had a very difficult time in school because he wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until adulthood. (His brother also wasn’t diagnosed dyslexic until adulthood.) He had bad experiences with multiple private schools, and then experienced religious discrimination (from the administration) and racial violence (from other students) in public school. His favorite time was when he was homeschooled.

    My experience was one of simply being underserved. I was bored and learned very little in school. I had a teacher tell me that I scored better on an evaluative test — on the subject SHE was teaching — than she did. (When you start the year by outscoring the teacher, it’s hard to care about the rest of the year.) I watched other teachers “dumb down” books by telling us to skip the “difficult” chapters, or having us read short passages and then watch the movie. Outside of school, I read voraciously, investigated everything that interested me, and taught myself marketable skills.

    Meanwhile, I watched the schools literally punish my brother for his learning disability — the “special class” they promised turned out to literally be in-school suspension. He was in the same class, doing the same things, with the same restrictions as the kids who were being punished for acting up in school. Another friend and classmate of mine, also with a learning disability, was “integrated” into the regular classes, and then completely ignored. She sat in the back of class and slept, and was handed passing grades whether she did the work or not. No one attempted to involve her, or find out what she could actually do. Yet another friend was “socially promoted” to high school graduation without ever learning to read.

    After school I spent some time “teaching preschool.” That was the last straw for me. It was nothing but glorified babysitting with a high gloss veneer of “preparing kids for school.” (God forbid a child turn 3 without learning how to sit at a table and do worksheets or arts & crafts for several hours a day.) We had everything: the rule against Lego guns, the rule against telling parents that their children had done anything bad all day, the mother who thought she needed my permission to take her 4 year old off his ADHD meds (“prescribed” by his previous teacher).

    Luckily, my whole life I had two aspirations: I wanted to be a teacher, and I wanted to be a SAHM. I get to be both. 🙂

  20. CrazyCatLady January 3, 2015 at 11:35 am #

    Michelle, I also wanted to be a teacher, and am so glad that I never actually got the job that I thought I wanted, as I now have the job I KNOW I wanted. Though, I probably would have found homeschooling sooner or later.

    I worked in a large preschool during college. Mostly, it was fun for the kids. They had stupid state rules like every kid HAD to take a nap until they turned 6, but mostly it was okay. We did have a “no guns” rule, but we never kicked a kid out for chewing his sandwich into the shape of a gun or pointing fingers and saying “pow”. We just smiled and told the kids it wasn’t allowed there, and they had to wait until they got home. And while kids may have been disappointed at that, we adults understood that they were kids and it didn’t matter how many times we had to tell them. No zero tolerance crap.

  21. JP Merzetti January 3, 2015 at 11:49 am #

    Homeschooling is what it is.
    What bothers me is the idea of a public education decaying into something inferior in quality – as if a wealthy nation has become too poor and too dumb to know how to do this properly, and provide it universally for an entire population.

    It can indeed, provide a defence budget that trumps the entire rest of the planet, and create millionaires and billionaires that do the same….but not educate its children fairly, competently and with desired results.
    An inability to adequately prioritize reflects more than just bad educational policies.

    All these stories point in the same direction – an inability in adults to act like adults and engage with children in a manner that utilizes common sense. As if the adult population has lost its ability to believe in and trust its own sensibility to logically and rationally think its way through an issue.
    This thereby becomes chaos. However neat, tidy and orderly it might appear – that is what it is.

    I’ve said this before…..I thank heaven I had the opportunity to be raised, and subsequently raise my own children before all this nonsense showed up.
    Our brave new and improved world has become the farce that it is because we do not challenge the charlatans competently and with combined socio-political vigor.
    We engage instead in a mythological delusion that we somehow invented child-worship….meanwhile driving our kids nuts.
    (Consult child medication statistics.)

    They are nuts for good and easily understandable reasons.
    Remove that burr from under their saddles, and they will respond accordingly. With gusto!

    How sad, that the life of a child has now become measured in terms of liability…and not the freedom their forebears dreamed of bequeathing as the most important legacy of a great society.
    Then what exactly is it that we have become?
    Ponderance continues.
    Happy New Year, everybody.

  22. Tamara January 3, 2015 at 4:45 pm #

    Hi Amanda – I homeschool as well – this is the first year for me and my two would be in grade 5 and grade 2 this year.

    In my case I really wanted to homeschool my oldest daughter since she was about three and didn’t because I thought the only way was to literally do “school at home” and truthfully I thought that would be too hard and well, boring, for me to do. 5 years old seemed so young for her to be away from me for so long each day (full day kindergarten had just started the year we enrolled her, yay) It turned out she hated school and literally cried for the first year and partway into the second year before she “adjusted” as they say. My second child came along and wow, the same exact thing except she didn’t adjust as well and by the middle of her first grade that was it, we had had enough of tears, meltdowns and homework. Homework! In grade 1. I started spending some time at the school volunteering and the blatant disrespect shown to just about all of the children in the school is what finally made us make the decision that it would be their last year in public school.

    I decided that the main purpose of school seemed to be more about controlling how our kids think, act AND learn and enforcing the idea that each child should conform to this model, than about educating them. I did some research and discovered that my theory is actually true – our western public schools are based on a Prussian education model meant to create compliant factory workers who defer to authority.

    That is not me and not what I want for my kids. My only regret is that I pushed aside all of the signs showing me it was not working for my kids. I wish I had never sent them to school in the first place.

    School is one choice, we chose another path where ere our kids are now free to choose what and how they want to learn and the difference I have seen in them is incredible!

  23. Puzzled January 3, 2015 at 5:01 pm #

    JP – It seems to me that we’ve done two things simultaneously. First, we have devalued children and their intelligence, proceeding as if children do not have ideas or minds of their own, and are not worthy of the respect we give to adults. Second, we have eliminated childhood. Thus, children have all the obligations of adults, without the privileges. Play is no longer allowed; everything must serve a purpose – but children may not determine their own purposes in their activities.

    If an adult tells another adult about a pretty bird, a conversation might ensure, or the listener might say “okay.” If a child tells an adult about a pretty bird, they’ll either be chastised for wasting time on such silly things (how will you get into a good college if you spend all your time looking at birds?) or else run the risk of the adult running in the next day with 50 books on birds to “encourage their curiosity.” It is a schizophrenic treatment, and both responses display a lack of trust in a child to simply decide what to do.

    If I read some of a book, and don’t like it, I put it down and no one cares. If a teenager does that – OMG they have to learn persistence!

  24. Tamara January 3, 2015 at 7:45 pm #

    @puzzled – dead on – I agree with every word.

  25. Dhewco January 3, 2015 at 10:02 pm #

    I grew up thinking I’d either be a social studies teacher or a child psychologist. However, I am a hugger, at heart anyway. I would be miserable to feel frightened to hold a crying student of mine, or to be unable to give a friendly arm around the shoulder. I think being friends on facebook would be the least of my problems.

    No, I probably dodged a bullet by not being a teacher.

  26. Flurry January 4, 2015 at 10:22 am #

    “If I read some of a book, and don’t like it, I put it down and no one cares. If a teenager does that – OMG they have to learn persistence!”

    So true! Even growing up in the dark ages of the 1970’s, it took me YEARS to realize that if I don’t like a book, I don’t have to read it! I did try to pass on this great knowledge (lol) to my children too, except of course when it came to books assigned for school. I certainly hated seeing them struggle through assigned books though.

  27. Donna January 4, 2015 at 1:37 pm #

    This isn’t about not trusting the adults, it is about the fact that western society has become a country (or rather countries) of whiners. If Johnny gets a slap on the wrist for his apple cutting knife but Sammy gets suspended for his pocket knife that he likes to flash around, at least 5 times out of 10 Sammy’s parents will complain about unfair treatment of Sammy and tie up countless hours of school administrators time. If Sammy just happens to be black and Johnny white, the level of complaining will move to 9 out of 10 times (This is not to say that I don’t think we have racial issues in this country, but EVERYTHING is not about race).

    I don’t actually have a problem with zero tolerance rules. A policy that says “no knives of any kind” is fine. I just think punishments are way off in the US. Unless the person is actually threatening people with his knife, there should be punishments well short of a one year expulsion.

    But I feel that way about a large amount of our treatment of children. We are increasingly criminalizing their behavior and increasingly over-punishing them. As Puzzled said, we seem to have really disconnected views of children. When it is convenient, we view them as short adults and when it’s not we view them as little idiots – often in the exact same scenario. There doesn’t seem to be much of a middle ground.

  28. Jenny Islander January 4, 2015 at 1:41 pm #

    Re homeschool vs. public school: I use Charlotte Mason’s method. Mason ran what we in the U.S. now call public schools. She explicitly opposed what has now become the conventional wisdom about how group education should work.

    If Mason’s method had become the norm, preschool would look an awful lot like playing outdoors until the children were wet and dirty, then going indoors to read a story and have a bath, a snack, and a nap. Kindergarten would be more of the same, perhaps with a small chore for each child and beginning lessons in making objects that could actually be used (no papercraft or pretend flowers for Mason). The early grades would be half days, with classes of not much more than half a dozen; books would mostly be in the hands of the teacher, and tangible objects (not pictures in books or on computers) would be used to teach reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. All lessons would be short–15 minutes tops–and outdoor time would take up most of the afternoon if the kids couldn’t go home. Testing would involve recitation a couple of times a week, personal observation of children’s classwork, and on-the-spot correction.

    Later grades would still involve maybe half a day of directed academic work. The afternoon would involve free run of the library, appointments with academic counselors, time in the science lab, and time in a carrel working on response papers for the morning’s subjects. Still no tests as we know them.

    Graduates of Mason’s school report claimed to have received an excellent education involving mastery of two or three languages and math clear up to calculus.

  29. Papilio January 4, 2015 at 1:44 pm #

    Hehhehheh, having to read books for school… As a kid, I was ALWAYS reading. Knew every corner of the library, so to speak. Then in 10th grade I had to start reading literature and almost completely stopped reading for pleasure, because whenever reading something *I* liked I felt guilty for not reading a book from ‘the List’ of approved books (yes, at least we had SOME choice), so I just chose to do something else entirely in my free time. (And they still claim kids have to read literature to *encourage* them to read! Morons.)
    Anyway, I developed a few other solitary hobbies instead – I guess I should thank them for that…

    The two about bus drivers/teachers not being allowed to allow a student in their private cars reminded me of a classmate of mine, D, who was late quite often – kept sleeping through her alarm. Of course that was going to potentially be a huge problem for the final exams, as being late meant not participating at all! Our French teacher (who we knew for two years by then) lived very close to D (but drove instead of cycled), so she very kindly decided to pick D up every morning we had an exam! 😀

  30. Puzzled January 4, 2015 at 2:38 pm #

    Donna – good points, and certainly those are issues I confronted all the time as a teacher – “But he got away with it.” Okay, would you feel better if I went and dealt with him also 2 months after the fact? (By the way, I had an administrator speak with me about not enforcing a rule – when the issue actually involved another teacher and I just happened to be present – 2 months later.) What’s lacking is a recognition that a failure of an action to have a result once doesn’t mean it can never have that result.

    We could learn this from the world, by the way. Playing Russian Roulette is dangerous, and, if the round happens to go off on my turn, I cannot plead “but they all did it and didn’t die!” and somehow succeed in that argument.

    However, I’m interested in your take on zero-tolerance. I certainly agree that our punishments are more out of whack than our rules themselves, but, as an attorney, don’t you think there’s an element of justice missing from zero-tolerance? After all, in a legal setting, there’s (in theory) an adversarial process and, often, the judge is permitted discretion. Why should the entire apparatus involved in a school rule be prohibited from exercising judgment? Or maybe I’m falling into exactly the trap I spoke about before…

    That same weird dichotomy, by the way, relates to one of my pet issues – trying juveniles as adults. It seems that the best way for a child to be recognized as having an independent will and mind is to do something awful, even though the argument for restricting kids is precisely that they are not developed fully enough to not do awful things to themselves or others. I’ve only half-jokingly pointed out many times that, at the very least, a child who is tried as an adult, but out on bail prior to trial, should be allowed to exercise the rights of adults.

  31. Donna January 4, 2015 at 4:01 pm #

    Puzzled – I don’t believe there is a one-size fits all as far as punishment, but I do think that schools can say that they 100% don’t allow something, knives for example, and ANY violation of that rule will result in some form of punishment. A guy who brings in a knife to cut an apple should not be expelled for a year, but that doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t receive some penalty for breaking the no knives rule.

    I am also fine with the school saying “all similarly situated people will be penalized the same.” Meaning, that all innocuous knife bringers will get pretty much the same penalty and all those who bring it for use as a weapon will pretty much the get same penalty.

    And that is very similar to the law. A judge rarely determines sentencing. 98% of criminal cases end in plea bargain in which sentencing is an agreement between the DA and the defense attorney made before the guilty plea is entered and that is often done something akin to zero tolerance standard – ie. everyone who pleads guilty to possession of marijuana gets the same plea offer whether it is for medicinal use or recreational use absent some overwhelming reason to differ from the standard. Some jurisdictions adhere to this consistent-sentencing ideal far more than others, but all DA’s offices will have a general sentencing scheme.

  32. BL January 5, 2015 at 4:28 am #

    @Papilio
    “(And they still claim kids have to read literature to *encourage* them to read! Morons.)”

    John Taylor Gatto (former teacher and harsh critic of schools) says one problem with school literature assignments is that kids learn to read for test-taking and nothing else.

    For some years he used to try the following experiment on 8th-graders identified as outstanding readers. He’d have them read the first chapter of Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front”. He chose that book because it’s written in first-person by a 19-year-old soldier in very simple and straightforward language.

    Then he’d give a 10-question quiz which all would fail miserably. Why did they fail? Because Gatto asked questions not usually seen on tests, such as “what is the name of the soldier telling the story?” That’s not a trick question, by the way; the narrator identifies himself by name – once – in the chapter (Paul Bäumer is the name).

  33. Dhewco January 5, 2015 at 7:00 am #

    I was a varied reader growing up. If given a choice, there was a small chance I could find something I could finish and do an adequate book report on.

    However, most of the time I didn’t have a choice. The book Rebecca sucked, for example. I couldn’t even finish. I wish teachers hadn’t made such a big deal out of them, making them 1/3 of the grade and such.

    As I’ve said before, the only assigned book that I’ve ever read that I enjoyed was Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities. I think it was the fact that I loved reading about monarchical societies and Sydney’s sacrifice at the end struck a cord for some reason.

    As a child and teen, I read scifi books, historical fiction, biographies of everybody from George Washington Carver to Mussolini, VC Andrews, and Stephen King. Like I said, varied. If they’d given some leeway as to literature, I’m sure I could have done much better. Wuthering Heights may have been ‘great’ literature but it bored me.

    My best book report grade (98, if I remember right…missed on some grammar or something) came from the 8th grade teacher who pointed us to the school library (only 30 students in the entire grade for us) and said pick a book. (I chose Lloyd Anderson’s High King).

    I’m sure I had a point in there somewhere. Oh yes, I never let assigned reading stop me from pleasure reading…however, it did force me to go from a College Prep diploma to a general one. Also, I didn’t get to perform with the choir because I failed a semester in English and Algebra II (another story).

    David

  34. Donna January 5, 2015 at 8:07 am #

    “If I read some of a book, and don’t like it, I put it down and no one cares. If a teenager does that – OMG they have to learn persistence!”

    Yes, if I am reading for PLEASURE, I can put a book down anytime I want. I could as a teenager as well. However, the vast majority of my reading these days is “required” and I can’t put it down. I can’t tell my client “there may be a case out there that would get your charges dismissed, but I hate Clarence Thomas’ writing, so I can’t get through the entire 50 pages.” I can’t argue to the state bar that I didn’t do my continuing education credits this year because I just didn’t like the materials I had to read. I have to stay updated on changes in the law no matter how boring treatises on the new evidence code are. I love my job and have no real desire to do anything else and STILL large chunks of it are things I’d rather not do. I sometimes spend entire days doing crap I don’t want to do, but have to. Life requires a lot of obligations and isn’t all just doing whatever we want to do, regardless of age.

    I can’t understand why things like book reports would involve assigned books. We occasionally had assigned genres. I remember having to read a biography or autobiography and one memorable book report involved the requirement that we read a How-To book and complete a project from it. Other than that our book report books were ours for the choosing. But everyone actually reading the same book is kinda a requirement for a literature class. It would be pointless to spend a day discussing the use of color in the Great Gatsby if nobody was actually reading the Great Gatsby.

  35. Papilio January 5, 2015 at 10:57 am #

    “However, the vast majority of my reading these days is “required” and I can’t put it down.”
    But the same is true for all the other stuff teens need to read for school that doesn’t involve fictional stories (unless for a foreign language perhaps) – they can learn persistence from that…

    @BL: It wasn’t much about testing, although, I did hate all the interpretation and symbolism stuff – it often seemed so farfetched and over-interpreted to me. Who says that’s really what the author was thinking about when writing that?! Is that what you meant? Plus, analyzing something to death doesn’t make it nicer, to me at least.
    The thing is, from an adult perspective I can see why you’d want young people to read some really good, layered, different-perspective-on-the-world kind of stories. But forcing teens to read books that don’t speak to them (yet!)doesn’t help *them* to see the joy&value of such stories over the last bestseller thriller.

  36. Dhewco January 5, 2015 at 11:07 am #

    Sorry if this helps this discussion devolve into a discussion that’s off topic, but I have to say this.

    As a kid/high schooler, my teachers never made it clear how deconstructing ‘literature’ or discussing it would benefit me as an adult. I wanted to be a social studies teacher and help Elementary and MS students learn my love of maps, history and culture as I loved it. Before I learned it would be at least 9 years of school and training, my back-up was child psychologist so I can learn to help others deal with abuse like I went through (family friend, not stranger).

    Neither of those seemed to be helped by discussing how the author was really talking about this or that. Was it supposed to be a way of deductive reasoning my teachers didn’t make clear? I sure as heck didn’t know.

    Literature should be about what makes a well-written book last the test of time. I know that sounds contradictory and maybe it is…however, this was ENGLISH class, not literature class. Literature should have been a separate elective or something. One I could skip. Also, I might have been able to finish a book they chose, if I could have chosen one of my own and the assignment been a comparison. How does, The Shining, relate hold up to Poe’s The Tell-Tale heart? That kind of thing. That might have been able to hold my interest.

  37. Puzzled January 5, 2015 at 2:40 pm #

    Donna – all true. But everything you listed serves a purpose. You need to find the precedents to help your client. You need to do the continuing ed, as you said, to stay up to date on law. You are not doing it because persistence is a virtue; persistence is a virtue because you need to do those things. A teenager reading a book is not serving a client, and life teaches the importance of persistence – it need not be taught at the price of also teaching people to hate literature.

    Just in case someone says it – no, school isn’t their job. Jobs involve doing things other people need done. Jobs are chosen. Jobs pay. School meets none of those criteria. However, that aside, I’ve seen the panic attach even to pleasure reading, and, more often, to books chosen out of a genre – you could choose the first time, but you can’t change your mind because OMG persistence!

  38. Donna January 5, 2015 at 4:59 pm #

    I find the whole “I don’t need it as an adult” argument such an extremely limited way of seeing education and the world. There isn’t a single thing that I now regret having read or learned despite the fact that I actually need to know very little of it to get by in life. I may not have enjoyed acquiring it, but I definitely appreciate having the knowledge now. I find it horribly sad that simply being a knowledgeable person isn’t enough of a reward and that adults way out of school are protesting actually knowing something.

    I’m very grateful to my high school and college literature classes for their assigned readings and suggested book lists. At best, they exposed me to works of literature that I had not previously discovered and forced me to finish books that I ended up loving but would have likely put down after the first couple chapters didn’t grab my attention if reading independently. At worst, they showed me that I never, ever want to read anything written by Joyce or Faulkner again as long as live. Many of the books/stories read through these assignments were added to my favorite book list by the end. Others I hated reading but am now glad that I did, even if it is just because I actually knew exactly what the characters were talking about when they referenced Proust’s Swann’s Way on a TV this weekend (not that such knowledge was actually necessary to the plot, but it did make the episode more enjoyable to know).

  39. Donna January 5, 2015 at 5:44 pm #

    “Jobs are chosen.”

    Such a privileged view of the world. Jobs are chosen only if you have money and education and options in life. None of my clients or their families have chosen their jobs, unless by “choice” you mean in the most basic sense of they chose to work rather than not work. Yes, they applied to these jobs and decided to take an offer when extended, but viewing that as an actual choice means that the person choosing had at least one other option outside of unemployment.

    In fact, CAREERS are chosen; jobs frequently are not. I chose to be a lawyer. I fell into being a public defender with no prior plans in that direction. I took the only job available in the local area when I came back from A. Samoa (which isn’t a job at all). People without careers rarely have much choice in jobs. People with responsibilities often don’t have much choice in jobs.

    Rant over. Sorry, the privilegeness of the statement that jobs or chosen just always rubs me the wrong way.

  40. Dhewco January 5, 2015 at 7:26 pm #

    Learning for the enjoyment of learning requires enjoying what you learn. I resented being forced to read books that I didn’t like and I rebelled with bad grades. (I still passed until 12th grade because I was good at tests and had a read-through memory…I could read it once or twice and retain it. During my Senior year, I was friendless and in a profound depression, I stopped caring and nobody recognized the signs at the time. They thought I was being lazy.)

    Most of the books that were assigned reading seemed to be written for females, and that didn’t help either. Wuthering Heights, Rebecca, and Little Women…really?

  41. Puzzled January 5, 2015 at 11:47 pm #

    I agree that anything about “its not needed” is a poor argument against learning something. Learning is, I agree, important for its own sake. It’s also an incredibly powerful drive. There are few things that can cause a person to not want to learn. Schools managed to find and incorporate most of them.

    As far as “jobs are chosen,” yes, I meant exactly in the limited sense you indicated. Options are limited for many, of course – but not one adult who hasn’t joined the military or been convicted of a crime is told “you will take this particular job or go to prison.” And that is only one part of the disanalogy between school and “job.” I mentioned a few of the others. Telling a child “learning is your job” is, in addition to being false, also destructive – it implies, contrary to the above, that learning is something unpleasant that the child will eventually be free from when they move into a different job. This is a poor lesson to teach children, in my opinion.

    And yes, there is an economic draft so even the military part above isn’t perfect. There is a difference between “this is better than being unemployed” and “I must go there under threat of force.” Neither is, of course, ideal, and in some senses, neither is a real choice – but one has a greater element of choice than the other.

  42. Donna January 6, 2015 at 8:44 am #

    “Learning for the enjoyment of learning requires enjoying what you learn.”

    Who was talking about enjoyment of learning? I was talking about an appreciation for being learned.

    I certainly didn’t enjoy learning everything at the time that I learned it. But I understood, even at a very young age, that in order to fully participate in the world, I had to have some level of knowledge about many things whether the subjects interested me personally or not. Casting a meaningful ballot requires a decent knowledge of how the government works, even if you find civics class horribly boring. It is hard to exercise your rights if you’ve never even read the Constitution, albeit not the most exciting read. Understanding current international events fully requires a pretty extensive knowledge of both history and global politics. Knowing the difference between quality writing and pop fiction requires exposure to quality writing (Not that one needs to only enjoy quality writing. I thoroughly enjoy a light beach read, but I do know the difference between Little Women and 50 Shades a Grey enough to not proclaim the latter a well written novel).

    Even pop culture is more enjoyable if you are educated. You can certainly watch the Big Bang Theory knowing nothing, but watching Sheldon play Words with Friends with Stephen Hawking is funnier if you actually know who Stephen Hawking is. The unidentified Shakespeare quotes were put into the movie for a reason and it adds richness if you can actually identify them and their context.

  43. Dhewco January 6, 2015 at 8:58 am #

    I think I’ll drop from the discussion. I’m not sure I’m expressing myself clearly enough. Thanks for the invigorating discussion.

  44. Donna January 6, 2015 at 9:07 am #

    “but not one adult who hasn’t joined the military or been convicted of a crime is told ‘you will take this particular job or go to prison.'”

    Sure they have been. Anybody under a child support obligation runs the risk of be being jailed if they don’t have some job and there aren’t an abundance of them available to be choosy. People on probation or with fines have to work to pay them or risk prison. Many parents put as much pressure on their kids to go into certain careers as they do to go to school.

    But it is also a way too limited way of viewing choice. Some of my clients commit crimes just to get 3 hots and a bed for awhile so homelessness and hunger is not all you have it cracked up to be. It can be worse than prison. If given the “choice” between digging ditches and living on the streets, I’d pick digging ditches, but that does not mean that my job was truly a choice. It was simply survival instinct.

    Further, kids are not truly going to jail for failing to attend school in large numbers. If they did, ALL my juvenile clients would have been in jail long before they committed the crime I represent them on. They are all enrolled in school, but actual attendance doesn’t often happen. We are actually shocked when we get a kid who has under 20 absences in the first semester of school. In fact, it is not even legal to detain a child for truancy. You can bring them to court as a child in need of services, but all they get is services (counseling, tutoring, mentoring, special needs evaluations), not jail time.

  45. Donna January 6, 2015 at 9:09 am #

    And by that last statement, I was simply referring to my state. It may be perfectly legal to jail children for truancy in some states. It is not in mine.

  46. lollipoplover January 6, 2015 at 9:49 am #

    @Dhewco- When I was in high school, my required reading included a Separate Peace, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Great Gatsby, and To Kill a Mockingbird.
    I never really considered Harper Lee as an author who wrote for a female audience. And I loved those books that I probably would never have read if it hadn’t been for public high school English class.

  47. Donna January 6, 2015 at 11:52 am #

    I agree that Wuthering Heights, Little Women and Rebecca belong on suggested reading lists and not actual classroom assignments. I didn’t particularly like any of them and I am a girl. I don’t imagine that most boys find anything appealing in them at all.

    I think so much of a specific bad/mismatched teacher(s) is taken as a bad idea in general. Children should be exposed to quality writing – and assigning specific books for classroom discussion is a logistical necessity – but there is a massive amount of it out there. Teachers should strive to find books of wide appeal to teens and from various genres. You can’t please everyone, but the book selection should not alienate 50% of the class or be so uninteresting as to turn most teens off. The best written book in the world teaches nothing if the kids can’t access it mentally.

    Mass education is not perfect. Mass education is not going to be perfectly tailored to the individual tastes of each individual student. To expect otherwise is completely ridiculous. A teacher can’t teach a literature class of 30 kids who are all reading 30 different books. Giving no choice is not remotely conducive to encouraging reading, but expecting everything to be something you personally enjoy is not possible in a world that doesn’t actually revolve around you. Some level of compromise is required and that will likely mean that students will sometimes be stuck reading books that they have no personal interest in. It is good training for life where they will also be stuck doing many, many things that are not their cup of tea on a daily basis.

  48. Amanda January 6, 2015 at 12:24 pm #

    I apologize for derailing the comment thread, but thank you to everyone who commented on my question! It helps a lot to know why people choose various educational models for their kids!

  49. Puzzled January 6, 2015 at 12:44 pm #

    >Mass education is not perfect. Mass education is not going to >be perfectly tailored to the individual tastes of each >individual student. To expect otherwise is completely >ridiculous. A teacher can’t teach a literature class of 30 >kids who are all reading 30 different books.

    Exactly right. There are alternatives to mass education, though – and most certainly alternatives to what we think of when we think of mass education: Groups of people in a room with an authoritative “teacher” transmitting information and giving assignments. As I mentioned, we are evolved to enjoy and desire learning. A baby fresh out of the womb is bombarded with light and sound; categorizing those lights and sound, understanding cause and effect relationships between them, and learning how to gain power over them transform the world from scary and threatening to less so. Learning is exactly those processes, and always makes the world more workable and less frightening. But we have designed a system that simply assumes that learning is not enjoyable, and is something that must be forced on students – then acts accordingly and effectively transmits this to students. Children learn, within 2 years of being in school, that learning is something unpleasant, a chore they should bear.

    They also learn that natural curiosity is not the path to learning. That’s why they stop asking questions and begin learning only what they’re taught. We have accepted as normal that our pre-school aged children ask questions all day, then we send them off to school and they come home uninterested in learning anything more than they are required to; we should never have accepted that state of affairs as anything other than ludicrous. Genuine learning is largely absent. If you walk into a math classroom and are told the Pythagorean Theorem, you are not engaged with it, you didn’t wonder beforehand what the relationship between the sides of a right triangle was (probably), and you most likely don’t care now either. You will not change your relationship to the universe as a result; you will just file away the information and possibly recall it later; probably not.

    On choice, you clearly have a different concept in mind of what the word means than I do. I differentiate “family pressure” from law. The child support order requires employment. This might in practice mean the only job you can find, but I’d still differentiate it from a court order requiring employment at a specific place in certain hours. Also, the person under a child support order took actions to get there; children receive their sentence solely by virtue of existence.

    I’m not going to argue the points on the specific legalities of mandatory attendance laws, being that I’m not a lawyer.

    This is why we have adults with half-baked recollections floating around in their heads like “Eli Whitney – cotton gin” or “b squared plus or minus something over 2a.” Or, Columbus discovered America and found an Indian Chief named Sohcahtoa.

    None of this should be surprising, it was what the system was built for. Horace Mann copied it from Prussia, and Bismarck explicitly designed it to train obedient workers and soldiers who won’t ask questions. Those expected to be in the elite weren’t sent to school in Prussia to have their minds warped.

  50. Donna January 6, 2015 at 5:08 pm #

    “Children learn, within 2 years of being in school, that learning is something unpleasant, a chore they should bear.
    They also learn that natural curiosity is not the path to learning. That’s why they stop asking questions and begin learning only what they’re taught.”

    This is an assumption that does not universally apply to ALL children, or even most children in my experience. I never found school unpleasant in its entirety (although certain subjects lacked appeal), nor did I lose my thirst for knowledge since I am constantly researching pointless things and if I were independently wealthy, I would stay in school perpetually just studying whatever interested me at the time. None of my friends ever found school unpleasant. My daughter doesn’t find school unpleasant and certainly hasn’t lost her thirst of knowledge because I am still peppered with hundreds of questions that I can’t possibly hope to answer every day. Her one friend that does finds school unpleasant does so for reasons that have nothing to do with the education system.

    On the other hand, my brother found school unpleasant when he was young, but is fine with it now that he is 30. My mother found school unpleasant and probably still would. They are both of very similar personalities and minds – which is extremely different from mine in both respects.

    I don’t deny that certain people do not do well in mass education. Their parents would do well to find alternatives, but most people do actually do just fine in mass education.

    And, yes, we have very different views of choice. If your choice is to eat or go to this specific job because it is the only one available, your choice is non-existent in my opinion. If your choice is to stay in a job or lose your home, your choice is non-existent in my opinion. I realize that others do make such a decision, but we don’t exactly hold them up as fine decision makers.

  51. Donna January 6, 2015 at 5:52 pm #

    And there is actually absolutely no law whatsoever in any of the 50 states in the US that requires children to attend traditional school. The only legal requirement is that children be EDUCATED. Homeschooling, unschooling, private tutoring, montessori schools, Sudbury Friends, online schooling and all kinds of other alternative private schools are perfectly viable and 100% legal options. If economics doesn’t negate the choiceness of jobs, it also doesn’t negate the choiceness of education, thus making attending traditional school 100% a choice under your own theory of choice.

  52. Puzzled January 6, 2015 at 6:42 pm #

    Homeschooling, unschooling, private tutoring, montessori schools, Sudbury Friends, online schooling and all kinds of other alternative private schools are perfectly viable and 100% legal options.

    To an extent, yes. If I send my child to Sudbury, or homeschool, I cannot opt out of paying for the schools I choose not to use – even where a “voucher” exists, nominally called school choice, it can’t be used for these options.

    In addition, things that are perfectly legal but very much disliked by regulatory agencies invite harassment. If a law is unenforced, then what is prohibited is de facto legal; similarly, if homeschooling is legal but invites constant harassment, it’s in somewhat of a legal grey area. Unschooling is not so clear. Some states, and even districts within states that haven’t done so, dictate curricular requirements. In practice, a parent who understands the system can figure out how to unschool and get away with it, but that isn’t quite the same as it being legal.

    None of this impacts any of the points I was originally making, which were, if I remember back correctly, about the schizophrenic treatment of children as small adults or as idiots depending on which better serves the purpose of the person deciding which to use. I gave the example of freaking out when a teenager doesn’t finish something, whereas we don’t expect adults to finish every single thing they started, and assume that failing to finish something is always a sign of a lack of persistence. This is how schools came about. My points on school are more about opposition to the general ways we conduct education in our public schools and most private schools – fact-based curricula, lack of passion for learning, etc. In response to anecdotes, all I can say is that I have built up a larger collection of anecdotes in 10 years as a teacher – and that a person who enjoys school has some selection bias in pointing to their close associates also liking school.

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  1. Maggie's Farm - January 6, 2015

    Tuesday morning links

    ‘Girls,’ ‘Mad Men,’ and the Future of TV-as-Literature The rise of the honeybee business Why We Love the Pain of Spicy Food Study says fairy tales too bleak for kids — but that’s what they need Archaeologists find possible site of Jesus’s