FIRST-PERSON: Nerf guns, public schools & common sense

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)--Syndicated columnist Lori Borgman penned a clever article titled "The Death of Common Sense" which first appeared in the Indianapolis Star in 1998.

Falsely attributed to comedian George Carlin via an email rumor, Borgman's column lamented the demise of a once-prized virtue, also known to friends, she wrote, as "Horse Sense and Sound Thinking."

The decline of "Common Sense" began, according to Borgman, "in the late 1960's when he became infected with the If-It-Feels-Good-Do-It virus."

Borgman cited many maladies that she believes contributed to the death of "Common Sense" in America. Among the disorders that hastened the death of clear thinking are "overbearing federal and state rules and regulations and an oppressive tax code."

However, "Common Sense" was eventually overtaken by a ravenous infection that just could not be shaken. "His deterioration accelerated as schools implemented zero-tolerance policies," wrote Borgman. Thus, it was not too much later when "Common Sense breathed his last."

To ensure there will be no resurrection of "Common Sense" in my lifetime, school administrators and boards of education across the United States continue to render inane and asinine decisions based on blind, deaf and dumb applications of zero-tolerance policies. Consider some examples.

"Andrew Mikel II admits it was a stupid thing to do," the Washington Post recently reported. "In December ... the 14-year-old used a plastic tube to blow small plastic pellets at fellow students. ... In one lunch period, he scored three hits."

Not only was Mikel expelled by the Spotsylvania Virginia School District for the remainder of the school year, but the freshman was also charged with three counts of misdemeanor assault.

If you think Mikel's situation is crazy consider that a variety of reports indicate that a 7-year-old boy allegedly shot a Nerf-style gun in his Hammonton, N.J., school recently. The child was charged by police with "possessing an imitation firearm in or on an educational institution, which is a misdemeanor and a minor juvenile offense in New Jersey."

School officials declined to specify what disciplinary actions might be taken. However, reports indicated it could involve counseling.

In 2009, 6-year-old Zachary Christie took a camping utensil to his Newark, Del., school. The boy had recently joined the Cub Scouts and was excited to use the Swiss Army-type device, which contains a fork, spoon and knife, at lunch time.

"School officials concluded that he had violated their zero-tolerance policy on weapons," The New York Times reported, "and Zachary was suspended and now faces 45 days in the district's reform school."

Another incident in 2009 involved a 17-year-old student in Lansinburgh, N.Y. Matthew Whalen, who was an Eagle Scout and honor student, was found to have a two-inch pocket knife in his car. The knife was part of a survival kit that also included a sleeping bag.

It did not matter that the small knife was in the trunk of Whalen's car. It did not matter that it was part of a packet designed for use in an emergency. The school district insisted the presence of the knife violated policy and Whalen was suspended for 20 days.

There are enough incidents like these to provide fuel for columns like this one for years to come. Add to the list incidents that never make headlines and it is clear that common sense is absent in too many public schools.

Before the death of "Common Sense," the incidents I have cited would not have even raised an eye-brow much less a suspension.

Thank goodness "Common Sense" was alive and well when I was in school or my educational experience would have taken place in "suspended animation." I never would have graduated.

You may say times have changed, and I would agree. But if we are going to ban anything that might be used as a weapon, we better do away with pens and pencils. Both can be used to cause serious damage, especially if jabbed violently into an eye or an ear.

Shoe-strings and belts are out as well. The former can be used to choke and the latter to beat someone severely. And what about a math compass? The sharp end of this educational tool poses more of a threat than a pea-shooter or Nerf-style gun.

A friend suggested that if public schools are going to insist on zero-tolerance policies they need to do away with some administrators. You don't need an administrator to manage no-tolerance rules.

Think of how much money would be saved by consolidating four or five administrative positions into one. The person would have one job: Feed pertinent data into a computer like "toy GUN" or "pocket KNIFE on campus." Of course the result will be the same every time "kick the offender out of school."

Of course, using a computer to manage zero-tolerance policies in order to save money would be "Common Sense." And, according to Lori Borgman, he has been dead and buried for quite some time now.


Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

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