Judy Warner has sent round this fine satirical piece on the differences between school fifty years ago and school nowadays:
SCHOOL - 1957 vs. 2007
Scenario: Jack goes quail hunting before school, pulls into school parking lot with shotgun in gun rack.
1957 - Vice Principal comes over, looks at Jack's shotgun, goes to his car and gets his shotgun to show Jack.
2007 - School goes into lock down, FBI called, Jack hauled off to jail and never sees his truck or gun again. Counselors called in for traumatized students and teachers.
Scenario: Johnny and Mark get into a fistfight after school.
1957 - Crowd gathers. Mark wins. Johnny and Mark shake hands and end up buddies.
2007 - Police called, SWAT team arrives, arrests Johnny and Mark. Charge them with assault, both expelled even though Johnny started it.
Scenario: Jeffrey won't be still in class, disrupts other students.
1957 - Jeffrey sent to office and given a good paddling by the Principal. Returns to class, sits still and does not disrupt class again.
2007 - Jeffrey given huge doses of Ritalin. Becomes a zombie. Tested for ADD. School gets extra money from state because Jeffrey has a disability.
Scenario: Billy breaks a window in his neighbor's car and his Dad gives him a whipping with his belt.
1957 - Billy is more careful next time, grows up normal, goes to college, and becomes a successful businessman.
2007 - Billy's dad is arrested for child abuse. Billy removed to foster care and joins a gang. State psychologist tells Billy's sister that she remembers being abused herself and their dad goes to prison. Billy's mom has affair with psychologist.
Scenario: Mark gets a headache and takes some aspirin to school .
1957 - Mark shares aspirin with Principal out on the smoking dock.
2007 - Police called, Mark expelled from school for drug violations. Car searched for drugs and weapons.
Scenario: Pedro fails high school English.
1957 - Pedro goes to summer school, passes English, goes to college.
2007 - Pedro's cause is taken up by state. Newspaper articles appear nationally explaining that teaching English as a requirement for graduation is racist. ACLU files class action lawsuit against state school system and Pedro's English teacher. English banned from core curriculum. Pedro given diploma anyway but ends up mowing lawns for a living because he cannot speak English.
Scenario: Johnny takes apart leftover firecrackers from 4th of July, puts them in a model airplane paint bottle, blows up a red ant bed.
1957 - Ants die.
2007 - BATF, Homeland Security, FBI called. Johnny charged with domestic terrorism, FBI investigates parents, siblings removed from home, computers confiscated, Johnny's Dad goes on a terror watch list and is never allowed to fly again.
Scenario: Johnny falls while running during recess and scrapes his knee. He is found crying by his teacher, Mary. Mary hugs him to comfort him.
1957 - In a short time, Johnny feels better and goes on playing.
2007 - Mary is accused of being a sexual predator and loses her job. She faces 3 years in State Prison. Johnny undergoes 5 years of therapy.
It's a witty exaggeration of our current madness, but not much of an exaggeration, either. I'd have been doped up on Ritalin myself if the junkies could have persuaded my parents. After all, what but a dire chemical imbalance might cause a boy to stare out of the window for hours, or to draw embarrassing pictures of nuns deshabille, or to read backwards from the back of the book, or to write messages in an invented language? As for my brother, forget it. That young fellow who never earned an A in his life (though he was given a few he didn't earn), who in another age would have led his troops in triumph through Persepolis and who now is doing quite well for himself selling insurance, would have been tossed among the mind-stiflers for certain.
One thread is common to almost all of Judy's scenarios: the loss of trust. In The Moral Basis of a Backward Society (I may be botching the title there), Edward Banfield noted that you can't get anything so complex as a large business off the ground when you aren't reasonably sure of a moral orderliness and sobriety around you. That is, you have to be sure that most of your workers will show up on time, that they will not steal from you, and that the local officials will leave you alone and not soon ask for protection money once you start to clear a profit. But even in the society that Banfield focused on -- the southern Italy of my ancestors -- you could trust in many things, though not the ones that assist you in developing a modern economy. You could be sure that if Giovanni had his way with Filomena by force, Filomena's brothers would see to it that he could never do such a thing again. In general, you could count on families to protect and promote their own. You could expect hospitality, some cleanliness (not as much as in Switzerland, but still more than you will find in middle class American flophouses now), respect for the aged, and self-reliance.
What happens when the windows in a neighborhood are smashed? Rudy Giuliani, no moralist, can tell you: crime sets in. That's because the causal arrow goes both ways: where there's crime, you'll find broken windows, but broken windows themselves attract crime. The people lose heart. They grow used to disorder. They lose trust: you cannot depend that the owners of the properties around you care enough about them to evict a dope-peddler, when they do not trouble to fix a window. Your street looks like a crime scene, and that's enough to set it on the way to being one.
Our schools have perversely chosen to permit their moral windows to be smashed. More: administrators and teachers have taken up the hammers and done plenty of smashing themselves. It isn't only that they have permitted students to dress like knaves and hookers. Nor that they habitually teach a moral relativism that justifies knavery and whoring. Nor that they pride themselves on running down their nation, turning American history into one vast criminal enterprise. All these things undermine trust. But there's one thing that blows it sky high -- and that is their decision to set themselves essentially at enmity with the family, arrogating to themselves the rights of parents. I may trust a friend, or, upon a friend's recommendation, a stranger. I may make a pact with an enemy. The enemy may be a fine person. But a relational enmity remains. Therefore I cannot trust the enemy. I must always watch for the knife.
In some of the cases above, the reaction of the school now would be quite understandable -- because there is no trust between the school and the community, nor is there much of a "community" to trust the school or to be trusted. A frequent visitor to the Mere Comments site (but not a blogger; he won't engage us in argument here) once taunted me for saying that I longed to see more guns brought to school. I don't care if there's never a gun brought to another American school for the next hundred years. I long for a world wherein bringing a gun to school would be inconsequential, because everybody could be sure that it was for hunting rabbits, or for a Civil War display, not for shooting your fellow students. That would be a world of self-reliant and stable families, the communities they foster, and the schools they permit to teach their children. The windows wouldn't be broken. In that world, you would no more teach high school students puerile obscenities, or you would no more hand out estrogen to little girls, than you would take a gun to pepper the gym class -- or smash the windows of your own home.