Too often, the really big problems in our world become so overwhelming that we overlook the important issues close to us. I was reminded of this after reading The Associated Press’s three-day series on the sexual misconduct of school teachers. This is an age-old problem but one of those that requires constant vigilance. I attended several schools in Missouri, and because I had good experiences in all of them, it wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned of a couple of incidents of sexual misconduct in one of my former schools.
A bad habit, common to many of us, is the tendency to believe that once we have identified a problem and addressed it, we have fixed it for all time. As hard as it is to accept, we have to understand that some problems are common to every generation and must always be monitored. We would all like to think issues such as sexual misconduct, racial intolerance, domestic violence and child abuse can be eradicated through education and the adoption of strong community standards. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Throughout human history there have always been, and I suspect there always will be, individuals who break the rules. When each of us goes through our list of acquaintances, we can all name at least one of those people.
Certainly, pornographic Internet sites, movies and television programs portraying sexual promiscuity and magazines displaying sexually explicit material are contributing factors to morally offensive behavior. But under the First Amendment, there is very little that can be done about free speech. At one time, parents could depend more heavily on the public to help them keep their children out of harm’s way, but many parents resent anyone who attempts to interfere with the way they chose to bring up their children, and so the public, for the most part, keeps hands off. We live in a time when people reject regulations of any kind and feel they have a right to do what they please. Of course, this is dangerous. However, until “we the people” make the decision to seriously reform community standards, we will have certain elements within our communities that remain out of control.
When you think about it, we are lucky that we don’t have more schools that are considered “drop-out” factories. It’s not just a problem of hiring good teachers. Sometimes there is the problem of poor administrations where students are allowed to run roughshod over teachers. Other times, the demands of parents create situations where the students are in charge of the schools. It’s been my experience that too often people become school board members because they have children in the schools and want to control policies that make their children happy. Even people who ought to know better think that schools should be in the business of pleasing parents instead of taxpayers. I wonder if parents ever stop to think how much free public education has contributed to this country’s progress. I think somebody should carve a sign in concrete and put it at the entrance of every school’s front door. The sign should read “Dear parent, it’s not about you and your child. It’s about the future of all of the nation’s children.”
After walking into my son’s middle school many years ago, I told him that no child should be forced to try to learn in such a disorderly environment. I asked him if he would like to be sent to school someplace else. He declined the offer because this was the kind of educational environment he was accustomed to. Not since his elementary school days had his classroom been orderly. It seemed to me then that it was an unhealthy situation in which all kinds of wrongdoing could take place, but then I was just one taxpayer. To this day, I’m not surprised by school violence, teacher misconduct or whatever else may take place in so-called institutions of learning. I’ve always considered order the first law of the universe, and until order is established, very little if anything can be accomplished.
I’m grateful that relatives, friends, neighbors, teachers and the community helped my son into adulthood. Rules, regulations and community standards helped his parents keep him safe and secure. On my own, I would have probably failed him miserably.
I thank God that I had sense enough to realize that.
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