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Jewish World Review March 27, 2001 / 3 Nissan, 5761

Cal Thomas

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Stop school shootings by putting children first --
PRESIDENT BUSH wants to spend millions of dollars on "character'' education in government-run schools. My parents gave me mine for free.

The State of California, where the latest two school shootings took place, spends more than $40 billion annually on grades K-12 alone, according to the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy. "Proposition 98 requires that (education) receive 40 percent of the state's budget, more than any other item,'' the Institute notes on its Web site. California taxpayers have a right to question whether they are getting their money's worth.

The Associated Press reports that in the wake of the shootings at Santana and Granite Hills High Schools near San Diego, "some frightened parents are demanding tighter security while others are seeking alternative ways to educate their children.''

There probably is no way to defend students from a shooter who attacks from outside a school unless classes are held in a walled fortress similar to a prison. Putting armed security guards inside school buildings might help, as it did at Granite Hills, but at what cost to the idea of what a school should be?

All of these efforts, along with proposals for school vouchers and a different curriculum, might reduce the consequences of poor character development, but government schools cannot heal themselves. No matter how much money is spent, it's ultimately up to parents to decide whether they are willing to invest the necessary time and resources to properly rear their own children. This critical job cannot be done solely by others and it cannot be done as one might cook a microwave dinner. Good food and good children who reflect the taste and virtues we all say we want take time and the right ingredients to create.

Numerous studies have shown that modern teens are angry. They have a right to be. They have been abandoned by "no-fault'' divorcing parents for whom "love'' is more about feelings than commitment. Children feel conditionally loved. If they perform up to parental expectations, they are affirmed. But if they struggle or fail, too many parents refuse to spend the time necessary to set them right. It might interfere with their pursuit of affluence.

We dump our children in day care at ever-earlier ages. Many parents don't have time for much more than checking homework. How many families have unhurried meals together with the television off? How many families see the transferal of their own beliefs and values to their children as their primary responsibility, ahead of school and certainly ahead of culture? How many parents, ridden with guilt for their failure to properly rear their children, allow them to make their own moral, cultural and relational decisions and are afraid to say "no'' to anything a child wants because it might make the youngster angry?

An Internet search for "school rules'' finds more than 1.5 million sites addressing everything from the use of tobacco on school property to vandalism, tardiness and absenteeism. A few address "respect'' and "responsibility'' in a generic way. Schools can't be too specific or they run the risk of lawsuits from the class of people who have helped fashion the moral vacuum that now pervades most government education.

One parent at Granite Hills told AP he was "seriously considering'' home schooling his 15-year-old daughter rather than let her return to the school. That father is on to something. He is seeing the intellectual and moral development of his child as his own responsibility, not the state's. So what if he might have to work fewer hours, or change jobs, possibly drive a less expensive car, move into a smaller home, or make other lifestyle adjustments? He will be making an investment in his daughter, which will likely pay dividends for life.

No child is taught to kill but he has to be taught to love, respect, honor and value, not only his own life, but the lives of his classmates, parents and teachers. He has to experience love and acceptance. He has to know his life has purpose and meaning. No amount of money can do that. As former first lady Barbara Bush once said, if we have children, they must come first. Our success as a nation and as families depends less on what happens in the White House than what happens in our own homes.

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