The Intolerance of Zero Tolerance
Zero Tolerance Policies in Public Schools
One has only to turn on the television, log onto the Internet, or glance at a newspaper to see that violence is everywhere in our society. The nightly news is dominated by one act of depravity after another: murders, rapes, and violent assaults, among others. Hate crimes send shockwaves through seemingly peaceful communities. A cross is burned in a field, a Jewish cemetery is ransacked, the tombstones broken and covered with swastikas, a gay college student is crucified on a fence, left to die by his homophobic classmates, and a Black man is dragged behind a speeding car. Such horrific incidents seem almost commonplace. Mutual intolerance of one group for another breeds hatred and cruelty. People today appear quick to anger and even quicker to react...violently. Stabbings and shootings and bloody assaults are as frequent as fights on the playground. Young children wrestle with each other over he gets to go first down the slide. They punch and kick and call each other names. An unusually severe reaction to a common childhood situation, but it is nevertheless ordinary enough. Little boys and little girls are thick-skinned enough, or so many believe. The blows may hurt, but as the old saying goes, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Or can they? So often, little more than careless words are at the heart of so many terrible, and violent incidents. Many self-proclaimed experts claim that by suppressing these inflammatory words we can rein in our society's seemingly uncontrollable passion for violence. Public schools across the country have enacted so-called "Zero Tolerance" policies, policies that severely punish children for the use of offensive or threatening language, and physical force. But is punishing a little boy for screaming out "I'm going to kill you" really the answer? Are these common, everyday expressions really the cause of all the terrible brutality that plagues modern-day America? In determining the effectiveness of these Zero Tolerance measures it might first be useful to take a look at what are the real causes of violent behavior in our society.
Antisocial behavior can take many forms. In mild cases, it may manifest itself as an inability to work well with others, a penchant for hurtful criticism, a love of carping argument, or in the form of loud and disruptive behavior. In the most severe cases, however, antisocial behavior can run the gamut of criminal and socially unacceptable conduct. The antisocial individual might commit acts of wanton violence - assault, rape, arson, or destruction of property. In the very worst instances, the antisocial individual may even become a killer. As antisocial behavior, particularly in these most serious and aggravated forms, is a danger to society as a whole, it is important to understand the conditions that give rise to such behavior. The antisocial individual is typically not born. He or she is made. Except in those cases where actual physical neurological damage, congenital or otherwise, is a prevailing factor, antisocial behavior usually develops as a psychological response to various external stimuli. The individual's environment is of key importance. A dysfunctional home life, maltreatment by authority figures, and most significantly in the case of this study - rejection by one's peers or gender group are all primary factors in the development of the antisocial personality.
It is a natural human desire to wish to be a part of the group. Human beings are social creatures. Paleontological, archeological, and anthropological evidence all indicate that humans have always lived in social groups of various sizes. Our closest relatives among the primates are also social animals. Human men and women, like monkeys and chimps in the wild, typically join together in order to accomplish the tasks necessary for physical survival. However, the group or band is more than simply a source of physical helpmates, it provides its members with mental and emotional support as well. Individuals within the group rely on each other for advice, and companionship. The various members of the group help one another to deal with the emotional side of existence. A man can rely on his wife for emotional support in the case of the death of his father or parents for protection when he or she fears the monsters that hide in the gloom of the bedroom closet. Yet, human beings seek the attention of their fellow human beings in more than just cases of personal difficulty. The group also offers its members praise and encouragement in recognition of their individual achievements. A husband congratulates his wife on a promotion. A mother builds up her son's confidence, enabling him to propose to the girl of his choice. A child looks for the cheers of his or her friends and classmates when he or she makes the winning kick in kickball.
Social individuals at heart, we humans crave, we demand the attention of those other individuals who make up our world.
Unfortunately, not every individual feels this sense of belonging. Everyone feel like an outsider at some point, but this is usually only a passing phase. It may last a few moments, or a few hours, or it may last days or weeks, but it eventually passes. There are, however, people for whom this feeling of not belonging never goes away. They have been, or believe themselves to have been, completely and utterly rejected by the group to which they belong or to which they hope to belong: the child who is constantly criticized by his or her peers, the gay adolescent who is shunned by the other boys, and the teenager who is ostracized for some perceived deviation from the youthful social norm. Any one of these events, especially if repeated over and over again over time, can lead to an individual's feeling, and eventually believing, that he or she has been completely rejected by the group. Pushed out to the sidelines, the individual schemes for ways in which to rejoin the group. Reincorporation into one's peer or gender group is often possible, but many times it is not. The rejected child or adolescent moves further and further outside the realm of his age mates and fellow students. And as he or she becomes more and more isolated, there grows up within himself or herself a feeling resentment; a need to attract the attention of the group in whatever way he or she can.
A study by Lewis M. Lewin, Betsy Davis, and Hyman Hops that was published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology in1999 tracked 314 Third through Fifth Grade students (163 boys and 151 girls) in a Northwestern city for a period of six or seven years - that is until they had reached either the Ninth or Tenth Grades - for the purpose of attempting to determine whether it was possible to predict adolescent antisocial behavior based upon certain childhood criteria. The participants in the study may be described as follows:
The resultant grade distribution of the childhood sample consisted of approximately 20% second-grade, 35% third-grade, 15% fourth-grade, and 30% fifth-grade students. Demographically, the gender composition of the childhood sample was 47% female and 53% male, with participants ranging in age from 7 to 10 years. The sample consisted primarily of children from two-parent families (66% biological, 15% stepparent), with 15% of children from single-parent families and 4% from other family structures. Parent educational level was primarily high school level (65%) for mothers, with 35% reporting college level attainment. For fathers, 55% reported high school level educational attainment, and 45% reported attending college. Occupational status was primarily at the unskilled-semiskilled level for mothers (56%), with 33% of mothers reporting occupations at the skilled-clerical level and 11% reporting occupations at minor-major professional levels. For fathers, 40% reported unskilled-semiskilled occupational levels, 31% reported skilled-clerical levels, and 29% reported minor-major professional levels.... The ethnic distribution was static from childhood into adolescence, that is, 92% of the participants were Caucasian, 3% Hispanic, 3% American Indian, and 2% other. (Lewin, Davis, and Hops, 1999, 7-8)
Evaluations were based upon subject self-analysis, peer analysis, teacher analysis, and direct observation in the classroom. In terms of peer likeability, children were rated as Likeable, Aggressive, and Withdrawn. High school age antisocial behavior was then defined in response to the following four criteria:
1. The participant's own responses to a modified version of the Jesser and Jesser General Deviance Scale (1977)
2. Participant contact with authority figures (Police, Courts, etc.).
3. Structured interviews using the Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia for School-Age Children (K-SADS; Orvashel, Puigantich, (Chambers, Tabrizi, & Johnson, 1982)
4. Ratings made by the participants' mothers on the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL; Achenbach & Edelbrock, 1983). (Lewin, Davis, and Hops, 1999, 12-13)
Based upon the studies done, it was discovered that there were significant differences in…
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