School Sucks Project

Podcast #258: What We’ve Learned From 20 Years of Zero Tolerance

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WARNING: Very strong language.
Zero Tolerance policies penetrated American schooling in the early 1990s. A generation later, it could be argued that the verdict is on the effectiveness and damage of this approach. However, Zero Tolerance policies are now more destructive than ever, especially for poor and minority students.

We covered this topic in depth in the Kids Are Not Defective series, but because this is still such an important issue, I wanted to use today's show to offer some effective talking points in your schooling vs. education discussions. The discussion is based around a policy brief from the Vera Institute called A Generation Later: What We’ve Learned about Zero Tolerance in Schools

Look Closer:

Mike Males Articles -

Trashing Teens: Psychologist Robert Epstein argues in a provocative book, "The Case Against Adolescence," that teens are far more competent than we assume -

Zero Tolerance Policies: no substitute for good judgment -

Ease Up On 'No Tolerance' Policies, U.S. Agencies Tell Schools -

APA:Are Zero Tolerance Policies Effective in the Schools? An Evidentiary Review and Recommendations -

Safety from the Inside Out - Rethinking Traditional Approaches, By Alfie Kohn -

Punitive Damages, By Alfie Kohn -

  1. January 20, 2014


    I listened to this and initially had no comment to make. (Obviously I liked it, it’s nice to listen to a sane person.) However, upon doing some research into depression rates, because I have been convinced for a few months now that school may not necessarily cause depression in children but it certainly can not be helping it, I found an interesting statistic. Depression rates in US citizens have risen 400 percent in the last two decades. This coincides directly with the implementation of the Zero Tolerance policies you speak of. You have helped to solidify my belief that school causes depression, which winds up compelling people to take dangerous, poisonous drugs to heal themselves, (which do not usually work) and many of them are so hindered by an inability to think clearly that they never develop the coping mechanisms necessary to deal with the symptoms of depression. On a side note, I skyped my husband about it and he quickly blamed the baby boomers and their authoritarian ways. To which I flippantly replied, “Maybe there was some sort of systematic poisoning of pregnant women during those 18 years.” Which immediately shocked me as possibly being accurate and so I googled it. Lead gas exhaust fumes were predominant in the envirenment during that time and everyone around them was lead poisoned. CRAZY.

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