The Irascible Professor SM
Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro

"There is nothing more uncommon than common sense."... ...Frank Lloyd Wright.

Commentary of the Day - August 2, 2003:  That's Not a Knife.  This Is a Knife!  Guest commentary by Erik Deckers.

I have Zero Patience for Zero Tolerance.  It's narrow, unwavering, and rigid in its enforcement, and allows for absolutely no flexibility on the part of its zealots.

Zero Tolerance is the political and social movement that says there can never be any violation of certain rules or laws EVER.  And it runs rampant through our schools.

Zero Tolerance drug policies say "Carry drugs in school, get suspended."  Zero Tolerance violence policies say "Pick on someone at school, get suspended."  And Zero Tolerance weapons policies say "Carry a weapon in school, get suspended."

Six-year-old Kevin Long of Struther, Ohio has run afoul of this last policy.  He was suspended for ten days this past March, pending an appeal, after being accused of carrying a weapon.

Apparently, young Kevin brought a katana -- a Japanese samurai sword -- to school and held his entire first grade class hostage for five hours, after disemboweling his teacher and a teacher's aide.

No, actually what happened is that Kevin had taken a plastic butter knife from the school cafeteria and put it in his book bag.  A classmate saw the knife, told a teacher, and quicker than the guillotine fell on Marie Antoinette -- BAM! -- school principal, Betty Washington, gave Kevin a ten day vacation.

Apparently, possession of a plastic butter knife is nearly as bad as carrying a real katana, and only slightly less dangerous.

According to an article in The Youngstown (Ohio) Vindicator Kevin's mom, Donna, was summoned to the school to deal with the situation.

"The school secretary called me about 2:30 p.m., about the time school was letting out, and told me there was an issue with Kevin and they needed to see me before he would be released.  I thought maybe he swore," she said.

No, Donna, your son didn't say a potty word, he nearly dismembered a classmate!

Long explained that her son wasn't allowed to use any kind of knife at home, including plastic picnic knives, so "(h)e wanted to show me that he knew how to use it."

You know those TV shows where the studio audience says "Awwwww" after the youngest child gives his last dollar to help pay for his sister's asthma inhaler?  This is one of those moments.

The kid just wanted to show his mom he was a big boy and old enough to use a butter knife without whacking off a finger.  Why suspend a kid for carrying a knife that can't even cut through water? The danger isn't from the knife, it's from the increased cholesterol levels that come from using butter!

Believe it or not, this is actually Kevin's second time in bringing a plastic school knife home. The first time he did it, his mother told him not to bring another one home again.

You can't really blame Kevin for taking a second knife, even after his mom told him not to.  In fact, it's BECAUSE his mom told him not to that made him do it.  As a father of two young children, I can tell you this is exactly what happened.

So, to teach young Kevin not to take dangerous weapons from the school cafeteria, Principal Washington issued a notice of intended suspension, saying that "Kevin had a plastic knife in school, [and] was showing it to other students in class."

Not so fast there, Principal Washington.

Remember, according to reports, Kevin had the knife in his book bag, and it was a classmate who spotted it and told the teacher. Donna Long said Washington never told her Kevin was showing the knife to classmates.  She also wonders why the police weren't called if Kevin was such a menace to public safety.

But the biggest question of all, and one that everyone should have asked by now: If a plastic butter knife is so freakin' dangerous, why does the school distribute them to every single student at lunch time?

According to the Bonehead of the Day Awards, which originally alerted me to this story, this is a question Kevin's parents have asked.  They have hired an attorney and said -- I think this is brilliant -- that if Principal Washington still tries to suspend Kevin, they will have criminal charges brought against the school for supplying weapons to children.

Unfortunately, this puts Principal Washington in a bit of a pickle.  On the one hand, she can admit they were maybe probably conceivably just a teeny tiny little bit overzealous in their draconian response to Kevin's situation.  Or, they can continue to persecute Kevin and be forced to admit that they were the source of his arsenal of doom.

If I were Principal Washington, I would do the right thing: apologize wholeheartedly to the Long family and move on to much more important matters: like worrying about the fact that pencils pose a much greater threat than plastic cafeteria knives.

©2003, Erik Deckers.
Erik Deckers is a freelance writer from Indiana.  He writes a weekly humor column that is published in a number of regional newspapers.  It also is available on the World Wide Web at

The IP comments:  I guess you might say that the IP also has no tolerance for stupid zero tolerance policies.  It's one thing to have a zero tolerance policy for dangerous weapons.  It's quite another to enforce such a policy without using common sense.


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© 2003 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.