Friday, May 3, 2013

Will This Student's "Zero Tolerance" Case Finally Be The One That Ends the Insanity

A smart 16 year old girl in Bartow Florida named Kiera Wilmot did a dumb thing, as even the smartest teenagers sometimes do.
Kiera Wilmot's school is trying to ruin her
entire life because of her ill-conceived science
experiment which resulted in a tiny explosion and
no harm.  

Wilmot's a bit of a science geek so she mixed up some household chemicals in a bottle as a sort of ad hoc science experiment. It caused a really small explosion outside, away from everybody, and a little puff of smoke.

Nobody got hurt, and there was no property damage, and she didn't intend to cause any harm.

But, due to the school's zero tolerance laws,because of her actions, and she's as horrible a person as the Boston Marathon bomber, at least in the eyes of school administrators.

The promising student has been expelled, felony charges have been brought against her, which means Wilmot is probably going to basically lose her chance at a decent life if this sticks.

Yeah, go get her, school administrators. Kill that gnat with a nuclear bomb!

For its part, the Polk County School District is hiding behind the usual "rules are rules" line when zero tolerance punishments go over the top.

According to the Miami New Times:

"The letter of the law demanded the punishment, and school administrators believe kids should learn 'there are consequences to their actions.'

Yes, everybody should know there are consequences to their actions. But I suspect the school officials are too dumb to realize the consequences should match the crime. And if the school administration is dumb, I don't hold up much hope the students they are allegedly teaching are going to be that bright, either.

Following their reasoning to its logical conclusion, I guess I should get the death penalty if I get caught doing 80 mph in a 65 mph zone in my truck, rather than merely getting a ticket and paying a fine.

As Jesse Walker writes in Reason:

"No one was hurt. There's no sign that Wilmot was up to something malevolent. The kid's own principal thinks this wasn't anything more than an experiment, and he says she didn't try to cover up what she had done. What punishment do you think she received? A stern talking-to? A day or two of after-school detention? Maybe she'll have to help clean up the lab for a week?"

All of Walker's suggestions make sense. The girl broke the rules, and she does need to suffer some reasonable consequences.

But a felony, in which the intent of the school seems to be to ruin her life rather than guide her?  And exactly why is the school so intent on throwing this girl's life away?

This case might be an important step in finally eradicating the silliest, most stupid applications of zero tolerance that serves to ruin kids' lives rather than teach them the difference between right and wrong.

Why? Because scientists are pissed. 

Ashutosh Jogalekar, writing in Scientific American says:

When you arrest and expel students for slaking their scientific curiosity, whatever the other consequences of that action, be advised that you are almost certainly sacrificing a valuable scientist at the altar of arbitrarily wielded state and school power.

Jogelekar also says this, which makes total sense:

Yet we as a society are grabbing on to the Precautionary Principle at every opportunity. We seem to believe that ignorance is better than knowledge since ignorance involves doing nothing and always erring on the side of safety. We think this is ostensibly the safest state of affairs, but it is one which is very much illusory since it’s that same ignorance that unfavorably impacts our long-term security and progress. 

All this extreme discipline and extreme punishment is robbing our nation of future scientists. Here's another take on it, from Scientific American's Urban Scientist blog:

"I can't name a single scientist or engineer who hadn't blown up, ripped apart, disassembled something at home or otherwise cause a big ruckus at school all in the name of curiosity, myself included. Science is not clean. It is very messy and it is riddled with mistakes and mishaps.

I also love how a whole bunch of scientists are Tweeting about their youthful science mishaps, with the hashtag #KieraWilmot.

Let's hope she escapes this horrible school intact.

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