Zero Tolerance for a Good Kid

Hi Readers: This one will make your blood boil even if it’s freezing outside. It’s about a North Carolina high school senior suspended for a paring knife found in her lunchbox, which, for the record, was actually her dad’s identical lunchbox that she brought to school by mistake. (Dad pares his apples at lunch, his daughter doesn’t.)

Sometimes I worry that by printing these weird Zero Tolerance stories — stories of kids suspended for the most innocent of “crimes” — I am giving as warped a picture of our culture as the nightly news does. (Albeit, with a different slant.) But then I think, the reason for publicizing these incidents is not to say they are epidemic, but to point out why they are happening at all: It is due to the inability of those in power to do any kind of sensible risk assessment.

That is worth blogging about, because sensitivity to ACTUAL danger, versus the trip-wire, brain-frozen fear of any POSSIBLE danger is one of the things Free-Range Kids is all about. When we, as a society, say, “I don’t care if it’s safe in1 billion cases, it’s that billionth case that matters!” then NOTHING seems safe. Not a kid playing in the park, not a kid eating a hot dog, and not a kid who accidentally (or even intentionally!) brought her dad’s fruit-paring knife to school. Unless you’re an apple, this just does not pose a threat in the hands of a normal school kid.

We are getting really good at substituting fear for reality. See the posts below this one about suing the Scouts for allowing boys to play in the semi-darkness, or about the recall of drop-side cribs. The fear that an item or activity might have any negative consequences EVER is enough to make us ignore any upside — even a huge one — and outlaw it.

And so we have this girl forbidden from stepping foot on campus because, in the words of the superintendent, “Bottom line is we want to ensure every child feels safe on our campus.”

If these “children” (actually high school students) don’t feel safe because one girl has a paring knife, it’s a good bet they will never feel safe. Which is why I blogged about this story, and why I run Free-Range Kids. Because in that situation, kids are ENTIRELY safe, and it is a BIG LIE to say they aren’t.

And it is a lie with consequences. — Lenore

Okay, here's one way to eat an apple WITHOUT using a paring knife. (But really I just loved this photo. The game looks so fun! Circa 1960.)

One Feisty Dame Can Defeat a Dumb Idea

Dear Readers — Sometimes, one person standing up for sanity can make a difference. Here’s a cool lady:

Before retirement, I was a volunteer coordinator. My job was to find volunteers for all non-profit and government agencies in the county. We had a PenPal program which entailed matching about 35 senior citizens with an equal number of 5th grade students in a specific class. We worked with the same teacher for years. Letter-writing was one of the skills children were to learn, and our only personal contact was a school party at the end of the year, where the kids put on a play for their senior pen pals. During the year, they knew only each other’s first names. It was a great program on many levels. Many kids have no elder in their lives, no one to tell them the stories. Many seniors lack purpose, and their monthly letter from the kids was a huge emotional boost.

And then the laws changed.

Each of our pen pals was required to have a background check and a TB test. The background check alone cost $70, and many of our seniors simply couldn’t afford it. I went to our superintendent of schools, who will remain nameless for her protection, and showed her exactly how the program worked. On the spot she called board members for a conference call and we were given permission to continue our program. Action! Sanity!

When I was “room mother” in my children’s classrooms, I made a thousand cupcakes for various reasons. Now, the volunteers are required to bring only purchased snacks in containers sealed at the store. I didn’t poison anybody’s kid, and I know mine weren’t poisoned. How did we let this happen?!

More to the point: How did  they let you retire?! — Lenore