And now for the latest from the front lines of the absurdity known as zero-tolerance laws. This story concerns a North Carolina high-school senior suspended for a paring knife found in her lunchbox, which, for the record, was her dad's lunchbox. She had an identical lunchbox and brought his to school by mistake. (Dad pares his apples at lunch; his daughter doesn't.)
The school is insisting it found the knife when it was searching purses, not lunchboxes. Whatever. The point is: The girl was punished for carrying something that she had no intention of using as a weapon. It's like suspending a kid for bringing a baseball bat to school. After all, he COULD use it to club his teacher.
Sometimes I worry that by calling attention to these bureaucratic fails — stories of kids suspended for the most innocent of "crimes" — I'm giving as warped a picture of our culture as the nightly news does (albeit with a different slant). But the reason for publicizing these incidents is not to say they are epidemic, but to point out why they are happening at all. They are happening because of the inability of those in power to do any kind of sensible risk assessment. (Yes, TSA, that means you, too.)
That IS an issue worth talking about, because sensitivity to ACTUAL danger — versus the tripwire, brain-frozen fear of any POSSIBLE danger — is one of the things I'd like to see change in 2011. When we as a society say "I don't care about the fact that it's safe in 999,999,999 cases; it's that billionth case that matters!" nothing seems safe enough. Not an old lady carrying 4 ounces of face cream onto a plane, not a food company selling hot dogs without a big CHOKING HAZARD label on the package, and not a kid who accidentally (or even intentionally!) brings her dad's fruit-paring knife to school. ...
If these "children" (actually, high-school students) don't feel safe because one girl has a paring knife, it's a good bet they never will feel safe. Because in that situation, kids are ENTIRELY safe, and it is a BIG LIE to say they aren't.
And it is a lie with consequences. - Lenore Skenazy
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