It’s an incident that so perfectly summarizes the Orwellian nightmare of clueless school bureaucracy that it would be easy to dismiss as parody: a 13-year-old Georgia student named Jack Persyn was taking inventory of his school bag before the beginning of classes (while he was at chess club, no less) and discovered he had accidentally brought along a pocket knife, given to him by his aunt as a Christmas gift. He immediately reported this to his teacher… and got slapped with a four-day in-school suspension.
As reported by the local NBC affiliate, WXIA, Jack’s father is very upset that his son’s education is being thrown into the gears of mindless bureaucracy over a simple mistake, which Jack promptly tried to correct by doing the right thing:
“There was never a safety issue,” said the teen’s father Bill Persyn. “No harm was done. It was a genuine honest mistake, yet he got pulled out of class for four days. I can see a one hour detention if they had to do something, but this is nonsensical.”
The Gwinnett School System insists their policy on weapons in school is not zero tolerance, yet a school spokesperson said any student found to have a weapon at school will face punishment even when a student self-reports accidently having that weapon.
“We can’t ignore the fact that there is a weapon on campus somewhere that someone can use,” said system spokesperson Jore Quintana. “This is obviously to keep the safety of our students in our schools.”
So the school policy is not “zero tolerance” – Heaven forbid anyone should use such absolutist language! – but students get punished even if they self-report the accidental possession of a weapon? Do they have classes in remedial English and critical thinking skills at this school? Perhaps the administrators should make plans to attend. Once they’ve learned to speak plainly, and process simple cause-and-effect relationships, they might ponder the ultimate results of punishing students who make sincere efforts to do the right thing.
Columnist Sam Francis, who died in 2005, coined the perfect term to describe the bureaucratic impulses that lead to this sort of mindless policy machinery: anarcho-tyranny. It’s much easier to regulate and punish the law-abiding than to make intelligent efforts to cope with serious problems, so bureaucracies tend to follow the path of least resistance. Those who sincerely wish to comply with the system are much easier to capture and punish than those who deliberately seek to escape it. Since the system acquires prestige by boasting of successful prosecutions, it has an appetite for feeding upon those who are most easily trapped in its web of rules, and offer the least resistance. The result is that people who try to play by the rules find them becoming increasingly complex… and unforgiving.
“Zero-tolerance policies” are a perfect example of bureaucratic laziness hardening into a mousetrap for the unwary. No one has to use any discretion… so no one can be held individually accountable for using discretion. It’s better for everyone in the administration if they just run blindly through a maze of inflexible rules, citing them chapter and verse when challenged over absurd results that punish the innocent. The Georgia incident is just the latest in a steady diet of “zero-tolerance” follies involving nail files and toy guns being treated as deadly weapons, or simple medications being treated as if they were smuggled heroin.
At some point, it becomes illogical to follow the rules of a degenerate bureaucracy. Jack Persyn discovered that point on the morning it became clear that an honest young man, doing his best to deal with a simple mistake by reporting it to what he believed were rational adults, discovered that he would have been much better off keeping his mouth shut and hoping nobody searched his school bag. Ironically, this would not only have been better for him personally, but would have better served his education, which will now be compromised by four days of in-school detention.
It would even have better served the cause of minimizing school violence, because the rest of the student body would have been able to go on trusting their teachers for a while longer. Instead, they have been taught that a mistake is functionally equivalent to a crime, and those who make mistakes are therefore better off conducting themselves as criminals, because the system instantly becomes their enemy. Trust cannot exist in the absence of compassion and understanding.