Friday, June 12, 2009

Zero tolerance, zero compassion, bad lessons

(Sent to Ken Schlaff, Principal Milpitas High School, June 12, 2009)

Dear Mr Ken Schlaff,

I am yet again disappointed by our educational system, your school, and your role model as a principal. This system insists on sticking to nitpicking "rules" and misses the bigger and more important lessons to be taught and learned.

The case of Shontale Taylor and Milpitas High School is a supremely teachable moment that you are currently mishandling, and badly.

From the Mercury News and hundreds of students, it is evident that Shontale Taylor is being punished because she did the right thing:

Many times I've seen schools anchor themselves in minutia, hidebound by their "rules", and miss teaching relevance, prioritization, compassion, humanity, and that bigger rights are much more important than trivial wrongs.

Not so in school, instead we teach that sticking to the trivial is right and sticking your neck out to do a bigger good is wrong.

Case in point with an incident during FEMA's response to hurricane Katrina: A team of doctors from Doctor's Without Borders showed up on a tarmac to help a group of people who were dying or injured. A FEMA official blocked them saying they were not FEMA certified doctors so could not help the people who were hurt. (Story from one of my Harvard colleagues from Louisiana).

Our school system continues to teach the same lesson in the case of Shontale Taylor -- better to follow the microrule and let people be hurt then to do the right thing.

Zero tolerance and following every "rule" precisely is not what our school systems should be teaching. It is not the way the world works nor how it should work. There is a much bigger picture here -- it is about doing the bigger right thing -- like being bold enough to break up a fight and make a positive difference -- like working extremely hard to overcome hardship. Those are the qualities that we should reward and not punish. Instead nitpicking small minded bureaucrats yet again focus on the minor and miss the major. I am disappointed but not surprised. Our school systems continue to perpetuate small mindedness instead of focusing on fully educating our students.

Is there anyone who can stop this madness?

I've posted this on my blog at and my other social networks such as Facebook.

Tim Oey
Sunnyvale, CA

1 comment:

Kathy said...

Thank you, Tim, for your thoughtful words. There are many of us in the community who are still outraged and will not let Shontale's dismissal be forgotten.

Having failed to appeal to the better judgement of the school board this evening, my next step is to work on getting those board members who's terms are up next year thrown out. If they are not interested in looking out for the best interest of our children they are no longer welcome to my tax dollars.