I am in education as well. K-12. Parents ask about zero-tolerance policies. They like the toughness and seeming safety of a wall. Truth, reality, they don’t fit so neatly. Zero-tolerance gives zero flexibility. Flexibility is response does mean we condone, accept, approve of bullying (for example). But it does mean that situations are complex, that learning looks differently for each of us, that, as humans, we experience and perceive differently. We need and deserve different responses made with a full and complete understanding of the situation and the trust to act in a manner that fits. Zero-tolerance came about because of lack of response, denial, and general blindness to the circumstances but it does not fix these. As you point out out it transfers accountability, provides and an easy out, and looks all tough on crime. The hallmark of an effective response is not that we have zero tolerance policies in place. But that we have a established culture of caring and connection, that we provide safety for victims, that we respond quickly but act with a full understanding and a deliberate focus on learning and community. If we are not about that, if we do not stand for that then we do not stand about much at all.

Thank you for such a well thought out and insightful piece.


Writer, walker, poet, educator. Commercial fisherman, builder, donut maker, organic grower. Boston, U. City, Maine, South Africa, Madrid.

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