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Have I Missed Something Here?

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In recent months, like many other educators, my life has been filled with the challenges in Washington, in the state capital, and in local budgets. The cause of children has captured our thoughts in a variety of ways, from the advancement of technology to the charges and countercharges about what should or should not be in the school curriculum.

In the past few weeks, however, I have witnessed and read about situations that truly give me pause. They have prompted questions that now race across my mind about where we have gone wrong or where I personally may have missed something.

I represented the American Association of School Administrators recently at a University of Chicago symposium sponsored by the Lions Club. William J. Bennett and Andrew Young took part; the moderator for the day was Carole Simpson of ABC News. But a student panel of teenagers stole the show.

These young people spoke from their experiences, which were in urban areas as well as lovely suburbs. Even though everyone was saddened to once again hear about the crushing conditions of the city streets, the part that arrested the thoughts of many of us was what a young woman from a suburb of a Southern city told us. She had abandoned participation in sports and taken up charity work, she said, because it had meaning. In her school activities, the girl explained, parents often would stand up for kids even when they were doing the wrong thing. It was her feeling that too many parents made excuses with the police and the schools for their children's bad behavior when they should have been using the occasion to help their children face up to problems like drugs and alcohol.

Now let me mention some more recent experiences in my own milieu. Over the weekend, a newspaper in my state reported the thoughts of a young man speaking at the funeral of a friend who had committed suicide after killing another youngster in a nice, middle-size community. The eulogizer talked of what a special person they were there to honor, a kid who was a wonderful guy, a good businessman, a person everyone could count on, and a really honest drug dealer.

In the past week, a judge admonished the parent of a 19-year-old woman convicted of killing three~ people while driving drunk. The mother, it seems, was going to the community-service project that had been prescribed by the judge for the daughter to help the girl complete her work. The judge was naturally chagrined. The mother, she pointed out, was continuing the very pattern of protecting her daughter from the consequences of her actions that might have played a role in her reckless behavior.

Immediately after winning a championship, a high school sports team recently ran to the sidelines to cheer and hug an individual who had quit the team before the season started.

A teenager in our state stole a car and was being chased by the police. He lost control of the car, hit and killed people on the sidewalk as well as people in the car. Now, some good citizens are demonstrating because of the terrible waste of life caused by the police chase.

Finally, a parent comes to a school administrator's office because his child has brought a loaded pistol to the school. The school board was moving toward expulsion; the parent asks if the punishment isn't rather harsh in light of the fact that the gun's safety was on.

Have I missed something here? Have we lost our way on right and wrong? When is it time for parents to step forward and join the police and the schools in pushing young people to face problems and not act as a buffer between the youngsters and the results of their actions?

We are still a strong people with a great history and an enormous capacity for goodness. It is time to step forward and not allow it to become fashionable to blame our ills on someone else.

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