Stone Pigs

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Rules Have Replaced Thinking II

Posted By on January 3, 2010

New York Eagle Scout Suspended From School for 20 Days for Keeping Pocketknife in Car

Perhaps my biggest pet peave in life is the blind application of rules.  Rules have replaced thinking.  It seems that more and more people subscribe to the belief that if we just make more rules, or laws, and we espouse zero tolerance policies, that somehow our lives will be enhanced.


A 17-year-old Eagle Scout in upstate New York has been barred from stepping foot on school grounds for 20 days — for keeping a 2-inch pocketknife locked in a survival kit in his car.

Because Lansingburgh High has a zero tolerance policy about weapons on campus, administrators are not allowed to use any of their own good judgement or apply decent common sense.  By all accounts, the student, Matthew Whalen, is a model student who had hoped to attend West Point.  As part of his scouting philosophy to “be prepared,” he also stocks his car with a sleeping bag, water, a ready-to-eat meal, and the knife which was a gift from his grandfather who is a police chief nearby.

The school administrators and board even appear to admit that their actions are without merit other than to say that theirs was an effort at consistency.  They wanted to be sure that no future violator of the school’s policies could point back to this incident and beg for similar leniency had it been provided.

This story is just part of an ongoing series of published documentation of similar acts of stupidity.  Similarly, Zachary Christie, a 6-year-old Cub Scout in Delaware faced a 45 day sentence in reform school for bringing a camping utensil to school to eat.  The utensil contained a fork, a spoon, and a blunt butter knife, but since it was called a “knife” it was deemed a serious violation … and the first grader was treated like a common criminal.

Perhaps things would have been different if, instead of a fork, a spoon, and a knife, the camping utensil was said to contain a fork, a spoon, and a cheese spreader. Afterall, there are far more dangerous things in schools that could be used as more damaging weapons, such as sharpened pencils and baseball bats. It is tempting to say that we should simply update the definition of “knife” so as to exclude camping utensils, etc. but that is the foolish type of thinking that brings us into court in the first place.

We, as a society, need to quickly step back from this dangerous way of thinking i.e. thinking that we can solve all of our social ills with more rules and laws.  Bureaucracies demonstrate their lack of trust and respect for individuals’ ability to act in dynamic situations.  So while bureaucrats sit in their ivory towers making all the decisions which should guide our lives, we see mounting evidence of the unintended consequences of their ignorance.  No matter how well-intentioned they may be, running a society by committee is a sure way to quickly degrade quality of life.

The cases of young master Matthew Whalen and Zachary Christie are but microcosms of the very type of things we all complain about now with regard to our health care decisions.  We see right now how insurance companies are driving the delivery of our medical services and we rightly complain that doctors don’t have the freedom to do the things we and they think are right, but instead are being forced in certain ways by insurance company guidelines.  Replacing insurance company bureaucracies with our behemoth federal government won’t provide any relief — on the contrary, it’s sure to provide even more grief and aggravation.

Please, let’s reclaim our liberties and return to using common sense to run our lives.


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