Pubdate: Sat, 07 Mar 1998
Date: March 7, 1998
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Author: Ajit Dongre

The relatives I left behind when I adopted America as my country call us
Americans faddists. They observe our obsession with calories and diets and
exercise; our political correctness about secondhand smoke; and our
schizophrenia about sexuality. They have concluded that our relative
newness as a people is responsible for a certain lack of judgment, a
certain naive belief in the power of human engineering, and a certain lack
of wisdom or common sense.

The behavior of school officials in countering the threats of drugs and
violence in schools appears at first to be another example. Common sense
suggests that punishing students for innocuous transgressions of a ``zero
tolerance'' policy will do nothing to combat drugs and violence in schools.
I almost wrote a letter denouncing such inflexibility -- and then I changed
my mind.

So why do these officials take such apparently silly actions? It's because
if a school used judgment, instead of inflexible policy, in forgiving a
kid's obviously innocent mistake in bringing a forbidden item to school,
that would set a scary precedent. School officials would then have to
investigate and judge a multitude of incidents and pronounce the students
``innocent'' or ``guilty.'' In most cases, it is possible to separate
deliberate violations from innocent mistakes, but not always. Given the
importance of the job of ridding our schools of drugs and violence, I think
it's better to be inflexible.

Having to be paranoid and searching my kids' backpacks twice before sending
them to school is a price I am willing to pay for a chance at achieving a
clean school environment. And if my kid gets ``caught'' giving the French
teacher a bottle of wine for the holidays, or cutting an apple with a knife
with a blade longer than three-quarters of an inch, I think I can explain
to him why he got suspended for a week -- without him being traumatized for

Ajit Dongre
San Jose