Why “Zero Tolerance” Sucks

In second grade, I wrote a story that I thought was really cool. It was for an assignment of some sort, but I can’t recall specifics. In this short, story, the students at my school rise up in rebellion against their teachers, who have thrown a faculty party and thoughtlessly neglected to invite the kids they teach. These disenfranchised youths get Mohawks, don leather jackets, and arm themselves with machine guns and bazookas (a montage amplified by hair-metal guitar). A massacre ensues; the school is destroyed and the faculty dies at the hands of the victorious pre-adolescents. I slapped a self-created warning label on the top of the paper and volunteered to read it to the class.

The students laughed. I have no remembrance of the teacher’s reaction, although later that day she pulled me Into the hallway to read it for the principal, a kindly older man who had dated my grandmother some time before the Korean War. He did not laugh. Instead, he told me that he would have preferred I write more about the faculty party from Act One.

He called my parents and explained the situation to them. They had a talk with me about violence and school-appropriateness. I largely brushed off their concerns, noting that the principal’s only comment was that he would have liked a different story. Tastes vary, right?

I had the good fortune of writing my school-shooting fantasy fiction in 1988, years before middle class kids began taking guns to school and leaving classmates dead. Had I been born a decade later, my second grade story would have gotten me suspended, possibly expelled. School counselors would have interviewed me. I might have been labeled emotionally disturbed and sent to a Behavior Learning Support class.

As it was, my second grade teacher eventually recommended that I be tested for my district’s Gifted program. (Most likely, my story was not the reason.) I kept writing fiction, although never again about slaughtering educators. Eventually–through a process of odd choices and dumb luck–I became a teacher myself. (And no, I don’t invite students to my parties.)

Not every kid who thinks about violence is a mortal threat. Some are just clueless about the implications of their words. I am fairly certain that I was just combining my life with a shitty Sylvester Stallone film to impress my friends. I liked school, and I loved my second grade teacher. The adults around me were able to figure that out and correct me without making the huge deal that today’s Zero Tolerance world demands. My future wasn’t damaged. Other parents weren’t alarmed. Life went on.

Now we suspend kids for Pop Tarts held like weapons. The world is different. I don’t know that it’s better. If we make no differentiation between serious threats and misplaced fantasy, we aren’t fixing anything. We might be making it worse.


About semiblind

Bringing you stark existentialism since 1981.
This entry was posted in clusterfuck, entertainment, fear, Fiction, history and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Why “Zero Tolerance” Sucks

  1. Oh wow. I wrote stories with some violence in when I was in school in the UK and I got good feedback from teachers, though maybe if I wrote about killing off real people it would’ve been a different matter. I can see how some people would get offended in their position, but I agree that ‘not every kid who thinks about violence is a mortal threat’…which is a good thing really, otherwise I suppose we’d all be screwed.

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