There was a little item in the Brickbats section of Reason magazine for February about a high school cheerleader in Ohio who was suspended for two games. Why, you may ask? Because school officials found a photo of her on Facebook holding a beer at a family wedding. According to her own Mother, she wasn’t drinking it, just holding it. No matter, her school insists that even holding a bottle of beer violates their no-alcohol policy.
Where to begin? All by itself, it’s a rather absurd and silly incident, but what it represents is, I believe, much larger. It’s a little sad that school officials, with all the budget cuts schools are facing, even have time and the inclination to troll Facebook looking for school policy violations. But if it was at a family wedding, not a kegger, and her Mom was okay with whatever was going on (holding it for another adult?) and assures us nothing sinister was occurring, frankly that should have been the end of it. It should matter that it wasn’t even on school property, at a private, family event but believe it or not courts have actually ruled that schools can regulate a student’s behavior outside of school, which as a parent I find both frightening and infuriating. That’s not their job, it’s my job. Period. Education is their job.
But that’s the sort of nonsense zero tolerance causes. It ignores circumstances and common sense, creating results that have little to do with the spirit of the policy. It punishes the innocent indiscriminately, which could even lead to issues with authority for the students on the receiving end of such unjust treatment. Is that really the lesson we want to teach our children? Follow the letter of the law no matter how ridiculous or suffer the consequences. Don’t think for yourself or interpret, just obediently do what you’re told. No exceptions.
In theory, such a policy would mean I can’t ask my son to help carry groceries if one of the bags contain alcohol. (Or for my brethren in less fortunate states, where even beer in grocery stores is too dangerous and not permitted, how about carrying the beer from the state store or beer distributor.) Is that rational? Does it serve some higher purpose of education? Or does it further the demonization of alcohol and our already irrational fear of it? And what does it say about who controls our own children, when a school can override a parent’s choice of discipline. Parents have the ultimate responsibility for their child’s upbringing and welfare, but the school has the final say?
But there’s obviously nothing rational about alcohol in our society, as this incident so clearly reveals. Whenever it’s about beer, you can be sure decades of one-sided propaganda will create absurdist zero tolerance laws and policies that makes sense only to Franz Kafka.