Parents are no longer disciplining children at home

Tuesday, February 5, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:51 p.m. CST, Monday, February 2, 2009

Occasionally, my fits of nostalgia are jolted severely by reading or hearing some johnny-come-lately wax eloquently on the progress of the past several decades while decrying the lack of sophistication and diversity of the 1940s and ‘50s. Admittedly, the advances in medicine, such as heart transplants and the elimination of polio; in space travel, to the moon and several planets; in science and physics; and in communications, the Internet in particular, have been nothing short of spectacular.

I do appreciate those quantum successes. For example, I am composing this on a word processor rather than clunky Royal or Underwood typewriters, my cell phone provides me instantaneous communications all over the world if need be, and in all probability, I owe a huge debt to medical science for my being on this side of the grass at this stage of life.

These developmental perks notwithstanding, it is obvious that into each life a little rain must fall. A case in point, in the past month, the media reported that, due to an increase in violent crime in the city, it was necessary to remove police presence from Columbia’s three middle schools. I have no problem with the Columbia police chief allocating or reallocating patrol officers for crime or traffic control because that is part of his job description.

However, will someone please explain to this dinosaur why and when it became necessary to assign police at any level in K-12 public schools? It is a deplorable state of affairs indeed that our society has degenerated to the point that law enforcement personnel are necessary to keep order in our elementary, junior high and high schools.

For those of you who may believe the providing of police presence in our schools is merely a natural process to enforce good order and discipline, horse feathers is the most serious epithet I am allowed to utter in print. I attended public school in the ‘40s and ‘50s, graduated from MU in 1957 and have no memory of on-campus officers at any time. And, there were no University Police as campus security was provided by night watchmen while the Columbia Police Department administered to MU as well as the city.

This situation can be neither rationalized nor sugarcoated. The all too conspicuous breakdown of discipline beginning in the home, permeating the schools, and the remainder of society should be an embarrassment to our very civilization. By comparison, in the unsophisticated era that I alluded to, one who misbehaved and was punished in school prayed that the news did not reach the home. Parents were far less forgiving than were teachers. Furthermore, neighbors and relatives did not hesitate to discipline and/or inform children behaving in an abominably stupid manner.

Two questions come to the fore — what is the cause and why is it tolerated? I believe it is a combination of unreal expectations, apathy, and denial by adults along with the excesses in litigation we have come to accept rather than reject. To assume that teens or preteens are endowed with judgment and responsibility which evolve only from experience and the hard knocks results in a disaster looking to happen.

Moreover, anyone who has been a teen should have learned one inalienable truth­ — adolescent behavior is directly related to fear of consequences­ — the very best of them will push the envelope to the limit and, if not punished, will have little or no respect for the responsible adult. And, is there a teacher or a member of the community who has not been confronted when reporting aberrant behavior to a parent and has not heard “Not my child, my son or daughter would never do that”?

Finally we come to litigation. The modern rush to the courts for solutions to problems solved heretofore by coordinating common sense with cooperation has pushed parents and school administrators alike to fear corrective actions. This abdication or ignoring of supervisory responsibility by adults is not lost on our youth who, realizing there will be little or no consequences for bad behavior, act out accordingly.

Additionally, we appear to have spawned a society of meddling do-gooders who believe the “spare the rod and spoil the child” philosophy to be passe to the extent of reporting normal parental disciplinary measures as brutality to equally sympathetic but impractical authorities.

Admittedly, I have no quick fix but, is it not logical to recognize that discipline begins at home? And, while no reasonable person accepts brutality, I tend to agree with my grandmother who opined, “If the good Lord had not intended that children be spanked, He would not have provided such an excellent repository.”

Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at

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