Gary is an author, trial lawyer, Mequon-area resident and town of Cedarburg supervisor. He is a columnist for the News Graphic and writes for several Wisconsin area magazines and is a national columnist with The American Thinker and PJ Media. He lives with his wife, Lisa, and has three sons ages 18 to 28. Gary won Ozaukee County in his bid for the Wisconsin Assembly's 60th District in 2011, but came up just 58 votes short.
In wake of the recent Virginia Tech tragedy, it is important that we do not repeat history. Cho Seung-hi wasn’t the first student to turn into a mass murderer, and he won’t be the last. As his parents struggle to figure out where they went wrong, we as a society need to quickly put our finger on the answer and pull the trigger. These are our children committing these atrocities. Even before the young victims were buried, politicians began falling into the same old trap of blaming everything under the sun from guns to global warming. The media immediately began what the lawyers soon took over – blaming Virginia Tech - instead of putting responsibility where it belonged. This explains why they continue to search for, but will never find the answer they seek. They are looking in the wrong place.
Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris woke up our nation. We live in a culture which boasts six out of ten high school students admitting illegal drug use, skyrocketing teen pregnancies and abortions, an increase in violent crime committed by children under the age of 15, half of high school seniors admitting they get drunk at least once a week, gang membership and gang-related violence on the sharp increase, and an annual 235 school-associated violent deaths (11% of them in elementary schools!) from 1992 to 1999. Each year nearly 3 million crimes are committed on or near school property – 16,000 per school day. An estimated 135,000 children carry guns to school every day. Twenty-one percent of all secondary school students report avoiding using the rest rooms for fear of being harmed. Despite all of this, it was the April 20, 1999 atrocities committed by Dylan and Eric, two Columbine High School students from Littleton, Colorado, which finally woke us up as a nation to the fact that something in our society was broken and desperately in need of fixing. Shortly thereafter, then-President Bill Clinton spoke to the Columbine students and said, “This incident again should underscore how profoundly important it is that all Americans come together in the face of these events to protect all of our children from violence." Sadly, the relevant point was missed that day – perhaps intentionally. Dylan and Eric were symptoms of a society in which relative values, affective education, self-esteem exercises, pop culture and multi-culturalism have replaced moral absolutes and the notion that one cannot be good without any training in goodness – principles which once were the cornerstones of our children’s’ moral upbringing.
In 1955, Rudolf Flesch wrote a book entitled, Why Johnny Can’t Read. It was a harsh indictment of an educational fad called “look-say”, which was meant to make reading easier, but actually served to confuse children. Ignoring the proven “phonics” approach – used by every other country with an alphabet system – this fad led to immense reading problems and increasing illiteracy. In 1986, the Department of Education belatedly again endorsed the “phonics” approach, but school systems, teachers’ colleges and text-book publishers have been reluctant to give up the inferior method. Flesch’s analysis of why Johnny can’t read is helpful because it parallels the failure of moral education in our country. Children are being taught with the wrong method – one that is beginning to look more and more like a fad that just won’t go away. Instead of encouraging virtuous behavior, it seems to actually undermine it. Known as “decision-making”, “moral reasoning” or “values clarification”, this educational fad is the chaff which remains when the wheat of moral absolutes and character education have been removed. Think about it. If you take Judeo-Christian fundamentals and the Ten Commandments out of our classrooms, there is still a need for moral instruction. Decision-making is what we are left with – the notion that a young person would be more committed to self-discovered values than to those supposedly sexist, antiquated, chauvinistic and oppressive values found in the Bible or handed down by adults. At least this was the hope of many secular educators.The reality is that the decision-making approach has resulted in children’s wholesale confusion about moral values. They have been taught to question values they have scarcely acquired, unlearn values taught at home, and to conclude that questions of right and wrong are always subjective. This is evident with the unabashed irreverence for authority exhibited by so many children today. For adults it has provided a theoretical basis for questioning the importance or necessity of setting a good example to the young. It has without question resulted in a generation of moral illiterates – students who know their own feelings but don’t have anything on which to anchor them. We have a secular educational system which intentionally withholds from the children the greatest incentive to moral behavior – the conviction that life makes sense; that there is a greater purpose, a greater objective than what we accomplish here on Earth. This decision-making approach is sometimes a course in itself, sometimes a strategy in sex education classes, and sometimes as a unit in civics or social science. It was started with the best of intentions and based in part upon a flawed understanding of the First Amendment – the mistaken notion that church and state must be totally separate. These curriculums, regardless of the form they take, all assume that children can learn to make good moral decisions without bothering to acquire moral habits or strength of character. The underlying strategy is to elicit the youngster’s opinion on a wide variety of topics. For example:
Ø One questionnaire used in several Massachusetts schools asked students to rate, on a scale of 1 to 10, the importance of being honest with peers? With strangers? Ø From the Values Clarification handbook, a best seller: “Tell where you stand on the topic of masturbation”; “How important are engagement rings to you?” “Talk about your allowance – how much do you get, and whether you think it is fair.” Ø From the same book: “To whom would you tell you have had premarital sexual relations?” “Have you had an abortion?”; “Your method of birth control?”; “Have you taken money from your Dad’s dresser?” Discuss.As these examples suggest, this is not education in the traditional sense – it is sensitivity training. The chief architect of this kind of education was, in fact, not an educator, but a psychotherapist. So where is the “moral” in this “moral” education? No reason is given as to why a boy or girl would want to be good in the first place. Indeed, no such reason can be given without entering the realm of theology and moral absolutes. And one cannot enter that realm – of course – because moral absolutes are synonymous with the Bible and the Ten Commandments. Students in public schools today are given few moral rulers or compasses to live by or guide themselves with - aside from peer pressure and social conformity. Traditional western culture has always made use of stories, songs, paintings and sculpture in education and socializing the young. Such “teaching to the right brain” has been lost. Educators have turned a deaf ear to the crucial and powerful role of music, art, and story in moral formation.
My three sons have learned the moral absolutes about telling the truth from the Bible. Still, the most vivid lesson they ever learned about this simple truth was from Aesop’s fable, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”, which I read to each of them many years ago and which still sticks with them in everything they do. They remember every detail of that story. Unfortunately, most children learn the lessons taught them in the powerful media of television, music, video games and movies. And we all know the confusing messages taught there. To this day I will never understand why a movie that is obviously produced and marketed for children has to showcase the obligatory single parent family or unnecessary vulgarity, violence and profanity in order to give it an endorsement of reality. It is as though Hollywood is thumbing their noses at western culture and traditional values. And we continue to pay the $8.50 for the ticket to let our children be “educated” by Hollywood, often without first checking out the movie ourselves. Plato, reviled by many educators as prototypical of biased, chauvinistic western culture, believed that children should be brought up in such a way that they would fall in love with virtue. He believed that the only way to accomplish this was through story – and that no amount of dialogue could compensate if this medium was missing. He wrote the following in his classic work, Republic:
You know that the beginning is the most important part of any work, especially in the case of a young and tender thing; for that is the time at which the character is being formed and the desired impression is more readily taken…Shall we just carelessly allow children to hear any casual tales which may be devised by casual persons, and to receive into their minds ideas for the most part the very opposite of those which we should wish them to have when they are grown up?
We cannot…Anything received into the mind at that age is likely to become indelible and unalterable; and therefore it is most important that the tales which the young first hear should be models of virtuous thoughts…
Then will our youth dwell in a land of health, amid fair sights and sounds, and received the good in everything; and beauty, the effluence of fair works, shall flow into the eye and ear, like a health-giving breeze from a purer region, and insensibly draw the soul from the earliest years into likeness and sympathy with the beauty of reason. There can be no nobler training than that.
Imagine combining the child-training method of Plato with a faith-based moral foundation! Unfortunately, our generation has gone in a different direction, and set as its goal to be the first generation not to educate our children in such an “oppressive” fashion. We do the politically correct thing and blame guns – ubiquitous, yet inanimate objects – for the tragedies we see daily, rather than putting the blame where it belongs.Somewhere along the line we decided that these “young skulls of mush” did not have to be taught the truth – but rather, would discover it on their own through introspective and affective means. But according to the famed psychologist Abraham Maslow: “…Self-actualization does not occur in young people…they have not learned how to be patient; nor have they learned enough about evil in themselves and others…nor have they generally become knowledgeable and educated enough to open the possibility of becoming wise; nor have they generally acquired enough courage to be unpopular, to be unashamed about being openly virtuous, etc.” So the question remains. In a secular society, how do you teach children morals if secular society excludes moral absolutes? The answer is: you can’t. Ultimately, that child will realize that moral relativity governs over absolutes. The moral foundation of the Bible was recognized by the founding fathers of our country – who founded the country as a Christian nation for that very reason. The argument by secular educators that the Bible must be dismissed as a teaching tool of morality misses the point completely. They believe that religion and morality must be placed in the category of subjective values, as distinguished from the world of scientific knowledge – and therefore should not be taught in secular schools. Some may point to non-religious families raising productive and law-abiding children and extol the superfluous nature of a religious foundation in life.
Like many secular educators, Stephen Jay Gould, was an atheist and one of this country's leading biologists. He admitted that science and religion are separate realms of equal dignity and importance because science deals with factual reality while religion struggles with human morality. It should then follow that religious leaders should have roughly the same authority in the moral realm that scientists such as Gould have in the realm of “factual reality”. If that were so, the argument for allowing religion to play a role in the morals curriculum in our public education institutions would be very compelling. But, so would the argument of excluding religion from the science curriculum, i.e. evolution theory. However, this distinction between religion and science is superficial.The validity of religious morality is linked to the validity of the factual propositions that support it. If God really did create “male and female” and intended them to play different roles in the family, and intended sex to be confined to the marital relationship, then the system of traditional family morality makes sense. In that case, the new sexual morality and the subjective morals of the “new curriculum” are inconsistent with reality and likely to end in frustration and misery. It is apparent that the reason secular society embraces the decision-making curriculum is precisely because educators don’t accept the premise that God created everything. And we thought it was merely an argument about the origin of the universe! The “decision-making” curriculum is a God-less curriculum and it is the best secular society can do without moral absolutes. Society considers morality to be a matter of value – not fact. Whether Mount Everest is taller than Pike’s Peak is an objective fact; whether it is more beautiful is a subjective question of value. Even some people of faith tend to accept these secular categories, because their surrounding culture teaches them to do so.
Religion is a way of thinking about ultimate questions such as how and why we came into existence, and the purpose and meaning of life. How a society answers these questions becomes its established religious philosophy – its cultural way of thinking about religious topics. Founded as a country with theism/Christianity as its established religious philosophy, we have now changed and transformed into a country whose established religious philosophy is naturalism or modernism – a metaphysical doctrine with the premise that what is real is nature and the natural laws that govern how all of nature behaves. It allows no room for a supernatural creator or a supreme being of any kind.To the naturalist, God is dead – which may explain in part why God appears to be dead in our public classrooms. To the naturalist, “pre-modern” standards such as the Ten Commandments, while not irrational, must be edited and evaluated by the standards of naturalistic reason. Naturalism, therefore, does the following: 1. Retains the prohibition of theft and murder;
2. Retains the Sabbath, but merely as a secular day of recreation;
3. Discards the admonition to have “no other Gods before me” as meaningless;
4. Regards ambivalently the prohibition of adultery and the command to honor parents;
5. Labels Scripture’s proscriptions concerning homosexuality as “homophobic” and “unenlightened”. Naturalism and modernism allow a person to choose what is right and wrong for him or her, provided he or she does not infringe on the rights of anyone else to do the same. Adultery, for example, becomes undesirable only because it is damaging to human relationships and a breach of contract. People of faith struggle with what they see and hear in the media because they have a different religious philosophy. While defenders of modernism cannot openly ban the advocacy of theism without contradicting their own commitment of freedom of expression and unfettered intellectual inquiry, theism receives the label of “fantasy”, is fettered with a subtext of contempt, and is dismissed in all forums of intellectual debate, most notably schools. This is why decision-making has replaced the absolute morals of the Bible in our public classrooms. The result of this replacement can be seen in the actions of Dylan Klebold, Eric Harris, and Cho Seung-hi , and in all of the violence and Godlessness in our public schools today. Even this week’s TIME magazine agrees that the Bible should be taught, but not preached, in our public schools.
We all too often fail at being good role models for our children – in part because we don’t know how. Like our children, we are in large part a product of our society too. We ban dodge ball from the schools because it is damaging to a child’s self-esteem to have a ball thrown at them or be picked last on a team, but allow – and almost encourage – premarital sex or gay and lesbian lifestyles as a choice. We allow a child the right to choose an abortion – without their parents’ consent – but deny them the right to school choice. We take away classics such as Huckleberry Finn because of its latent “racism”, and give them instead free condoms. Instead of concocting questionable and unproven programs to bolster self-esteem and instill political correctness, we should be encouraging and promoting accomplishments which will naturally bring about self-esteem.Professional athletes commit horrendous crimes and within a few weeks are back on prime time, sporting their diamond earrings, body piercings and tattoos, and being interviewed on national television with every other word censored. Children need role models and good examples to follow. Our children have not lost their taste or their need for heroism. They have simply had to acquire new and different types of heroes by way of pop culture. It is sadly ironic that when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris killed 15 fellow students at Columbine High School, instead of trying to fix the root problem – an absolute moral vacuum as a result of an absence of God in the classroom as reflected by this decision-making curriculum – we blamed guns. When Cho Seung-hi gunned down his fellow students, we were so quick to blame Virginia Tech, and then guns. We fail to acknowledge that our children are the violent criminals. And what’s worse? We fail to acknowledge that a lack of instruction in faith and moral absolutes is at the root of the problem. Children of faith are not perfect - far from it. And at no time will I argue that a child raised without religious values will become a bad person. Yet nobody can deny the profound difference in the effect a religious education and the reinforcement of moral absolutes can have on the lives of young children. While the answer appears simple, putting the solution to practice appears to be a challenge of monumental proportions. Cho Seung-hi taught us that. One thing is certain. If every child were raised in faith and moral absolutes and prayed with earnest, believing in the power of someone much greater than themselves, things would improve. In a sinful world there will always be sin. But the best weapons our children have against the evils and dangers of the world around them is the interplay of faith, good parental role models, and an education in moral absolutes. Only with the use of those weapons can our children begin to show respect for authority and the dignity of life, and truly come to know the difference between right and wrong.