Zero Tolerance Policies To End All Academic Scientific Inquiry

Where would we be without scientific inquiry?  Men and women have been curious about the world around them and have sought scientific solutions to make life easier.

When I was in high school, both my chemistry and biology teachers encouraged us to carry out experiments and try to figure things out on our own.  The scientific process to come up with a question, then turn it into a theory and then run experiments to prove, disprove or find a solution for that hypothesis was an important part of learning how to think critically.  In college, I used that same scientific process to shorten a 24 hour lab process to 18 hours and then to 12 hours and still maintain a high degree of accuracy.

However, schools now have these zero tolerance rules that are supposed to protect students from violence, but are proving to be absurd, ridiculous and anti-learning.  Recently, there was the case of Douglas Bartlett, a second grade school teacher in Chicago.  There was a designed class lesson on common tools, so he brought his toolbox to school to help teach the lesson.   He showed the second graders his hammer, pliers, screw drivers, wrenches and then the small pocketknife.  After the lesson, he secured the toolbox up high and out of reach of the students.  When school officials learned about the pocketknife, Bartlett was suspended 4 days without pay for violating the zero tolerance policy.

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If you think that’s a little absurd, wait till you hear what happened to a 16 year old model student at Bartow High School in Florida.  Kiera Wilmot is a student in good standing at the school and she has a very inquisitive mind.  For a chemistry project, she brought some household chemicals to school.  She poured some of them into an 8 ounce water bottle and screwed on the lid to see how they would react together.

The chemicals she mixed together reacted more than Kiera thought they would.  They caused a small explosion inside the bottle that caused the lid to blow off.  No one was hurt and Kiera chalked up the experience as a lesson on what not to mix together.  Perhaps she should have done a little more research on the household chemicals before mixing, but it was obvious to all, including her teacher and principal that she meant no harm.  Kiera was just doing what most inquisitive scientists have done for centuries.

Ron Pritchard, principal of the school, commented about Kiera’s experiment, saying:

“Honestly, I don’t think she meant to ever hurt anyone.  She wanted to see what would happen [when the chemicals mixed] and was shocked by what it did. Her mother is shocked too.”

However, this past Monday, Kiera was arrested and charged with felonies for possession and discharge of a weapon on school property and discharging a destructive device.  Along with the arrests, Kiera was expelled from school and will have to complete her high school education in an expulsion program.

Zero tolerance policies like this will effectively kill any desire to learn and experiment in many areas.  At a time when American students are ranking lower and lower in the sciences compared to students in other nations, the last thing we need is a system that will punish them if anything goes wrong.  What if a computer science student thinks he has a way to improve a computer component, but that component blows up on him by accident?  Or an automotive mechanic student who is trying to develop a more efficient carburetor and it explodes from a fuel leak?  Will these students face felony charges like Kiera Wilmot?

Dr. Kathleen Nolan, author and lecturer at Princeton, also sees the absurdity in the zero tolerance policies.  She commented about what happened to Kiera, saying:

“This situation is a poignant example of the absurdity of zero tolerance and the over-use of police intervention in schools.”

“Tragically, this young woman, all because of what appears to have been misguided curiosity, now faces expulsion and felony charges, which could negatively impact her future opportunities and alter the course of her life.  The policies are particularly pernicious for African-Americans and other young people of color as research shows these groups are disproportionately targeted by zero-tolerance policies and subject to harsher treatment once involved in the criminal justice system.”

“The criminal justice paradigm, under which zero tolerance operates, strips educators of decision-making powers and discretion.  It forces otherwise caring and thinking adults to respond to incidents in unthinking and often destructive ways.”

The intentions behind zero tolerance policies may be well and good, but like so many other knee-jerk reactions, people fail to think through the ramifications of what they are doing.  Just like all of the gun control bills that so many liberals tried to rush through state and federal legislatures after the Sandy Hook shooting.  They were so hell bent on outlawing guns and high capacity magazines that they failed to look at historical data that overwhelming proved that violent crime rates go up when strict gun control measures are passed.  It’s happened in many cities in the US and in other countries.

What’s especially sad about the zero tolerance policies in our schools is that the very people that have the responsibility of teaching our kids to think about what they are doing are the very ones acting before they think.  And in the end, hundreds of good kids will be suspended, expelled and arrested for trying to think critically or just for being a reguar teenager.  In the end, any desire to investigate and experiment will be squelched and halted for fear of being arrested and having one’s life ruined.  This leaves me with zero tolerance for the idiots who still hold fast to the zero tolerance policies even when they destroy the lives of good kids.

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