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Travis: Common sense threshold
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A frequent topic of conversation in the Language Arts teachers' work room of Newton High School more than 20 years ago was something we called the sense threshold. When the administration, county office or other powers-that-be issued an edict that defied common sense, we would exclaim in wonder, discuss the absurdity and intone, "sense threshold, sense threshold."

One year, it was decided that we would not keep official attendance in our roll books; we would mark attendance and tardies on a Scantron form for each class period. In other words, we would bubble in who was tardy and absent on a form similar to forms used in standardized tests. We were also told to keep roll in our roll books as a back up.

This new innovation was all done in the name of lessening paper work for teachers.

Basically we had to take roll in two places. So much for lessening paper work. Then about six or seven weeks into the school year, the administrator who was supposed to be handling school attendance admitted to being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tardies. If a student was tardy a designated number of times to a single class, he was referred to the office to be disciplined. Since the administrator could not cope with the volume, we were instructed to keep up with the tardies to our classes and send in a discipline report when the specified number was met by a student. So now we were keeping roll in two places and keeping up with tardies.

At the end of the grading period, we were informed that our roll books were the official record of attendance. We were to ignore the number of tardies and absences printed out by the computer and change what the computer said to match our roll book.

Now we were taking roll two times, making our own tardy referrals and checking our roll books for attendance and tardies and correcting the computer. All in the name of making teachers' work loads easier. Sense threshold, sense threshold.

I thought things like this happened only in education. Boy, was I wrong.

Recently, I was making a recipe that required the zest of an orange. I try not to cook, but sometimes it creeps up on you. I went to the store with a shopping list of one orange and some powdered sugar.

When I got to the produce section, I was faced with the decision of buying a bag of oranges for around $3 or one organic orange for 98 cents. I only needed one, but you get more for your buck with the large bag. It was a tough call, but I decided on one orange, rationalizing that the zest of an organic orange would be safer.

I took my two items to the self check out, scanned the sugar and scanned the orange as it had a bar code. The
machine said wait for attendant. So I waited as she was with someone else.

She came over and took the orange and ticked away on her computer-cash register and then gave it back to me. I looked at my check-out screen and it said $1.50 grapefruit.

I turned to the attendant and told her my produce was an orange, not a grapefruit.

She took it from me and went through the same process again. It again came up $1.50 grapefruit.

I said something to the effect that you could look at my piece of fruit and tell it was not a grapefruit. While I admit, since it was organic, that it was not a bright orange, it was orange, had a navel (it was a navel orange) and had thicker skin than a grapefruit.

I asked the attendant if she would simply look up the code for the orange. I told her it was 98 cents. I asked her if she would just fix the error on her computer-cash register.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, apparently in a grocery store an orange by any other bar code is not as sweet (or an orange).

She told me I had to return the grapefruit (because if the bar code said it was a grapefruit, it was a grapefruit) to the produce section and return with an orange. I figured any more arguing would be futile and did as instructed.

Considering the time it took for all of this to play out, I would have been better off paying $1.50 for my orange also-known-as grapefruit.

Sense threshold, sense threshold.

Paula Travis is a retired teacher from the Newton County School System. She can be reached at