I understand how zero tolerance policies have come to be. An atmosphere of fear has developed in society today due to the variety of tragedies occurring across the nation, especially in our schools. The safety of students and staff in our schools are without a doubt a primary concern.
In my opinion, if a school is to have a zero tolerance policy, they also need to acknowledge the pressures the students are operating under and offer them a supervised, safe and acceptable way in which to express their frustrations. Amputating these students from the school does not resolve anything. Looking through the eyes of an adolescent, zero tolerance without the attempt to understand is a stripping of all personal rights. It does not take into effect the circumstances that led to the situation. It labels a student unfairly. It is dehumanizing.
Adolescence, (as life in general), can be difficult today. We not only need to acknowledge and allow feelings of pressure, frustration, fear and anger to be expressed but to actively seek them out. Ignoring such feelings will NOT make them go away but will force them underground to fester. Some students may appear on the surface to not be affected, some may compensate with a false bravado, some may withdraw, while others attempt to fight it or take control themselves. (go “postal”)
The fact is that young people have such feelings, regardless of how or even whether or not they express them. Having the adults around them pretend they don’t exist or tell them that those feelings are not acceptable does not change the child’s reality. Preventing them from expressing those feelings can cause the child to question their own reality and even self-worth.
From an adult perspective, our schools have many programs in place to deal with the stresses of its student body. I’m sure the needs of the traditional students are being met by the wide variety of programs and options available to them. As are some of the less traditional students taking advantage of such programs and opportunities. Unfortunately, there is a percentage of non-traditional students who are getting lost.
Within this category, the student’s perspective is one of lacking understanding, respect, support and opportunity. No matter how dedicated a staff is, or how many programs are available, if the student is unable to recognize it, it cannot be effective for that student. In order to reach these students we must not only be aware of their different perspective, but also must work in such a way as to aid them in feeling heard and understood.
From my perspective, this third category is made up of many highly creative and intelligent young people whose strengths lie in something other than mainline academic areas. These students are our future. They will be the ones who create the better mousetraps or explore new frontiers. They do not follow the “safe” “accepted” “tried and true” paths; they hear a different beat.
They perceive life through different eyes, from an alternate angle. They need to be able to express themselves in an environment that they perceive as safe and supportive. We cannot let these students down, for in doing so we are limiting a great source of potential.
It is up to us to create that safe and supportive environment in order for them to blossom.
It’s our responsibility to provide guidance for these young people on the brink of adulthood. Our children look to us for guidance whether or not they are willing to admit it. They rely on us as much now as they did when they were toddlers and we only have ourselves to blame if we let them down.
We need to refocus our attention on the positive traits of our children. We should be celebrating their wonderful creativeness, motivation and drive and reinforcing their efforts. All children have an innate desire for fairness and although life doesn’t always prove to be fair, the desire to achieve it is both a valid and worthwhile goal. Life experience has jaded many adult’s belief in fairness, let’s not pass that on to our children. We can not promise them that life will be fair, nor should we declare it to be an impossible goal.
Experience shows life to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Which prophecy do we wish to foster?
I don’t believe that fear and mistrust is what we desire for our community. It certainly isn’t what I wish for today’s youth or this country’s future. These children will be running this country as we age. Do we want them to be focused on individual survival at any cost or to be compassionate and fair-minded to all? What we model for them in their youth is what they will remember.
As a parent of 3 non-traditional students I would appreciate any help you could offer in getting my message out to those who are able to put into effect the measures required to resolve this situation nationwide.
Robin J. Oleszak
– Robin J. Oleszak