Friday, June 18, 1999
Think Proactively About Vandalism
The recent vandalism at the Green Cemetery on Bedford Road has caused residents to shake their heads. How could something like this happen in Carlisle? Well, the reality of the 90s is this: this kind of wanton destruction can and will happen anywhere. Witness last year's vandalism and grafitti at the schoolCarlisle is not immune to these problems. And now we are in the process of creating yet another act-of-vandalism-waiting-to-happenthe new ballfields on Banta-Davis.
Last spring, I weighed in in favor of the new ballfields, especially in their placement on the Banta-Davis property. They would be unobtrusive because they would be out of sight from the road. There would be no lighting in the parking lot or on the fields to disturb the surrounding neighbors; in other words, a perfect, low-impact addition to our town. But now I am beginning to wonder if these lovely fields won't be what my father used to call "an attractive nuisance." Situated down a long driveway, the fields and the accompanying parking lot will offer a private gathering spot for young people who, believe me, are always looking for such a place.
What can be done now? The RecCom has said that the fields themselves will have boulders along the sides, discouraging any "turfing." The pump house, however, will have no such protection. They have considered placing a chain or a gate at the Bedford Road entrance that can be closed off at sunset. We as a town have to think proactively, making sure that the police budget has the necessary monies in it for extra patrols once the fields open. Perhaps if we make it clear from the beginning that the Banta-Davis fields are not as isolated as they appear, they won't attract the kind of night-time visitors who dropped in on Green Cemetery.
Civility and Violence
I've been thinking about the Columbine school shootings quite a bit. I'm not alonea recent Time magazine survey found that the Littleton, Colorado tragedy is one of the most closely followed stories of the decade. This may be in part because of our failure to account for what happened; if we cannot explain the actions of these kids, such extreme situations could occur anywhere. I fervently hope that we never have to face a situation like Columbine, but even children believe that violence is possible anywhere. Efforts to pinpoint a single cause of the recent violent incidents are unrealistic. Many experts agree that a number of societal and cultural factors, such as the American gun culture, or media violence, play a role. I've also been listening to the voices that point to more subtle, broader causes, namely the decline of civility in our society and reduced positive (adult) influences on children. Recent Boston Globe articles have quoted local kids in their reaction to the Columbine tragedy:
"I don't think there is enough done to curb school violence.People should be nice to you. All people are equalJust be nice." (Lyniesha Flavius, Grade 5)
"Children, especially boys, will be very violent towards each other and parents will say 'boys will be boys.' That is pathetic. At the very moment parents could teach kids that violence is hurtful and wrong, they tolerate it , and in turn encourage it." (Ashley Jane Harder, Grade 11)
These letters were written as a specific response to Columbine. Unfortunately, they seem to be more a commentary on the everyday life of schoolchildren. Notice that these kids are talking about how peopleparticularly children behave toward each other. And they are asking the adults for help. Civilized, moral behavior must be taught, modeled, and practiced by adults, and not left to develop out of peer interaction. Adult influence is of prime importance because in many cases kids have not fully developed empathic, civil behavior. Why do we think that kids who are acting badly toward each other can "work it out" on their own? Why do we commonly accept kids' cruelty to each other, when the kids themselves wish someone would step in to stop the meanness? Why do we tolerate a lack of respect for authority and ignore impulsive behavior?
Civility is a basic respect for others and an ability to act for the common good rather than follow one's selfish desires. In his book, Civility, Stephen L. Cramer suggests that in the mid-1960s, Americans began to lose their shared sense of values. Without a commonality of moral values or a standard of behavior, the "social glue" that is the basis for civility is lost. The scholar Erasmus first proposed that the rules of behavior civilityare what distinguish civilized human beings from barbarians, or animals.
Cramer (now in his forties) writes that when he was a child, had his school sought to discipline him, his parents would have assumed that the school had good reason. "Unlike many of today's parents, they would not have begun by challenging the teacher or principal who thought I had done wrong. My parents would have trusted the school's judgment but trust of that kind has largely dissolved." In his view, parts of the "three-legged stool of family, religion and the common school" that traditionally helped sustain moral norms have been disintegrating. In our community, without a common shared code of civility and family support, a school effort such as the Open Circle social competency program cannot effectively succeed on its own.
It is important to look for the potential for extreme situations such as Columbine. However, in doing so, we should not miss the opportunity to take a good look at what we can all do to stem the rising tide of everyday incivility and minor violence, especially in our children's lives.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito