Perhaps it would be helpful if all the adults took a refresher course in Connect the Dots. “Start here… this dot leads to that dot leads to the next dot leads to the next… do you see the connection? Do you see the picture starting to emerge?”
Once we’ve reminded everyone how to connect the dots, we need to put it in reverse. People need to be re-taught that the problem they’re dealing with today can be traced back, choice by choice, action by action, to something they did (or didn’t do) years ago. Something they’ve repeatedly done or haven’t done, day after day ever since.
This is the blessing and the cost of freedom. Our choices and actions are ours and so is the responsibility. Yet we’re not in it all alone. The blessings of wise decisions and meritorious actions are often shared by those around us. Likewise, the consequences of bad choices and immoral actions are suffered by everyone around us as well. Here comes the theme again: our lives are connected.
For instance, we’re all feeling the pain of widespread, really bad parenting and indifference to discipline and morality. Exhibit A: the middle school kids who gleefully tormented 68 year-old Karen Klein on their schoolbus. Klein works as a school bus monitor in upstate New York and last week she was subjected to the heartless cruelty of a group of kids who thought their escapade so funny that one of them videotaped the whole thing and put it on YouTube.
What happened to Karen Klein should be seen as an indicator of the emptiness of moral character that is spreading among children like a lethal virus. Far from just a bad moment in time, it reveals a real decay in personal fibre and humanity. Those kids are our future, God help us.
So what has happened to those kids? The school says they are investigating. So far, it seems no disciplinary action has been taken. Ironically, some of the bullies became targets themselves of some angry residents of their community, forcing local police to expend time and resources protecting them. Nice how that works, isn’t it? They commit a shameful act of cruelty and abuse, no one stops them or disciplines them, but then when other people get angry and threaten them, they get all kinds of police protection. Makes them seem like the victim. (Too bad no one cared enough to protect Mrs. Klein.)
With crystal clarity let me say there can be no condoning the threats against the kids. Violence toward these bullies only perpetuates the evil. They do not “deserve” to be harmed, nor do their families “deserve” death threats. They are children — badly behaved, poorly formed children — in dire need of having to endure some serious disciplinary consequences for their actions.
For starters, every single one of the kids involved should be expelled from school immediately. Since it was the end of the year, they should be expelled for the upcoming school year. Their behavior was atrocious and until they learn differently they’re not fit for public school. Next, the principal and their parents should get together and find a suitable service project to which the kids would devote at least 500 hours of their time over the next year. Serving the elderly and disabled should be the central theme. Physical labor should be required. (If any of this inconveniences Mom and Dad, too bad.)
That would be a good start. But only a start. Back up several dots — the real problem goes much deeper. Mere punishment will not effect the change these kids desperately need. Neither will all the dollars and hype being poured into anti-bullying programs. It’s not social malformation we have to correct but moral malformation.
They seem to lack any ability to have empathy for another person, or any ability to show compassion and kindness. They lack any sense of right and wrong. They lack even a smidgen of control over their negative impulses. They took delight in being cruel and such a tendency cannot be minimized. With due respect to the father of one of the boys, this was not simply a “stupid mistake”. This was a deliberate and callous act with violent undertones. On the video one of the boys can be heard mockingly describing what would happen if he stuck a knife in Mrs. Klein.
The bad news is, these are kids. The blame for their moral malformation and subsequent terrible behavior can be laid squarely at our feet — the grown-ups.
The good news is, these are kids. There is hope for them. The “mold” isn’t totally set yet and there is time to try to recast them. Only if, however, we are honest enough to connect the dots and admit that the ugly picture is our own doing.
These kids weren’t raised in a vacuum. They’re the product of their environment and their culture. They’ve become what they’ve been fed — a steady diet of consumerism; violence through graphic video games and television; crude and vulgar speech through the music blasting from their iPods; relentless sexual titillation bombarding them everywhere they turn; and the philosophy of “me first.” They’ve learned that their wants should be satisfied without delay or cost to them. They’ve learned that pleasure dominates, and if something displeases them, they can ignore it, neglect it, or destroy it.
They’ve learned that promises don’t mean much and vows can be broken any time; fidelity is old-fashioned and sex is the meaning of life. Other people are not human beings with dignity but objects to be used for satisfaction and then discarded. They find amusement in vandalism and give no thought to trashing a grave site.
God is out, and their personal freedom, according to the dictates of relativism, is the true supreme law that cannot be violated. Worst of all, they are growing up with a deep disregard for human life. In the case of human life deemed “less than” their own, they seem to have an instinctual contempt. (Why? Because we celebrate the pagan practice of slaughtering our own children if we don’t want them, or they’re not perfectly healthy, or they’re not the right gender, or hey, just because, that’s why. You think they don’t get the message that only some human life is valuable?) That’s what we saw on that school bus.
Imagine a world dominated by such people in 30 years. Are you alarmed yet? So my question is, when are folks finally going to admit that our culture is toxic and ruining our kids? When are the adults going to start showing up again? Who created this toxic mess anyway? From whom are these kids learning their boorish, selfish, and cold-hearted behavior? (You get three guesses and the first two don’t count.)
Solidarity requires that after the discipline is enforced we get to the root of the problem and teach these children what it means to love their neighbor, what it means to love, period. Clearly, they do not know. Whose fault is that?
Let’s start by acknowledging that for too long parents have surrendered their parenting authority to the culture at large, either out of indifference, laziness, or ambition. Kids have become things we have around only when it’s convenient for us, and the truth is that children are never convenient. They require what much of our society is no longer willing to provide: parents who take parenting seriously. We’re raising future adults here, and the sampling on that school bus says we’re doing a phenomenally lousy job.
One more thing: If this is the “socialization” that my homeschooled kids are supposedly missing out on by being “deprived” of their peers, you better believe I want no part of it and you’ll “socialize” my kids over my dead body. Every homeschooled child I’ve ever met has been polite, respectful, pleasant to talk with, helpful, and considerate. Precisely because they’re not learning to behave like animals from their peers — they’ve learned to be civilized, respectable people from the adults in their lives.
Imagine a different picture and connect these dots: Mom and Dad are married to each other, living under the same roof. Mom and Dad know how to say NO. Love, respect, kindness, and service to others are the rule. Children are taught modesty in dress, speech, and behavior. (aka, Pull Your Pants Up and Mind Your Manners) They learn that all human life is sacred. They learn they are not the center of the universe. They learn to put God first in their lives, and as a result, they are happy. They learn chastity is possible and preferable. They learn that they matter; they’re worth a lot; they’re needed; they’re wanted; they’ve got a purpose. They learn they are loved, and they learn how to love others.
Now tell me — which set of dots should we be connecting?