September 2006 Ethics Dunces
School Administrators at Milton Moore Elementary SchoolA memorable episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" had the starship Enterprise landing on a planet paradise where there was no crime, no courts, andůHosanna!...no lawyers. This bliss had been achieved by the simple device of having randomly-rotated enforcement zones that were carefully monitored by police. Any legal infraction at all was witnessed by the officers and videotaped. The police who saw the infraction revealed themselves, apprehended the guilty party and executed him or her on the spot, regardless of the crime: robbing someone or littering, the penalty was death. Simple. Fool-proof. A powerful deterrent. And intolerably cruel and unjust.
Milton Moore Elementary School in Kansas City seems to be a fan of the fictional planet (I'll leave it to the Trekkies out there to tell us its name), based on a recent incident in which it suspended a 6 year-old boy for 10 days because he brought a two inch, orange plastic squirt gun to school. The School District's policy declares such a toy to be a "simulated weapon" that requires a harsh penalty. Now the infraction is on the child's dreaded permanent record. "We ask our principals for safety of students and staff, and we do follow the code of conduct and do not give exceptions to Class IV offenses. We take it very seriously," the school district's Phyllis Budesheim told the Associated Press.
One again, school "no-tolerance" madness. It is not only lazy, cowardly, and silly to refuse to make an exception when one is obviously called for. It's unfair and unethical. Look at the squirt-gun. If this is a "simulated weapon," what else will get you suspended from school for 10 days in Kansas City? The teeny metal revolver from the game of "Clue"? A stick? A finger? Saying "Bang!"?
Why should an innocent six-year old have to be suspended for 10 days because some depressed, bullied, parentally neglected teens have shot up their high schools? The answer is that school officials, fearing lawsuits and controversy, are unwilling to make the kinds of critical distinctions required by their jobs. So they abdicate responsibility (making distinctions and deciding when policies don't make sense are among the responsibilities of management) and simply stand by while punishment that they know is excessive is dropped on confused children. "My feeling is that by not giving any exceptions, this young man will not bring a toy gun to school again," Budesheim said. I suppose if you hit him with a sledgehammer, that would work pretty well too. Lopping off his hand, too.
Budeheim's approach is essentially the argument used in the Star Trek episode, as the police attempted to execute a 14 year-old boy for walking on the grass. A far less extreme punishment would have also made the desired point to the dastardly squirt-gun wielder, such as confiscating the toy and telling the child not to bring such things to school again. But that would have meant exercising judgement, compassion and common sense, qualities school administrators increasingly seem to feel are irrelevant to their jobs.
Recognizing exceptions and treating them appropriate is called fairness. School administrators who believe that fairness isn't important in children are called, at least here, Ethics Dunces.
Epilogue: After three days and increasing criticism, the Kansas City School District over-ruled the decision by the school and ended the first-grader's suspension. It will not go on his permanent record.
There was no word regarding whether the Milton Moore school administrators' terrible judgement will go on their permanent records.