Yet more rule internalization

I think one of the most classic examples of rule internalization has to be zero-tolerance policies. These awful, awful things are intensely, severely popular in schools across America, and they rarely, if ever, do anything to help anyone. Anywhere. Ever. Take this example from Southwest Middle School in Palm Bay, Florida:

A 14-year-old middle school student was suspended as a result of the Florida school’s strict no-hugging policy.

Nick Martinez said he hugged his best friend, a female student, quickly between classes, according to WKMG-TV, Orlando, and never thought the gesture would result in suspension. The principal at Southwest Middle School in Palm Bay saw the hug and brought the two students to the dean, who issued a one-day in-school suspension.

“Honestly, I didn’t know, because I didn’t think hugging was a bad thing. I didn’t know you could get suspended for it,” Martinez told WKMG-TV. “A lot of friends are hugging. I just happened to be the one caught doing it.”

This is a result of lazy thinking. The board which came up with these policies did so in a way that demonstrates a complete lack of interest in the welfare of the children it is charged with overseeing. If they gave a damn, they would have bothered to spend 15 minutes coming up with a few distinctions. For instance, was Nick Martinez grabbing some ass? No? Oh, well, then, carry on.

Of course, like any non-thinking entity, the board has some ready-to-go excuses:

“We cannot make an opinion or judgment call on whether a hug is appropriate or not. It’s very difficult to police that on campus,” Christine Davis, the public information officer for Brevard County Public Schools, told ABC News.

No, no, no. It isn’t that they cannot make a judgement call. It’s that they are cowards who don’t dare to make judgement calls.

Davis said the school puts policies and procedures in place to help keep the students focused on learning.

Really? So taking two students out of their classes for an entire day is a focus on learning? For a school system unwilling to make simple judgement decisions, they sure are willing to make bold judgement calls of pure shit when it comes to educating children.

Oh, rule internalization, when will you go away?

This story offers two instances of rule internalization.

An assistant manager at a Minnesota McDonald’s found herself kicked to the curb recently after her boss found out that she’d broken the rules by letting Minnesota Vikings superstar Adrian Peterson use the restaurant’s restroom after hours.

The woman, who considers McDonald’s to be a career for her, not merely a job, was reinstated at her position once local media caught wind of the bullshit the company was pulling. That’s great, but this is still an excellent example of rule internalization. She broke a rule that was probably there for some sort of insurance purpose or safety of the employees. At any rate, Peterson is a massive star, especially in that area, so it isn’t like he posed any threat to the reason for the rule. Is he someone who would sue for some bizarre reason? Would he try and rob the place or employees? Obviously not.

The other instance of rule internalization comes from the user comments at the end of the story.

Wait, wait, wait. She knowingly violated company policy by letting someone in the facility after hours who had no reason to enter the facility. She was fired for doing that (too much? I don’t know what McD’s insurance policy states) and went complaining to get her job back? Ugh.

and

But again, those are the policies of the company and she’d been there long enough to know them. She broke them, she suffers the consequences.

and

The rules are there for a reason… she violated them and was fired. I don’t care who the person she let in was.

My favorite is that last one. Yes, the rules certainly are there for a reason. I fail to see how enforcing them without reason is somehow a good in the world.

Internalize and hurt

I’ve written about rule internalization in the past. It’s when people care more about a rule itself than the reason for the rule. It’s a good mark of someone who isn’t doing much thinking.

I’ve also written about a lot of discrimination. I’ll spare myself the tediousness of linking back to a number of stories and just point out one particularly relevant to the rest of this post: when Constance McMillen was denied the right to wear a tux to her senior prom. A gay female student wanted to attend prom with her girlfriend while wearing something besides a dress. The school acted out of bigotry and denied her that right. (And then got sued and lost, but continued its campaign to alienate Constance anyway.)

Now there’s the case of Oakleigh “Oak” Reed at Mona Shores High School in Muskegon, Michigan. Oak is a transgendered student at his school and, by all accounts, seems to be well accepted by his classmates and teachers. Even the administration has made some correct decisions with him.

Teachers use him, his, and he when referring to Oakleigh in class. The school has allowed him to wear a tuxedo when marching with the band at football games and he has been given permission to wear the male robe and cap at graduation.

But then Oak decided to run for homecoming king. Like 500 million other people, he turned to the Internet.

[Oak] let the school community know he was running for homecoming king on Facebook.

The honors student quickly became the leading candidate.

He even won. Oakleigh Reed is the 2010 homecoming king at Mona Shores High School.

Except the administration doesn’t see this fact.

“They told me that they took me off because they had to invalidate all of my votes because I’m enrolled at Mona Shores as a female,” Oakleigh told Wood TV.

Assistant Superintendent Todd Geerlings told Wood TV, “The ballots gave two choices — vote for a boy for king and a girl for queen.”

This is rule internalization at its worst. So the hell what if the ballot is black and white? There is no rational justification in what Geerlings is doing. (But is that much of a surprise coming from someone who has chosen to spend his life in high school?) The reason the ballot only gives two choices is because it would be unwieldy and silly to have it say “Vote for a boy for king and a girl for queen. And, oh, vote for transgendered students based upon official school records.”

This is a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t scenario. If Oak wants any shot at being voted homecoming royalty, he must run as a girl and be crowned a queen – something which would make him a liar to himself and his identity. It’s ridiculous that Geerlings desires that such a thing happen. But giving it an honest shot means Oak can’t be crowned – even though he actually is the 2010 Mona Shores High School homecoming king.

Congratulations to Oak for winning. Shame on Geerlings and co. for acting shamefully and internalizing rules.

But I’m not directly addressing what matters; maybe I could just sum up this entire post in one line: Don’t treat people like shit.

Zero tolerance policies are a failure

Zero tolerance policies are a way for many high schools and middle schools to enforce ridiculous rules. It’s basically an excuse to not have to justify anything with logic. Personally, I prefer to call it rule internalization. I’ve described many instances in the past, but I will quickly repeat a hypothetical example I’ve already given.

Say a mother tells her daughter not to throw toys. Her daughter later throws a ball around while outside. Her mother then punishes her for breaking one of her rules. This is, of course, an absurd scenario. It is clear the reason for the rule was that throwing toys can result in damage to the toys, hurt people in the process, and cause damage to furniture/items in the house. However, because the rule was stated more broadly than that, it technically applied to all scenarios, even throwing a ball outside. The girl violated the rule, but not the reason for the rule.

This is an exaggeration and unlikely to happen except in the most redneck of homes, but it illustrates the point. We’ve all faced this sort of rules-for-the-sake-of-rules attitude. It ignores both the human factor and the reason in the equation. The rule itself is undermined when it is enforced for its own sake; the point is no longer reason, but rather internalization. I would hypothesize that a study might reveal a higher degree of rule internalization among the religious as they tend to refuse to reason many of their fundamental beliefs within the constraints of logic, but the problem is spread beyond that group. Imagine walking into an airport with one of those rope mazes designed to corral long lines. Most of us are willing to look like jackasses and actually follow the path even when no other customers are present and it would be more convenient to walk around the ropes. I suspect this internalization of broad social norms reaches beyond the religious. (It’s the more narrow ethical field where the religious tend to be logically impaired.)

As it turns out, these sort of policies aren’t even effective anyway.

A number of the policies require security officials, administrators and staff take “zero tolerance” approaches in punishing students that carry weapons of any sort, or cause any event that poses a threat in classrooms.

The policies typically require automatic suspension and withdrawal of a student from a school district for at least one year as a consequence, although schools across America enforce the policy differently, researchers said.

This takes discretion out of the equation and that’s where the big problem is. School officials are forced (and probably sometimes enjoy) to blindly follow rules. It doesn’t matter that not all students are equal or that not all actions, even similar ones, should be treated equally. No. Just suspend them all, right?

I think that’s another serious flaw in these sort of policies. Why give suspensions so often? Why not sit the student down and make him read a book? Why not make Suzie Q improve her algebra grade? Taking students out of the learning process is a detriment to the very thing these policies are suppose to be helping. And it’s so obvious.

Another good example of rule internalization

Rule internalization is a significant problem. It places rules above reason and our fellow humans. It’s an ugly little thing that often doesn’t take into account things that are actually happening. One small example I can recall from back in my high school days involved the cafeteria doors. One set was for going in, one was for going out (each on opposing ends of the room). The reason was to avoid massive jams when the bell rang and a bunch of people were going in and out. Okay, fair enough. But the people ‘guarding’ the doors enforced the rule beyond its point; even during lunch when few to no people were going through the doors it wasn’t allowed to exit the in-door or enter the out-door. At that point the rule lost all meaning and just became another non-educational tactic of arbitrary control and enforcement. (I know, in high school? Crazy.)

In the same rigid spirit as that, some silly neighbor in New Jersey made a silly complaint.

Police in the US state of New Jersey have ordered a family to cover up their snow sculpture of the famous nude Venus de Milo after a neighbour complained.

Eliza Gonzalez sculpted the snow-woman with her son and daughter on her front lawn in Rahway following a snowstorm.

Many people praised their creation, but a police officer told them a neighbour had found it too risque, she said.

When given the option of covering the sculpture up or knocking it down, she dressed it in a bikini top and sarong.

“We didn’t want to have any problem with the police so we covered it up,” Ms Gonzalez told the AFP news agency.

The internalization here should be obvious. The neighbor is equating nudity with pornography; he/she has been conditioned or has become stupid enough to internalize the idea that the bare human body is always an object of sex. Who wants to bet this person is religious? The immature view of sexuality certainly suggests as much.

But [Ms. Gonzalez] now thinks the snowy Venus looks “more objectified and sexualised” than it did before the authorities intervened.

Aside from the obvious problem of a person dumbly believing nudity always equals sex, there’s this issue of actually equating the body with sex when that was never the intention. The bikini top throws a flare of sexual energy at this front yard snow sculpture, entirely ruining what it’s really all about, its artistic qualities, and the general impressiveness of what this mom created with her children. Rule internalization only makes things worse.

Greensburg Salem High School follow-up

Sometime back I wrote about the irrational rule internalization which resulted in six teens from Greensburg Salem High School in Greensburg, PA being charged with distributing child pornography. In short, six teens (3 girls, 3 boys) were involved in sending or receiving photos which featured three of them in the nude or partially nude. Each person involved in these exchanges is allowed to engage in sex with each other under Pennsylvania law. So according to the Greensburg DA and the city’s police captain, George Seranko, these teens may see each other nude, even have sex, but if they do it via scary electronic devices*, they are subject to prosecution.

Since I never followed up on this case, I have gone ahead and found out what happened to these kids.

In January, six Greensburg Salem High School students were charged in juvenile court with child pornography offenses for sexting. The teens were sentenced to community service or a curfew and didn’t have to register as sex offenders.

These punishments are either too harsh or irrelevant. Had they all stood in a room together naked, would anything have happened? Of course not. The law in Pennsylvania says nothing can happen in terms of prosecution; the teens have been deemed legally responsible enough to engage in these activities. Giving any of them community service is too harsh a punishment for that reason. They should not be subject to servicing a community which has already given them the rights to engage in sexual behavior with each other. If anything, those leading the community – namely Capt. George Seranko – owe these teens an apology. As for the curfew, that is entirely irrelevant to the ‘crime’ with which they were charged. Their phones work just as well in the evening and at night as they do in the day. Curtailing the freedom of these teens (especially the ones who may work) serves no purpose. It says nothing of what they did and does nothing to prevent it from happening again. Not only are the police, prosecutors, and judges of Greensburg internalizing rules like robotic morons, they aren’t even applying the punishments for the rules appropriately. That city is obviously not run with intelligence.

*The older one beomces, usually the more mature and worldly one becomes. Not so with technology. It frightens the elderly.

UPDATE: I would email this to the Greensburg PD, but they insist on showing their lack of grasp of technology and its role in our lives, so they have no email address.