The same week as the horrendous story of a six-year-old cub scout being suspended and sent to reform school for bringing his cub scout mess kit to eat lunch (here), New York educators have added another ridiculous case out of the “zero tolerance” madness gripping schools. Matthew Whalen is a 17-year-old senior at Lansingburgh High School who has just completed basic training to be a soldier. He kept a 2-inch keychain pocketknife locked in his car with other camping equipment. When the school learned about the knife, they suspended him and, when he appealed, they added 15 days for the Eagle Scout.
For years I and others have complained about the absurd decisions of educators under the zero-tolerance policy. For a prior column, click here. This is another case where teachers prefer to abuse a kid rather than take responsibility to exercise common sense and good judgment.
Whalen was barred from school grounds for 20 days because he had a survival kit (with a small pocketknife) locked in his car. The little knife was given to him by his grandfather, a police chief in a nearby town.
What I love is that they gave him five days and then, after he argued his innocence at a hearing, they added 15 days for good measure.
The incident began when assistant principal, Frank Macri, told him that a student had complained that he was carrying a knife. Whalen agreed to be searched and no knife was found. The principal then asked if he owned a knife and he responded that he was both an eagle scout and a soldier and obviously did own a knife. He volunteered that he had a small pocketknife in the car.
Whalen is an ideal student and scout — he received an award from the Boy Scouts of America and the City of Troy for saving a woman’s life. He is now concerned that the suspension will hurt his chances to get into West Point.
This case is similar to some cases described in this column.
What is amazing is that, even after seeing that it was only a two-inch knife, the teachers called the police. When the police said that there was nothing illegal in having such a small pocketknife, they decided to punish him on their own.
Macri imposed the longest possible punishment — negating any notion of a lack of discretion.
District Superintendent George J. Goodwin is entirely satisfied with this punishment, which he declared to be “appropriate and fair.” He added “[s]ometimes young people do things they may not see as serious.” Well, many of us (including educators) do not see this as serious. What I consider serious is the problem of educators acting without judgment and teaching kids that rules are enforced without any concern for equity or logic.