Good evening; I would like to share with you tonight a message I received a while ago concerning the real reason behind the violence in our schools. The piece was composed by Clarence Schultz, a minister & retired Navy chaplain. On the surface there is much here about which to think but the more I think, the more it frightens me. He says the following:

Whoa! With all the gangs & the increasing violence in our schools, what in the world is happening with our kids today?

Let’s see… I think it started when Madeline Murray O’Hare complained that she didn’t want any prayer in our schools, & we said OK.

Then someone said you had better not read the Bible in school — the Bible that says thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, & love your neighbor as yourself. And we said, OK.

Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn’t spank our children when they misbehave because their little personalities would be warped & we might damage their self-esteem. And we said, an expert should know what he’s talking about so we won’t spank them anymore.

Then someone said that teachers & principals better not discipline our children when they misbehave. And the school administrators said no faculty member in this school better touch a student when they misbehave because we don’t want any bad publicity, & we surely don’t want to be sued. And we accepted their reasoning.

Then someone said, let’s let our daughters have abortions if they want, & they won’t even have to tell their parents. And we said, that’s a grand idea.

Then some wise school board member said, since boys will be boys & they’re going to “do it” anyway, let’s give our sons all the condoms they want, so they can have all the “fun” they desire, & we won’t have to tell their parents they got them at school. And we said, that’s another great idea.

And then some of our top elected officials said that it doesn’t matter what we do in private as long as we do our jobs. And agreeing with them, we said it doesn’t matter to me what anyone, including the President, does in private as long as I have a job & the economy is good.

And then someone said let’s print magazines with pictures of nude women & call it wholesome down-to-earth appreciation for the beauty of the female body. And we said we have no problem with that.

And someone else took that appreciation a step further & published pictures of nude children & then stepped further still by making them available on the internet. And we said they’re entitled to their free speech.

And the entertainment industry said, let’s make TV shows & movies that promote profanity, violence, & illicit sex. And let’s record music that encourages homosexuality, rape, drugs, murder, suicide, & satanic themes. And we said it’s just entertainment, it has no adverse effect, & nobody takes it seriously anyway, so go right ahead.

Therefore, now we’re asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don’t know right from wrong, & why it doesn’t bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, & themselves.

Probably, if we think about it long & hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with… “we reap what we sow.”

Did you see what happened here? The author found a number of reasons that, taken together, might explain why our kids are running around out of control; why we parents have lost control over the behavior of our children. In each case the blame is placed on someone other than the parents or the children. While it is true that the younger generation that I helped to sire is hardly as perfect as my generation, I am not too concerned for I seem to remember my father criticizing me for many of the same blemishes in character against which I rail &, if the truth be told, I even recollect grandpa laughing at my father for his criticisms of me. Whenever I hear how today’s music will stupefy our youth, especially if the sound track is played backward, I fondly remember my contemporaries insisting that Paul was dead & my parents laughing over the lyrics, “I am the walrus, koo-koo kachoo.” And, grandpa would remind Dad how jitterbug would be the death of culture in America. I bring this up not out of any disrespect for the problems of raising children nor out of contempt for previous generations, but in an attempt to put the problem in its proper perspective. It is true that violence is on the rise, that suicide & drugs are serious problems, & of late, some kids have resorted to extraordinary measures to take down their teachers & fellow classmates. In spite of all this, however, I believe most of our children are basically good & at least passively well behaved. Moreover, I do not believe that any rhetoric of sweeping social change will benefit those children who are most deserving of our help.

Let us look, for example, at some of the points made above. The good reverend believes that this problem all started when prayer was banned in the public schools. These laws were not passed by evil forces trying to bring down civilization as we know it, but by moms & dads who, as we do, love & worry about their children & grandchildren. Whether or not the step was warranted, one can hardly blame the likes of Madeline Murray O’Hare or Dr. Benjamin Spock for all the ills which beset our schools today. It seems a bit presumptuous to hold Dr. Spock, a man who devoted his life to bringing healthy kids into the world, responsible for intentionally scheming to destroy those children & their children as well. If he went too far, OK, let’s fix it, but at least give the man credit for attempting to solve a problem which he, as well as many others, felt was harming our children.

What about prayer & Bible readings in the public classroom? It seems to me that the cure for this gross rupture in our children’s moral development is quite clear. A program of prayer & religious training is important for our youth, but this can be achieved easily at home or at church. How many parents engage their children in a family text study program for even one hour a week? How many parents do not say grace at meals in front of their children? How often do families pray together, once a day or once a week? A family regularly engaged, together, in religious activity is a far better teacher than a few moments of prayer in school. It seems to me that it is always easier to find blame than to find cures, & the author of the quoted piece seems to prefer this easy way out.

What about that school administrator who forbade teachers from striking students, was it really a PR move? If so, from where was the bad publicity coming? My experience with school administrators is that policy change is something they would rather avoid. On the whole, if there is not a problem, why tamper with a solution? If it aint broke, don’t fix it. If there was some incident to which that administrator was reacting, perhaps the real reason for prohibiting the striking of students was to protect the students. I have met more teachers & administrators whose primary concerns were the education & well being of their students than I have whose chief occupation was public relations. Moreover, many of those teachers & administrators are themselves parents. It is hard to believe that the responsible adults who run our schools stay up at night & try to find ways to destroy our, & their, children. Rather than rail against the school system, perhaps it would be more beneficial to students & teachers for parents to take the lead in handling disciplinary problems, to instill in their children from the earliest years a love of learning & a respect for teachers & adult authority.

According to Chaplain Schultz, not only did the school system prohibit the all-important thrashing, it is also responsible for encouraging lewd behavior by passing out condoms to the young males with libidos running amok in our school halls. While I am not sure if this is a plot to undermine the morals of our youth or an attempt to curb the spread of AIDS, I am reasonably sure that it was not my children’s generation that first preached the message of free love & the rhetoric of make love not war. Perhaps a good counter-offensive might be to try & teach the morality of chastity at home. Perhaps the lessons of moral human relationships are best taught by loving & concerned parents & family members as part of a total religious & ethical upbringing. Perhaps parents should be concerned with their children’s perception of other human beings - as human beings - long before those children enter the school system or society in general.

So too, with the issue of abortion. Is it not more reasonable to turn children over to the school system fully inculcated & indoctrinated with the values with which we wish them to live? Ah, but I hear the rebuttal. Our values cannot compete with gangs & peer groups, we must therefore protect our children from themselves. Why can’t our values compete with gangs & peer groups? What is different now than in the past that allowed our values then to compete with gangs & peer groups but no longer? Herein lies the heart of the problem; this is the question to ponder. Perhaps there is something about society today that is different than it was a couple of generations ago & this difference forces children into relying on gangs & peer groups. Perhaps prayer in school has nothing at all to do with the problem. I do not believe that public school policies, condoms, & abortions are the root causes of the substance abuse, depression, suicide, & school violence among the youth of today. Rather these are mere symptoms of deeper social problems. Today’s youth have much less exposure to their parents’ value systems & indeed, far less exposure to their parents. The political rhetoric which the good reverend advocates would not solve these problems, it would only exacerbate them. This approach is like providing more sports initiatives for children who are already ostracized by their peers in current programs. It will, quite simply, not solve their problems.

What then shall we do? I am not entirely sure. I am not a teacher nor a child psychologist, I am a rabbi. I am not a prophet so I don’t know what will work. But I am a parent & I do know what I would like to try. Simply put, parents & grandparents must maximize the amount of time they spend with their children. Much of this time must be devoted to teaching our children & inculcating them with the religious & moral values by which we wish them to live. We must teach our children these values, not by preaching to them, but by living & interacting with them. Moreover, we must do this in an honest & forthright manner. If we expect our children to accept our values, we cannot present those values hypocritically. We cannot eschew the use of drugs while letting our youth watch us pop a couple of Valium or drink ourselves into a state of oblivion to deal with our own problems. We must live the values that we wish our children to emulate &, for many of us, that is difficult.

In my tradition, we place a great weight on these words which we find in Deuteronomy (6:7): ושננתם לבניך ודברת בם בשבתך בביתך ובלכתך בדרך ובשכבך ובקומך - And you shall teach them diligently to your children, & shall talk of them when you sit in your house, & when you walk by the way, & when you lie down, & when you rise up. These words, for me, are a direct commandment from God teaching us that we must not abrogate the moral education of our youth to the school systems or anyone else. It is our job & our duty as parents to teach our children ourselves & to do it constantly. We, ourselves, must teach our children our values constantly & at all times. This way of rearing our children, I believe, has the greatest potential to maximize the ultimate happiness & moral accountability of our youth. To persist in funneling this obligation out to the schools & then blaming the teachers & administrators for their failures, however logical this rhetoric might sound, will produce no results at best & could lead to even greater problems. It is true that sometimes the pendulum swings too far. Society is always in need of constant tweaking. But tweaking is hardly marching backward with fagots burning brightly in the night to a time when our daughters sought illicit abortions or killed themselves with clothes hangers or forward to a time when AIDS, or worse, runs rampant among our youth while we claim it is all the will of God. If we don’t work with the schools & the government & the experts in their fields & take responsibility for the moral rearing of our own children & not try to pass the buck, then Clarence Schultz is correct, we do reap what we sow.

-shalom uverakha-
(peace & blessing)
ronald b. kopelman