A Little Common Sense

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Susan Percy

Susan Percy

Last fall, when a high school student from Fulton County was expelled for a piece of creative writing a teacher read in a journal that had been confiscated from the young woman, there were legitimate questions asked about First Amendment rights, privacy and school safety. (The student reportedly had written a first-person story about killing a teacher, then waking up and discovering it was a dream.) OK, that's a scary topic and these are scary times. School violence is a reality. Things that used to be ignored are now scrutinized and often rightly so.





But it seems to me that there was something crucial missing in the official response to the journal incident -- a little common sense. Did any of the teachers know this kid? Did anybody ever stop to ask whether this particular young woman was a troublemaker, a discipline problem, a chronic disruptive influence, a genuine danger? Had they bothered to do so, it's likely the answer would have been a resounding no. And that might have dictated a different course of action than the one the school took -- expulsion and public humiliation for the student, before she was re-admitted in a flurry of media coverage. This ranks right up there with confiscating Tweety Bird keychains, which is the way another school chose to deal with student safety some time ago.





In addition to sparing themselves the experience of looking like buffoons, the Fulton County school administrators might have saved a good student and her family a great deal of embarrassment and would not have found themselves in the position of denying education to someone who clearly values it -- never a good thing for educators to do.





There are actually other far-flung groups and sub-groups to whom I would recommend the common-sense approach -- chief among them physicians' billing offices, customer service departments of mega-banks, people in charge of placing orange traffic cones on public roadways and even people who blow their horns at motorists who dare to stop for a red light.





My plea for common sense in doctors' business offices was inspired by a bill that came recently, resulting from a minor diagnostic procedure. The bill looked a whole lot like a bill from that same doctor I had paid many weeks before. But the real sticking point was a snarky little computer-generated note at the bottom of the page that said, "This bill is seriously past due."





It turns out that yes, they did get my previous check; that was for the portion of the physician's fee that my insurance didn't cover. This new charge is a "facility" fee, and I am responsible for what my insurance wouldn't pay. Fine, but wouldn't common sense -- there's that phrase again -- dictate that the charges might be labeled to avoid this kind of confusion? And if this is the first time I've been billed for this particular $84 charge, how can I be late, let alone seriously late. Don't I at least get a chance to open my checkbook and take the cap off my pen?





For the mega-bank, the chief common-senseless move recently has been to fix a telephone banking system that wasn't broken. The voice-activated system responds not just to your voice reciting a PIN number, but to background noises like a cat's meow, a sneeze, the rustling of paper, with "I'm sorry, did you say, 'Transfer $3 million from your checking account?'" I'm wondering if anybody in customer service actually tried out the new system before it was installed. Or asked customers if they were dissatisfied with the old system. Once the new and improved system goes awry, your only real option is to ask the computer if you can "speak to an associate," which typically requires a wait. My first order of business with the real live human being is to ask if the designers of the new system are receiving the psychiatric help they so obviously need.



The orange-cone placers of the world seem to delight in blocking lanes that don't need to be blocked and waiting until peak traffic hours to close lanes for legitimate reasons. They also enjoy leaving the cones in place long after the work crews have gone home.





Come to think of it, traffic light horn-blowers are probably beyond the reach of any plea for common sense





Susan Percy is executive editor of Georgia Trend.

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