Thursday, October 07, 2004

Zero tolerance, zero common sense...

In 1998 I’d read an article by Richard Cohen about a Colorado school trip to Paris, France, titled "Zero tolerance, zero common sense".
I would post a link to the entire article (if I could find it online), but excerpts follow:

“If perchance some magazine is thinking of doing an article on an “All-American” school district, I nominate Cherry Creek, Colo. In the first place, the name alone is hard to beat and, second, the suburban Denver district is where a principal of a magnet school was demoted for letting a group of seventh- and eighth-graders taste wine while on a class trip to Paris. It has a zero-tolerance policy.

“Of course, the Cherry Creek kids are too young to drink on their own – and depending on what their parents think, too young to drink at all. But they are not too young to learn about drinking and about how wine, for instance, is not something you guzzle in the back of a car, but a libation that complements a meal.

“And a meal, in point of fact, is where the 13 kids from the Cherry Creek Challenge School had their sip of wine. On their last night in Paris, they were having a three-hour meal – escargot and duck, among other things – and they were allowed to have a thimbleful of wine. When they got home, the group’s chaperon – school principal Shawn Colleary – was busted, demoted to teach in another school.

“But Colleary was right in the first place. If the idea of the trip to France was to broaden the education of the kids, then it was perfectly appropriate – even beneficial – for them to learn how to drink wine.

“It’s true that they could not – and should not – do so on their own. But in a little time, there is no reason why they could not join their parents by having a sip of wine at dinner, maybe for some occasion or another.

“This is how the French and Italians learn to drink wine – and why, according to some social scientists, public drunkenness is both rare and not tolerated [in those societies /hj].

“America, though, is off on one of it’s periodic attempts to deal with a problem by, in effect, simply banishing it. Zero tolerance sounds nice, but it does little more than make alcohol taboo and, therefore, more attractive to young people.

“It may account – since logic cannot – for the apparent upsurge of binge drinking on American campuses. I can think of no other reason why anyone would want to be instantly drunk and almost as instantly sick.

“In fact, binge drinking is the antithesis of what the Cherry Creek kids were being taught in Paris: You don’t guzzle wine (or beer or booze), you savor it. The idea is not to get sick drunk, it is to have a thoroughly enjoyable and sensuous experience – and to be able to remember it the next morning.

“The zero tolerance approach is suffused with moralism at the expense of common sense…This approach has not worked since, approximately, the Neanderthal era.

“Some social scientists think we are going through a neo-prohibition era – booze, sex, you-name-it. Maybe…But the issues here are not ideological – they are eminently practical: What’s best for kids? Always, the answer is education, knowledge, an appreciation of both the pleasures of a substance (or an act) and its risks – and of course, the admirable virtue of moderation.

“Cherry Creek’s kids, though, were instructed in arbitrariness, absolutism, and the supposed virtues of ignorance.

“I bet they can’t wait to finish the bottle.”

Amen, Brother.

My upbringing was along those lines; wine on the table at most meals, and when the family thought I was at an age (~7 y.o. I think) they gave me my first taste of wine.
It was in very small amounts, and it was well thinned with water, and I never really thought of it as anything that should be swilled to get drunk.

I hope I can teach that to my kids as well as my parents taught me.

(Epilogue: Shawn Colleary was reinstated after publicly repenting, admitting "poor judgement", and praising the school Superintendent Robert Tschirki who had demoted him...oh, and also after quite a bit of pressure from parents to have him reinstated who thought the superintendent acted arbitrarily and unfairly. See? A happy ending after all...)
(Excerpts from an Op-Ed article by Richard Cohen of the Washington Post, published in the Press Democrat [Santa Rosa, Ca] 6/5/98)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What happened to Shawn Colleary was absolutely ludacris. If the parents of these students had no problems with what he did, then why did Robert Tschirki? Maybe he was playing a game of cover your a** when it was completely unneccessary.

The fact that Mr. Colleary had to publicly compliment Robert Tschirki makes it appear that it was more a power trip than anything else. We need more teachers and principals like Shawn Colleary. Those who truly care about the children.

February 24, 2007 1:24 PM  
Blogger St. Vini said...

My thoughts exactly.

It never appeared that he was putting the kids in any danger, nor exposing them to any harmful habits. It was - as stated in the post - a perfect experience to compliment their exposure to how another culture lives and what they value. It's hard to think that any of the kids would be out raiding their parents liquor cabinets based on that one small experience...
And if it had been my kid in the group, I would've been an advocate for Mr.Colleary to replace that old Superintendent Tschirki...

Damned neo-prohibitionists turned it on it's head and used it against well as his boss wanting to cover his ass.

Let's hope that things have changed for the better in Colorado in the last 8 years.


February 28, 2007 5:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

He wasn't demoted...he was put on administrative leave. He was an amazing teacher and principal. He was on the forefront of education and the district was wise to reinstate him.

March 17, 2012 9:23 PM  

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