The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 11, 1999


A Loss of Respect and Civility in our Schools

A concern about the lack of civility on the part of school children was expressed by a parent at a recent Carlisle School Committee meeting. At the same meeting, one of the school committee members reported that the superintendent has been threatened with lawsuits by parents of school children. Superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson added that one parent came to the school and took his son out of detention. What is going on here in the Carlisle schools?

What is it that our kids are failing to learn from parents and other significant adults in their lives when they show a lack of respect for authority figures and exhibit harassing behavior towards their classmates? Also at this same school committee meeting, Fox-Melanson responded, "If the school has no authority over the children's behavior, the school has lost. The school feels it has failed to teach the child awareness of and responsibility for his/her actions." But are the schools the ones to blame?

Where does this lack of respect for teachers, peers and school administrators come from? How can children learn if the teacher is confronted each day with unruly behavior? Why are children harassing one another? Why haven't children been taught in their homes the moral values of a decent, honorable, ethical, principled society? Do parents expect the schools to do it for them?

As I ponder these questions, I realize there must be more than one answer to these problems. Thinking about the issues, several questions come to mind.

Did schools lose authority after Vietnam war dissenters questioned all authority back in the '60s? Do teachers communicate promptly with parents about children who are having behavior problems at the school and then work together to devise a different approach to the students at home and in the school? Do teachers get enough support to deal with students who are disruptive in the classroom? Have we become such a litigious society that we threaten our schools with a lawsuit instead of trying to work things out? Can a parent who takes a child out of detention be teaching his child respect for the school and institutions of learning?

It is only natural for parents to want to step in and protect their children, but isn't it more helpful to support the child in solving his or her own problems? I remember as a child complaining about a certain teacher; my parents' response was, "You learn to get along with Mrs. Black. There will always be people in your life that you'll have to learn to get along with."

Maybe our schools are just a reflection of the society we live in. Certainly our modern-day culture has come under increased scrutiny in recent months.

Parents are their children's first and most influential teachers, and the values they teach are ones reflected in the child's behavior at school. If our schools are to teach our children, they must have the respect and the support of the parents to do the job they set out to do

Cover Me

For all their tragedy, the recent shootings at high schools in Colorado and Georgia have brought a long overdue critical examination of the role of guns in American culture. Across the country, in backyards, around water coolers and in columns such as this, people are asking each other with renewed urgency why guns are so readily available and in such wide and dangerous variety. In the halls of Congress, legislators have moved to tighten restrictions on gun sales. Sensing the public mood, even the National Rifle Association has tempered (though not abandoned) its insistence that guns should be free from restriction of any kind.

Guns occupy a curious place in American folklore. From the cowboys of the wild west to the present day, we seem to accept without inquiry the notion that guns are an essential element of American life. The "right to bear arms" slogan at the center of the idea is, of course, found in the second amendment of the Constitution: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." But, as noted in a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, federal courts have almost universally rejected the notion that the second amendment right extends to individuals, saying instead that it is a right reserved for state militias.

Whatever their status under the Constitution, there is no question that guns are dangerous things. Few of the guns in circulation measure up to the explanations most commonly offered to support their use. Neither handguns nor semiautomatic rifles are useful for hunting, and the number of deaths and injuries suffered by friends or family members of gun owners, either by accident or in the course of an argument, far exceeds the number of instances in which guns are used successfully to repel intrusion by a stranger. In particular, despite whatever efforts gun owners may make to keep their guns away from children, an alarming number of children die each year by accidental firing.

Guns are not the only dangerous items in common use, of course. For example, automobiles also cause too many deaths each year. But there is an important difference in the way we treat the risk of death or injury from most dangerous instruments other than guns. A condition of the privilege to drive a car is that the owner maintain liability insurance in a minimum amount. The effect of that requirement is twofold. It assures a source of compensation to the victims of an accident involving the car, and it spreads the costs of car accidents among those persons who choose to own and drive cars. In a similar way, when manufacturers of dangerous products are forced to bear the costs of injuries caused by their products, the costs are passed through to purchasers.

Unless the costs of an item's use are spread among its users, it enjoys a sort of subsidy. Whatever the second amendment may guarantee, it is not a subsidy. In simple free market economic terms, those who wish to exercise their freedom to own and use guns should be expected to bear the "fully loaded" cost of that inherently dangerous activity.

If we must have liability insurance to drive a car, why shouldn't insurance be required as a condition of owning a gun? Maybe the premiums would tell us something we already should have known.


1999 The Carlisle Mosquito