Home > Uncategorized > We Need Infinite Compassion Instead of Zero Tolerance

We Need Infinite Compassion Instead of Zero Tolerance

September 27, 2015

I have vivid memories of the impact of the Columbine shootings in 1999. At the time I was serving as Superintendent in Duchess County NY and we were in the midst of convening several public meetings on our budget in anticipation of the annual vote in mid May. Once the images of children vacating a suburban Denver HS appeared nightly on the news, though, parents were less concerned about the initiatives included in our budget and overwhelmingly concerned about the safety of their children in school…. because unlike the earlier reports on school violence that focused on urban schools, Columbine looked a lot like the neighborhoods in our school district and the children vacating the school dressed the same and looked the same as the children in our schools.

Pando writer David Forbes posted an article titled “The Zero Tolerance Generation” that describes the history of the “zero tolerance movement” that he traced back to Columbine. (NOTE: you can only read the initial paragraphs of because it is now behind a paywall). The article reinforces the premise of many posts I’ve written: in the name of safety we’ve spent millions on surveillance equipment, door locks, and police presence in school. With more police in school, we’ve criminalized “disobedience”, and created a school-to-jail pipeline that becomes, in the term used by Yves Smith, a self-licking ice cream cone.

To break out of the zero tolerance mentality we need to get parents and politicians to focus on the root causes that lead to violence in schools instead of spending time reacting to the violence itself. If the funds sent providing armed guards in schools, surveillance cameras, and door locks had been spent on early intervention and mental health services we’d be further along in preventing the random acts of extreme violence that occur in school. Most importantly, we’d be limiting the day-to-day misconduct that stems from the problems children face growing up in our  hyper-competitive country. Instead of zero-tolerance we should strive for infinite compassion.

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