15 September 2014

Against Permission Slips

The fact that institutions like public schools in the United States feel a need to go to extraordinary lengths to manage how ordinary, harmless, over the counter drugs are administered to minors in middle school and high school, with designated nurses following forms signed by doctors and parents, as if Tylenol were heroin, strikes me as a sign of the failure of the leaders of our institutions to command any kind of moral leadership.

The felt need for children on a school trip to have not just one, but dozens of forms signed, in another empty gesture in which form and bureaucracy triumph over substance.  How sick is our legal system that we must work around it with countless waivers in which we thoughtlessly surrender our legal rights, rather than develop standards are that workable and make them the norm?

Not all forms and paperwork of our institutions is so infantile and vacuous.  Schools have a practical need, for example, for contract information of parents and guardians.  But, so much of it is overkill driven by unreasonable fear that lets to many important outcomes hinge on who signed what for which occasion and precisely how a particular lawyer drafted a particular form.

Are we a nation of such frail and weak willed individuals that we make it a crime for even college students to drink alcohol, unlike almost all of the rest of the world, and then enforce those rules in a discriminatory and arbitrary fashion?

Are we a nation so sheltered that we can't trust professionally licensed teachers and our peer parent chaperons to take our children to a zoo or museum outside the school grounds without obtaining special signed permission in advance from a parent or guardian to do so for each trip?

Far too often, we turn to rigid protocols and zero tolerance policies, when a dialectic of trust and responsibility on the part of people in positions of leadership, would serve us better.  Is it possible to rebuild our culture on those kinds of foundations?  Or, is that too foreign to our bureaucratic and legalistic sensibilities?

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