15 June 2007

The Dea(r)th of Common Sense

There is a small group of teachers here who travel to Africa in the summer to support a school. They travel with as many supplies as they can carry, working hard throughout the year to communicate with their partner school to obtain what they need most. One of the teachers e-mailed an invitation to district staff to donate to this cause. Another teacher from the group was a bit mystified by the response of one of the district administrators: she gave the teacher who sent the e-mail a slap on the wrist for not getting that sort of full-scale communication approved before it went out...and then the same admin sent bunches of 1-gallon baggies (one of the items on the list) to help with the cause.

I offered an explanation. There are policies that we have to follow---and admins are there to enforce. It doesn't mean that the admins agree or like all of the policies, but it is part of their jobs to make sure everyone follows the rules. In sending a note that the use of e-mail for this purpose without prior approval, the admin was doing what she is paid to do by the district. As a person, however, she could react differently. The baggies were a message that she supports what they do. The teacher thought about this and agreed that it was a likely reason for what happened.

I was reminded of this conversation when I read this article about the backlash against zero tolerance policies in schools. It is admirable that schools take a stand on having no drugs/alcohol or weapons on the campus---children and staff deserve a safe place to learn. It's the lack of common sense in applying the rules which is becoming bothersome. They are sometimes applied without consideration as to intent. Just like a teacher whose intent is to help an impoverished school (not violate policy by sending an unapproved e-mail), might it be possible that a kindergartner really did bring a plastic knife to cut cookies rather than a classmate? If, as the article implies, the tolerance pendulum is swinging back, perhaps common sense really can be resuscitated.

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