Earlier this month, a Delaware first-grader was facing 45 days in an alternative school as punishment for taking his favorite camping utensil to school, a Cub Scout tool which includes a knife, fork, and spoon built into a Swiss Army-style implement.

To the six year old boy, it is his favorite gadget, and his parents report that he eats breakfast and dinner with it every day. School officials, however, saw it as a weapon and took what they considered to be appropriate action under the school’s zero tolerance policy on bringing weapons onto school grounds. The youngster was suspended and became the center of a debate over just where we draw the line in the need to keep children safe. Calmer heads prevailed and the school board reversed its decision and allowed him to return to class.

Did the school overreact? I think so. But where should they start reacting?

I can remember Show and Tell when I was in grade school, and one of my classmates brought in a surplus World War II bayonet that his father kept in the garage. I don’t know if he was disciplined for it, but I don’t think so. I don’t remember a SWAT team being called in.

Back when I was a youngster every boy I knew, and most of the men too, carried a pocket knife. Mine lived in the pocket of my blue jeans and went with me to school, church, and everywhere else I went. Nobody expected me to whip it out and disembowel my teacher or go on a rampage in my classroom.

In fact, I can remember one favorite teacher, Mr. King, who was always borrowing one of the boys’ knives for one thing or another. At Christmas, the fifth grade class pooled our money and we presented him with a nice three bladed Old Timer pocket knife. I remember the brand, because I was the one selected to go to the hardware store and purchase it. While I was there I picked up a couple of boxes of .22 Long Rifle ammunition for my single shot Stevens. The store clerk didn’t reach for the phone to call 911, he just rang up my purchase and turned to the next customer.

In today’s post-Columbine world, I understand that we have to have different rules. We’ve all seen enough news coverage of school shootings to know we must take the threat to our children seriously. But where do we draw the line? Somewhere between a Cub Scout with his camping knife and a punk with an AR-15 under his trench coat, there has to be a place where reasonable caution and common sense cross paths. Where is that place?

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18 Comments on Where Do We Draw The Line?

  1. George Stoltz says:

    Nick —

    I don’t know where to draw the line, but what should be done is appply some old-fashioned common sense. Put the knife, fork and spoon into an envelope and ask the parents to come into the office and pick them up. But leave the six year old in class where the money his parents paid in taxes can be better used to educate him.

    Or perhaps the solution is to annoint King Nick to rule over the land. For sure, such a wise and just ruler would do away with all these stupid policies and he would create schools for RV techs so that we loyal subjets don’t have to stand in the rain and try to fix our water heaters.

  2. Kathe K says:

    When I taught elementary school in Siskiyou County, CA in the late 70s, one of our students got in a fight with another, pulled out his pocketknife and chased the scared boy into the office where the secretary subdued him (easily) and confiscated the knife. I imagine he was suspended for a day or so, but there were no SWAT teams called and the incident only remains fuzzily in my mind.

    It is my contention that video games are to blame for all of the violence. If you have to blame something, that is an easy fix. Ban computers. That would solve my addiction too….reading blogs that is.

  3. Mike McMillan says:

    Like George I too don’t know where to draw the line, but I also agree with where?? ” has the good old fashioned common sense gone ”
    Keep telling it like it is. You might scare some people with the truth.

  4. SAL Bellomo says:

    It all went out with the old school ,common sense ,stop and think ,and thinking of others at times .I’m surprise that the parents do not go to jail for letting this happen ,It’s like you said the old days was that way and life was different in many ways .

  5. Sid says:

    Bad Nick
    I was wondering if you had heard about this nonsense. I too believe that the lack of common sense is the problem. Seems that is has become harder to find than hen’s teeth.

    What is common sense anyway? Are you born with it or do you learn it? I have no idea….but I believe I have it or at least some. I remember the day I turned “terrorist” in school, I was in 5th grade the sun was out and it was 10:26 AM…. just before morning recess ended. My cousin came up to me as said ” hey! I bet you don’t dare to put this tack in Lana’s seat”.

    Well the bell rang ending recess and here comes the grinning Lana bouncing along and plunked down in her seat….faster than you could ever believe, she was standing in her seat and after pulling it from her butt yelled “A TACK”!

    Then good ole Cuz jumps up pointing her finger at me saying “he done it”! Well …. by the time Mr. Sylvia got done “counseling” me, I had enough common sense to never pull that stunt again!

    Point being…. in today’s liberal schools I would never have learned that lesson. My parents would have been dragged in for counseling, I would have had counseling, my cousin would have had counseling (for promoting terrorism), all four classes in the room would have had counseling and Lana would have had counseling!

  6. Doug says:

    I think that the main problem is that schools have a “zero tolerance policy”. This makes it easy for them to apply a rule without thinking. We need to get rid of this rule and substitute common sense again. Make the administrators actually demonstrate that they are able to make intelligent decisions – isn’t that what they are paid to do?

  7. We are a nation (maybe a world?) crying out for somebody else to take care of problems, somebody else to protect us, somebody else to take care of us. Have you seen or read Lee Iacocca’s new book called something like “Where are all the Leaders?” I’ve only read a very small excerpft from it, but he is asking about who is really taking leadership responsibility in our country. He’s a man with common sense, a lot of it. Maybe we all should read that book, cover to cover.

  8. Dennise Ziaja says:

    Maybe the problem is cultural or social. MY common sense is far far different from someone elses. Not saying I have perfect sense…I did marry a polish guy…just kidding! I think in this situation, to alleviate the fears generated post-Columbine, no tolerance became the so called answer. School boards for the most part have to satisfy all the parents, not just the ones who have “common sense”. I surely don’t have all the answers, but I do know that everyone’s common sense is different.

  9. Laura says:

    As a teacher in public schools, I wonder sometimes if anything is worth fighting for. Maybe that’s a “woe is me” statement, but I truly believe if a kid is going to do something bad there’s nothing that can stop him/her. Case in point:

    Last year a fifth grader at my school was tired of a girl fussing at him. She wasn’t doing anything “bad” — she was being a girl. Teasing, making comments to irritate him … you know. Well, he’d taken a pencil sharpener — the old-fashioned kind where you have to twist the pencil in it to sharpen it — and dismantled it. Did you know that they have TWO razor blades in them? Well, he did, and because he was pissed off he quietly got out of his seat, walked over to this girl, and sliced her leg open just above her knee right through her jeans. She had to have 7 stitches. He got to stay home from school (only 5 days left), and then was “transferred” to another school this year.

    It doesn’t matter what we ban. If a kid is determined enough he/she will find a way to accomplish their task. Zero tolerance just makes the administrators feel like they’re doing something to keep kids safe.

    And yes, we still allow kids to use those old-fashioned pencil sharpeners.

  10. MichaelG says:

    I don’t really it’s a lack of common sense. Some of it is fear of what could happen (as in Columbine, as you mentioned), but most of it is fear of lawyers.

    These school districts know that people sue nowadays, and they sue the school system over anything that goes wrong. If one kids stabs another, it will result in a payment of perhaps millions by the school.

    So they adopt these “zero tolerance” rules which make no sense, but show in court that they did everything possible.

    It’s the same thing for medical malpractice. Order lots of extra tests just to be safe. Or how you can never get advice over the phone from your doctor. They make the patient come in, just to be safe (from lawyers.)

  11. Rob Nixon says:

    A few years ago, I participated in a program called Citizens Police Academy, run by our local County Constable’s office. This program met once per week for 12 weeks, and is designed to educate citizens about what the police do, and how they do it. On the opening night, the Chief Deputy (#2 person in the department) walked into the room carrying a canvas bag that was obviously heavy. When the program started, she placed the bag on a table, and started pulling various weapons out of the bag. This included large knives, brass knuckles, several hand guns, a silencer, and a Tek-9 automatic pistol. After lining all this up on the table, she announced that all these deadly weapons had been confiscated AT LOCAL SCHOOLS, and there was a lot more where that came from.

    With that kind of thing showing up widely in schools, I can understand where some of these policies come from. Having said that, the zero-tolerance policies that some schools have are just plain dumb.

    We recently had an area high school student who was caught writing graffiti on school walls. The school officials went nuts, had her arrested and charged with several offences. After the dust cleared and lawsuits settled, she ended up being reprimanded and required to clean up other graffiti, write essays about graffiti and read those in school, and perform other community service. In short, exactly what the school principal should have done to start with, but without and the trouble and expense of lawyers time wasted in courts. If my kid had been treated that way, I probably would have sued them myself. It’s just stupid to do things like that, and it’s not that hard to figure out what to do with a kid that writes on the walls.

    There has to be some balance. School administrators need to step up and exercise some judgement, and not hide behind these excessively rigid policies. Unfortunately common sense seems to have become very uncommon these days.

    I can’t claim to have a solution for this situation, but we sure need one.

  12. Tim Lawler says:

    I think that there is no consistant policy. The local courthouse won’t allow fingernail clippers but some national parks allow guns, hunting knives,etc. I know other national monuments that allow penknives up to 3 inch blades. Other national monuments with zero tolerance, and still others that don’t check at all.
    The second grader who was suspended for bringing a plastic knife to cut his sandwich, like the ones that McDonalds provides to cut your salad or sandwich in half.
    I went to a high school football game last night, where they used a hand held metal detector, but didnt detect my big bunch of keys or pocket full of change or my 2 metal knees. Maybe the operator turned it off because he didnt see a senior citizen as a threat.
    I don’t think there is a clear line.

  13. Dave Bossert says:

    The “zero tolerance” policies of today are simply an easy way out of having to make common sense decisions. I too am a retired school employee and all to often have seen cases like this where you wonder why some administrator can’t just use his or her head and make a rational decision. Instead they rely on the “zero tolerance” policy too heavily to determine the punishment. It makes it easy for them! What is that old saying, “Common sense is not so common anymore!”

  14. Gerri Jones says:

    I agree with Laura… I am also a retired elementary teacher and have always found that if a child is going to do something he/she will eventually do it. If I had been the teacher I probably would have called the parent(s) to come and pick up the item from me. I would have explained to them the school policy. I knew the kids in my class and if I honestly knew the child meant no harm that is what I would have done. Could I have gotten into trouble? yes, but oh well. Better me than traumatizing a young fellow for being proud of being a scout.

  15. Al Russell says:

    The problem is common sense isn’t that common.

  16. Again I agree with you Nick. “Zero Tolerance” often equals zero judegement and zero comon sense. In the current form it’s been around in schools for over 15 years and it has a long history of lumping together skittles-sharing six year olds with crack pushing high schoolers.

    Randy Cassingham (This is True, True Stella Awards) had been on a sometimes lonely crusade against them since the late 1990’s.


  17. Steve says:

    Good on you Mac. I have been reading Randy Cassingham a long time now. Much like Nick, he makes you think.

  18. Jim Schnell says:

    Bad Nick …………. Now this is my story and I’m stuck with it. Back about 60 years ago for a History class “show and Tell” I brought in two pieces of my Dad’s war loot. One was a pristine Japanese hand grenade, disarmed of course, and the other was a beautiful dagger and sheath that somehow Dad had “found” in Morocco. If this happened today the gates of hell would be slammed in my face and I be famous on all the nitwit news shows. Can you imagine the looks on the school trolls faces if it popped up in class today? That little History S&T 60 years back got me a “A” from my sweet old lady teacher (she was probably 26.) Those two pieces and a couple more still hold a place of honor in my brother’s den.

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