We live in a society that has become increasingly dependent on buzz words, unabashed political jingoism and slogan-based morality.
Remember “Just Say No” and “Read My Lips,” or California’s no-nonsense “Three Strikes – You’re Out!” campaign against career criminals?
These battle cries are all just dandy as convenient catch phrases. They’re easy to remember. They make otherwise dull political speeches bright and challenging. And they’re a fine starting point for any number of good works and community crusades.
But when they somehow evolve into immutable laws governing everything from tax reform to Tylenol with little regard for individual human follies and foibles, we’re headed down a decidedly treacherous road.
The latest of these oft-repeated expressions is “Zero Tolerance” and it’s been adopted by school districts nationwide to fight everything from drugs to schoolyard violence.
It’s popular because zero tolerance means just that. If you’ve adopted a hard-line stance of zero tolerance, you don’t really have to think too much about how, or why, you enforce the regulation. You just do it. No ifs, ands or buts. The line has been drawn.
You need offer no explanations nor accept any arguments.
So far, zero tolerance campaigns have reportedly resulted in the confiscation of everything from asthma inhalers to children’s aspirin and rattail combs.
Schools have banned red or blue clothing because they might be construed as gang colors. Ditto for black clothing. And white, pocketless T-shirts were outlawed in one California school because they were deemed “underwear” (white T-shirts with pockets were not).
Another school reportedly banned girls’ thong underwear. I don’t even want to speculate about how they were planning to enforce that bit of zero tolerance brilliance …
And now Tweety Bird’s in trouble.
According to a recent Associated Press report from Austell, Ga., an 11-year-old girl was suspended from school for 10 days because she showed up at school packing a Tweety Bird wallet.
The young troublemaker and her cartoon character accomplice were booted out of Garrett Middle School because it was determined that a small chain on the wallet constituted a violation of the school district’s zero tolerance policy dealing with weapons at school.
The student, who has her own Tweety Web site, was quick to point out that her wallet had only a small (10-inch) chain that probably couldn’t hurt anyone.
Yeah right, ya little thug …
A chain is a chain is a chain and you were packing one and you got caught.
End of story. Finito. You’re lucky you didn’t wind up in an 8-by-8 cell living on a diet of bread and water.
Because the suspension is deemed to be short term, there is no appeal allowed by the school district, so this is one sixth-grade desperado who can forget whatever phony defense she was going to concoct with her playground lawyers to subvert campus harmony.
And you can bet she’ll think twice about stocking up on thong underwear any time in the near future …
Originally published October 29, 2000