Saturday, March 05, 2011
Other than the people who write and impose "zero tolerance" policies, are there people on earth less intelligent than the people who enforce them?
A Virginia middle school student has been suspended for . . . opening the door for a woman whose hands were full.
Apparently this violated a "zero tolerance" policy against students at the school opening the doors to the outside. As if that were the end of the freaking world.
I love this line:
You can't be too careful. Your average middle school, high school, or college can expect to see an on-campus shooting about once every 12,000 years. If Southhampton Middle School hasn't had at least one shooting since 10,000 B.C., they're really just on borrowed time.
Zero tolerance policies are, of course, just another consequence of our national substitution of process for judgment. The results are serious: Increasingly, both public and private institutions are promoting the writers and followers of rules in to the top positions, rather than people who are good at making sound choices on the basis of particular facts. Our nation's cultural and commercial dynamism is drowning in a tar pit of process, and if we do not arrest it and reverse it we will lose our greatest advantage.
I suppose these rules are attempts at protection from disparate impact lawsuits. If the rules are absolutely clear, with no room for judgment (or good sense), then they can't be accused of being racists?
TH, I think of it less as a symptom of exchanging process for judgement and more as two tribes at war: process-oriented people and outcome-oriented people. In my profession it is the difference between the contractors and architects on one side and the building departments on the other. It is what makes HR people such asshats along with the ladies at motor vehicle. Government is all process. Business is all outcome. Any time someone with responsibility for the outcome runs up against someone whose sole reason for existence is process, you get friction.
Jack Hawkins, '83
From the original article at the Tidewaternews.com Web site: “You have to have a system, and that system has to be consistent. We have to stay within the rules and stay secure.” So said Superintendent Charles Turner, who also was paraphrased as admitting he didn't know all the facts of the suspension (but then, why would the MFWIC need to know any facts? That's what he as people for...).
There are three lessons in this teachable moment. The first is that the students are being taught never to think, never to worry about consequences, just to blindly (and blithely) obey. This has been mentioned before in this thread.
The second lesson is that we can have freedom, or we can have security. Ben Franklin understood the difference. Our "leadership" apparently do not. Or, worse, maybe they do.
The third lesson is that the blind, unquestioning obedience of the population is a necessary condition for tyranny. This third isn't necessarily the actual goal of such policies, but it is an inevitable outcome.
In helping out at my kids school, I took the opportunity to read the state's education expectations and requirements.
Amazingly enough, for a zero tolerance environment, they sure like to tout how they teach critical thinking skills....
Is your state the same?
I agree that this is an example of process replacing discretion resulting in a bad outcome. That said, let me put in a defense of process.
In anything but boutique manufacturing, a consistent process is required to have a quality product. In elections, a consistent process for registering and identifying voters and counting ballots is required to minimize disputes. In fact, the Bush v Gore 7-2 decision was a victory of process (count all votes the same way) over outcome (count only the votes that are most likely to end in a Gore victory.) Similarly, Obama ignoring judge Vinson's and Judge Feldman's orders are cases of choosing outcomes over process. Roe v Wade is arguably a case of outcome trumping process. The fleebaggers in Wisconsin are choosing outcome over process.
Consider Congress, who has defined responsibilities but no process for meeting those responsibilities. In the election years of both 2008 and 2010 Congress was unable to pass a budget, dodging their most important responsibility. Votes on raising the debt ceiling are always buried in some other bill. Congress should make its first order of business passing a budget every year, and debt raise votes should be standalone. But because the timing and transparency of these responsibilities are not procedurally required, Congress can avoid their fundamental duties.
Consider three strikes laws in the context of outcome, process, and zero tolerance.
The desired outcome is imprisoning habitual felons for longer than the crimes for which they are convicted would normally allow.
The process is making a third felony conviction potentially subject to much greater prison time than the underlying crime.
Judges have little discretion to reduce sentences.
I think this is a good example of using a process that incorporates zero tolerance to drive outcomes that benefit society.