Monday, October 12, 2009

Exercising judgment

Remember that amusing piece of camping gear that includes a folding fork, spoon, and knife? Zachary Christie, a public-school student in Delaware, and a new Cub Scout, was so excited to get one when he joined the scouts that he took it to school to use it for lunch.

According to a story in The New York Times, Zachary now faces 45 days in the school district's reform school.That's him in the picture. Take a look. Reform school?

The Times writes that "based on the code of conduct for the Christina School District, where Zachary is a first grader, school officials had no choice. They had to suspend him because, 'regardless of possessor’s intent,' knives are banned."

The issue here is proper exercise of judgment. Yes, the code of conduct allows no exceptions. But a teacher could have quietly explained to the boy that the utensil was not permitted and quickly pocketed it.

If you find this outrageous, suspend your outrage for a moment. Because the story also reports that last year, a third-grader was expelled--expelled!--because her grandmother sent her to school with a birthday cake and a knife to cut it with.

The teacher called the principal and the girl was expelled. The kicker? Before calling the principal, the teacher used the knife to cut the cake.

Happy birthday!

Again, a little exercise of judgment might have been in order. Cut the cake, have the party, and send the knife home at the end of the day. Consider the knife in the possession of the teacher, not the student.

What lesson are those teachers teaching? Maybe it's this: Don't trust authority, don't trust your teachers, because what they are doing is absurd, even in the eyes of a third-grader.

Update, Wednesday morning, Oct. 14: The Associated Press reports that the Christina School Board in Delaware voted unanimously yesterday to reduce the punishment for kindergartners or first-graders who take "weapons" to school to suspensions of three to five days. Even that milder punishment seems silly int his case, but I suppose we count this as progress.

The good news for Zachary? He can return to school.

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