Zero Tolerance – Seriously, how do we get there?

Apr 14, 2010 by

Zero Tolerance – Seriously, how do we get there?

Zero Tolerance School Zone SignEverywhere you look, all over this country, we are implementing “Zero Tolerance” polices for bullying and/or intolerance. Yet the policies are being implemented and ignored. People advocate them and criticize them, demand them and reject them. But Zero Tolerance can work and does work. Why, then, are there so many examples of it not working?
In my observation, it is because too frequently Zero Tolerance is structured with authoritarian and dictatorial procedures. The result says to children, “I will bully you if you bully someone else” or “I will be completely intolerant of you if you do not have tolerance for others.” Guess what? This is not an effective strategy. But, neither is throwing up our hands and claiming nothing can be done to stop bullying and intolerance in our schools.
Herein lies the problem. We must let children and young people know that we have Zero Tolerance for bullying behaviors. But we must begin teaching Zero Tolerance by role modeling for them other behaviors to replace those that are injurious and unacceptable in a society that seeks peace and freedom for all.
Children learn what we teach. Children will listen. Children will observe and imitate the example. Therefore, we must consider what we offer them as food for their consideration.

With all of this in your mind I offer you this powerful blog post by Mr. Anthony P. Johnson.
Mr. Johnson’s B.A. is in Political Science, his M.A. is in Central and Eastern European Studies and he is completing his Ph.D in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. Mr. Johnson is a published author and is the Founder and CEO of Dream Field Academy, a private non-profit 501 (C) (3) mentoring and non-traditional sports (Fencing, golf, rugby) program.

Anthony P Johnson

What are children supposed to do when they are being bullied on a daily basis at a school they are attending where the adults are supposed to provide academic enrichment and safety from bullying but have failed on both fronts?

What are parents and caregivers to do when they repeatedly go to the school pleading and finally demanding that school officials stop other youths and adolescents from bullying their children only to be told, “We’ll take care of it,” and they do nothing?

Who is guilty for the young lady that recently committed suicide after being bullied viciously and with perfect regularity by schoolmates? Who is guilty of the murder of a student that refused to join a violent gang where members attended the same school who were bullying him? Who is guilty of for the bullying of Asian students attending South Philadelphia High School for the last decade? Who are the guilty culprits who stand paralyzed with indifference while our young people of all nationalities, backgrounds, religious affiliations, or sexual orientation are bullied, beaten and murdered?

If Zero Tolerance in our schools is supposed to protect the youth and adolescents from bullying, then it is a complete and utter failure, pure and simple. If one child–and I mean one–dies because he or she is being bullied and no action is taken to thwart this type behavior, then it appears that Zero Tolerance is nothing more than a “fanciful” concept that isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

What good is a law when it is not being implemented effectively? We must hold accountable those who crafted and failed to make Zero Tolerance a powerful ally for students against bullying and violence.

In the end, perhaps we should rename the policy of Zero Tolerance to “Not Really Zero Tolerance.

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  1. Fascinating thoughts, thank you for sharing!!!!!

  2. It is a perspective that has lots of confusion built into it seems, and therefore interpretations of it and follow-through on it can be easily pushed aside. It is too sad, but too true….

  3. Thank you, Kathryn. How right you are! Compassion and empathy are the true root of each of us being able to see one another’s truth and allow each other the space to be safe and honored for unique individuals we are.

  4. The1JenChick

    The problem with “zero tolerance” is that it is based on the Kantian standard of ethics. Policies dealing with justice need to be based more on the Feminist ethics of Care. I did some extensive research on discipline policies when my son, 12, received an “in school suspension” for pushing back a bigger kid who was pummeling a smaller child. We have always taught and modeled the philosophy “if you see someone being bullied and do nothing, you are as guilty as the bullying party” and felt our son had behaved exactly the way we would behave and expected him to behave in that situation. The school said that while he had “acted in an ethic manner”, putting his hands on another student was in violation of the school “zero tolerance” policy.
    From the information I found in my research two things seem to show up in several studies and most of the reports—zero tolerance was enforced particularly “low performance” students that endanger the financial rewards given to higher performance schools, and non-white students. There is no report from the NEA, DOJ, or US Department of Education that zero tolerance policies are effective. In fact, every scientific study I found concluded the policy was highly damaging.

  5. Very good article, Brooke. I learned something about “zero tolerance” last week when I spent time with Susan Avila-Smith in Seattle, who’s an Army veteran, and military sexual trauma (MST) and PTSD survivor. She said the problem with “zero tolerance” as a policy in the military is that’s ALL it is, a policy: no teeth to make anything actually happen (i.e., prosecution of the perpetrators) because of it. So while elsewhere in the civilian world, those terms may signify something; it sounds like they don’t across the board. Sometimes they’re just words, apparently, without the actions to back them up.

  6. Kathryn J. Stiles Cook

    We need to do more than “zero tolerance.” We need to teach compassion. Oprah did a great feature on the “Challenge Program.” Students had a “retreat” and went through a series of sensitivity exercises. I think it could really work.

    My son has Asperger’s which is on the Autism Spectrum. The bullying got so bad, that with the advise of his “support team” we decided it was in his best interest to quit going to school. It was causing too much psychological damage.

    Since that time, he has been able to develop social skills by dealing with people on a smaller scale, on his own terms. He is getting better everyday.

    This issue is important because more than 3% of our population has disabilities. This figure is prior to the great insurgence of Autism. One out of every 110 kids now has Autism. People with Autism are differently abled.

    Autism is a neurological disorder just as epilepsy is. However, one of the most difficult issues with Autism is that people with it often misinterpret social cues, have lack of expression on their faces, and are highly sensory challenged. Often times, they “look” neuro typical but with some type of “ism.” Peers often mistake this and identify it as s/he’s “psycho” or “stalker” or just bully and tease as a result.

    It is critical that since so many people are growing up with Autism in their family or lives that being kind and compassonate are taught.

    Thank you for addressing this issue in your article.