The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.”
–Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.,
U.S. Supreme Court justice
To me the quote suggests that wisdom sees the individual in a situation and is able to listen and put reason and context into a judgement.
I joined Mothers against Drunk Driving before I became a mom. I am the last person to be in a position to defend a student for being slightly under the influence- but I also know kids- and know that schools inadvertently encourage drinking when they set up rules and arbitrarily decide who will be punished. I also know that kids have their own code of honour and expecting one student to call out fifty more is a ridiculous notion.
“Zero Tolerance”- imagine if that really were put into place beyond the school system- no need for a legal profession then/ after all, no need to weigh the crime of a stealing of a loaf of bread ( Victor Hugo – yes- Les Miserables) against the crime of cold blooded murder- no need to weigh anything at all- no need for perspective, understanding-balance- just… punishment. And no worries if the punishment fit the crime- OH – but that’s a dystopia- can’t possibly be what one wants from or for an education system.
Teach Literature to students really offering them an understanding of the issues at hand and sit back and listen to how much kids do care- and stop sending mixed messages. As a mom, I know the difference between a small infraction and a major one, and silently or vocally as the occasion demands praise the positive and give thanks that the testing the waters of adolescents is, in the grand scheme of things, about generally safe exposure to new ideas and sometimes, new tastes.
Change- Kids change – when adults let them; over punishment doesn’t allow for change and may in fact push the student in the opposite direction. People -and kids are people too- need to feel a sense of control over their lives. Remove that sense and all that is encouraged is rebellion. I know of a beautiful young student whose participation at her High School has been exemplary, whose one indiscretion is being held up without being weighed or even set beside the four years of non-stop team school participatory action. Zero-tolerance? As adults, as educators, as parents, we ought to be fighting tooth and nail against such an empty slogan; a zero-tolerance society is not going to create future leaders who are capable of recognizing exceptions.