Zero tolerance for boys’ play could backfire

Zero tolerance for imaginary gun play is “psychotic” as in “out of touch with reality,” says Dr. Leonard Sax, a Pennsylvania psychologist and family physician. 

“Out-of-touch policies such as these, which criminalize behaviors which have always been common among young kids, are contributing to the growing proportion of American kids, especially boys, who regard school as a stupid waste of time and who can’t wait to get out of school so that they can get back to playing their video games,” Sax said.

Sax is the author of Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men.

Remember the five-year-old interrogated and suspended for bringing a cap gun on the school bus? Maryland school officials have refused the parents’ request to remove the suspension from the kindergartener’s permanent record.

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  1. Suppose that getting boys to view school as a stupid place with hostile overlords isn’t an accident, but the whole point.

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      E-P. I suppose if you want to teach kids that authority is dumb and arbitrary, it would be hard to figure a better way. So, maybe there’s a silver lining.
      This is the sort of thing I imagine prospective home schooler parents watch.

      • Richard Aubrey, yes, it is something that prospective homeschoolers look at. The last week of our co-op, I was watching the boys on the playground shooting each other with sticks and realizing that these kids don’t know to think that there’s something wrong with that behavior. Of course, they also play dodgeball at PE (the teacher supervises closely and is a big believer in playing kindly, so although there is no bullying allowed, they play pretty competitively).

        With the main rules being to be kind, be respectful, and dress appropriately (a rule mainly aimed at keeping the teenage girls clothed), the kids don’t seem to have any problem with authority and comply pretty quickly with the supervising adults.

        • Richard Aubrey says:

          Kids can tell when authority is being dumb or arbitrary. Indeed, nothing enrages young people more than arbitrary and unfair rules.
          I recall a post 9-11 column by a woman whose early el ed son went to the Right Sort of School. No dodgeball, no finger shooting, etc.
          After 9-11, he wanted his Batman shirt and told his mother not to wait supper because he and his school buddy Jared had to go out and save the world.
          Lucky we have public ed to stifle this sort of atavistic nonsense.

  2. It also teaches contempt for authority and laws, when the laws are so utterly insane.

  3. Foobarista says:

    Does any bureaucrat actually think parents respect this sort of thing, or do they want to cement the message that schools are run by morons?

  4. The basic problem is that many of these families do not agree to follow rules of any kind and are looking for opportunities to cash in via litigation. Allowing ‘gun play’ means another family is going to file a lawsuit as they feel their child is in a hostile classroom situation and is emotionally damaged. Allowing running at recess means the flip-flop wearers will twist their ankles and their parents will sue the district for not providing a perfect playground surface. When I was in elementary, boys played baseball at recess. No can do on that one; a bat is a weapon to many and that means lawsuits. It’s a no win situation for the district.

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      You may be right, or perhaps that’s one factor. It does not, however, explain why a district would offer counseling to kids traumatized by a pop tart or refuse to expunge a record of a kid who brought a cap pistol to class or interrogate a kindergartner for two hours until the kid wet his pants.
      Those are a combination of sadism and the latest ed and behavioral theories.
      Whatever the cause, the result is the same: Kids see adult authority as dumb, arbitrary and illegitimate. That’s a good thing. ’cause it frequently is.
      Second, it encourages home schooling. In neither case is there a break for systems only trying to avoid a lawsuit.
      That said, there’s no reason to think the parents of the offended kid might not sue, so we have dueling, or balanced, threats of lawsuits, which might straighten things out.
      Except for the sadism and latest ed and behavioral theory thing.