The Columbine reaction: The Zero Tolerance Generation, Pt III

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After April 20, 1999, “zero tolerance” was suddenly on everyone’s lips.

So it makes an intuitive sense to suppose that the mindset emerged directly as a reaction to Columbine and to the other school shootings that had happened in the years before.

But the reality is that it was not new. Until 1999 it had been applied mainly in urban schools with poor, minority student populations. Public mention of the policy had been restricted to occasional discussions about the overlap of education and law enforcement, with the occasional fretting about “is the trade-off worth it?” Columbine was simply the break in the levee, the disaster that sent problems that had long been safely confined to disadvantaged urban schools rolling over the walls and into affluent, white suburbia…

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