The Counsellor's Corner


Sometimes I come across stories that just defy belief. The latest to unfortunately fit that description took place in Sayerville, New Jersey. In early April of this year, School officials suspended four children in kindergarten for playing "cops and robbers." Thatís right, they were playing "cops and robbers!" The students are six years old, and each was suspended for three days. What was the crime committed by these children? They pretended that their fingers were guns and they threatened each other.

We now live in a time of one "zero tolerance" policy after another. In this case, the kindergarten has a zero-tolerance policy with respect to weapons and threats. The kids used their fingers! Iíím not particularly happy that they were acting as if their fingers were guns and they were indicating they wanted to shoot each other, but what a wonderful opportunity that would be for teachers to teach and for parents to parent. What a wonderful opportunity to call the parents of the children, have them come down to the school and get involved in this situation and teach the children the difference between right and wrong. The goal here is to teach the children why they should not be pointing their fingers at each other and threatening each other. What a wonderful opportunity for a learning experience. This is not a case where a child found his fatheríís gun in a closet and brought it to school. This is not a case where a child brought in any sort of weapon. The weapon was the finger. "Cops and robbers" has been around at least since I was a child in the 1960s.

This leads me to wonder what games you can still play at school. I guess "pin the tail on the donkey" is out as I imagine the pinning of the donkey would be done with some sort of sharp instrument or utensil. I am surprised that kids are still allowed to play dodgeball as that involves the actual throwing of the ball at another child, the goal being to hit the other child with the ball.

The problem with zero-tolerance policies is that they do not examine the facts of each situation. The reality is, zero-tolerance policies are a cop-out in that they make it easy, too easy, for policy to be enforced. There is never any thought, never any judgment that has to be used when you have a zero-tolerance policy. If something fits, then fine; if not, then action must be taken. There is no gray area, which is not a good life lesson for the reality is that life is filled with gray.

Did you ever see the old Woody Allen movie, "Take the Money and Run?" In that movie, Woody is in jail and his cellmates and he attempt to bust out. Woody makes a gun out of soap and approaches the jail guards and threatens them with the gun. Unfortunately for Woody, it then begins to rain and his "gun" dissolves before his eyes. It was a very funny scene, however that would be a crime. Contrast that to six-year-olds pointing their fingers at each other. There is only one finger I can think of that I do not care to have pointed at me, however that would not be a crime either; it would just hurt my feelings.

Dr. Charles J. Unger is a criminal defense attorney in the Glendale law firm of Flanagan, Booth & Unger, and a therapist at the Foothill Centre for Personal and Family Growth. Mr. Unger writes a bimonthly column on legal and psychological issues.