Laws Versus Values

During the 40s, when I attended primary and secondary school, one didn't hear of school shootings. Why? Did we have better laws banning guns in and around schools? Or hadn't guns been invented?

Many of today's youngsters begin the school day passing through metal detectors. Guards patrol hallways and police cars patrol outside. Despite these measures, assaults, knifings and shootings occur. According to the National Center for Education Statistics 1996-97 report, there were nearly 4,000 incidents of in-school rape and sexual battery, 11,000 incidents of physical attacks or fights in which weapons were used and 7,000 robberies in schools. About 190,000 fights or physical attacks not involving weapons also occurred at schools, plus there 115,000 thefts and 98,000 incidents of vandalism. These statistics understate the true magnitude of the problem because not all school violence is reported.

Along with school violence, many youngsters today exhibit little reservation in using foul language, not only to their peers, but in the presence of and to teachers.

Most Americans living today have little or no knowledge of yesteryear's school environment. As such they just might think what goes on in schools has always been. But those of my age know that schools, even in poor neighborhoods, in earlier periods were generally civilized. Yes, teachers had complaints about students back then but they're trivial compared to today's. Back then behavioral problems were: students passing notes, chewing gum in class, running in the hallways, jumping in or out of line and high school smoking in the bathroom or fire escape. That's a far cry from today's problems of school rapes, murder, theft, and assaults and threats to both students and teachers.

We just might ask what might explain the differences in student behavior today and yesteryear. A probable explanation is seen if we recognize that society's first line of defense is morality. The morality of those thou-shalt-nots: shalt not kill, shalt not steal, shalt not lie, cheat, etc. The importance of morality is that people behave themselves even if nobody's watching. There are not enough cops and laws to replace personal morality as a means to produce a civilized society. Indeed, the police and criminal justice system are the last desperate line of defense for a civilized society. Unfortunately, too many of us see police, laws and the criminal justice system as society's first line of defense.

For nearly a half century, the nation's liberals have waged war on traditional values, customs and morality. Our youth have been counseled that there are no moral absolutes. Instead, what's moral or immoral is a matter of personal opinion. During the 60s, the education establishment challenged and undermined lessons children learned from their parents and Sunday school with fads like "values clarification." So-called sex education classes are simply indoctrination that undermines family/church strictures against pre-marital sex. Lessons of abstinence were considered passé and replaced with lessons about condoms, birth control pills and abortions. Further undermining of parental authority came with legal and extra-legal measures to assist teenage abortions with neither parental knowledge nor consent.

Customs, traditions, mores, and rules of etiquette, not laws and government regulations, are what makes for a civilized society. These behavioral norms, mostly transmitted by example, word-of-mouth, and religious teachings, represent a body of wisdom distilled through ages of experience, trial and error.

Starting in the 60s traditional behavioral norms became seen as inconvenient, fun-robbing, or inconsistent with one social agenda or another. Traditional values were discarded without an appreciation for the role they played in creating a civilized society and now we're paying the price. What's worse is that few of us make the connection and insist one another law in the wake of one school shooting or another.

Walter E. Williams
April 16, 2001
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