IN LOCO PARENTIS
By William Westmiller
Our deepest sorrows are often the most difficult to reconcile, either in terms of cause or cure. The student deaths in Colorado injure our hearts and we plead for relief from the senseless horror. We grasp at straws, searching desperately for some quick and easy solution that will end the pain. It is the time when we make our most serious mistakes.
The most pervasive error over the short term will be to focus on the final episodes that precede such a traumatic event, as though nothing was wrong until the trigger was pulled. We will analyze teen angst and cliquish cruelty, the dimensions of hate, the perversion of culture, or the tools of destruction. We will rush to constrain the symptoms of desperation, rather than face the demons that dashed all hope for two teenagers and their victims at Columbine High School.
Legislators and partisans will attempt to turn the tragedy to their own ends. The anxious chorus will pray that they do something, anything, that might prevent such acts of outrage in the future. Depending on their inclinations, their response will be fruitless, knee-jerk laws that restrict weapons and free speech, or expand the penalties for bad motives. They will all be gloss. Rants against guns, hate crimes, gangs, Goths, Satanism, Hitler, media, or Marilyn Manson will all be part of a flimsy pretense for new legal foolishness.
It's never pleasant to trove the depths of evil in the human psyche. Much better to shrug and discard unthinkable carnage as simple craziness, male hormones, or rebellion gone amok. And it is true that human motives are always complex and secret. We rarely know our own motives with clarity, much less those of others, and even less of those whose final act was to take their own lives. However, we cannot ignore plain motives and circumstances that lead to violent acts. Discovering the precursors of crime is what allows us to develop and maintain a civil society.
What brings a teenager, or any human being, to the point of gleeful murder and self-destruction? How does anyone come to the conclusion that life is so worthless that the only joy remaining is a brief spasm of deadly revenge? In the Littleton, Colorado case, we havethe clear representation of close friends. "Their motive is, basically, because they hate the school and the administration," said pupil Alejandra Marsh. "They were just mad at the world," adds Ben Grams, "Mad because they weren't popular." Witnesses observed that their explicit revenge was directed against "jocks", the athletic bullies who had tormented them. These are not uncommon motives for teenage anger, frustration, and depression. The common remedy is time, communication, and loving support from parents and peers. The two teen boys at Columbine apparently received no such guidance. Their emotional distress was so lengthy and persistent that they had lost any hope for future relief. The sad fact is that no law can banish the human failings of parents or peers who are unable to heal all the injuries that life has to offer. But there is one very important failing that we can repair.
Human sanity can only take so much torture. When we subject anyone to prolonged, persistent, and seemingly endless exposure to abuse and psychological deprivation, we can be certain that they will eventually crack. That is precisely what we do to many students by imposing on them a compulsory public education. This is not a righteous political assertion, but rather an apparent and difficult fact. Prisoners of war are treated better than those youngsters who are forced, totally beyond their parents control, to subject themselves to daily doses of cruel and unusual punishment by heartless peers. There is no escape. There is no alternative. After weeks, months, and years of torture, all hope is lost.
The point can be made that it is only a few kids here and a few kids there and one or two over there who suffer the consequences of compulsory schooling. However, there's another element of public education that affects every child. "In loco parentis" isn't an insult against crazy parents, but the legal doctrine holding that schools, teachers, and administrators have all the rights and powers of parents while children are in their custody. The proper word is custody, because none of these government employees assumes any of the parental roles of loving and nurturing a wayward child. School staffs justifiably deny those obligations, since they are only being paid to conform with the dictates of expansive and vague state and federal regulations. Even with a few concerned teachers and counselors, many students are left in an ethical and emotional vacuum for most of their days. This environment is unique to government schools because they are required, properly, to abstain from the moral and ethical corrections and directions that children require.
Compulsory public schooling fosters a studied disregard of the environment it perpetrates. The legislature can do nothing about deficient parenting, but it can amend the laws to allow conscientiousparents to deal with those circumstances that threaten their children's well being. The denial of those basic rights is a more widespread, if not heinous, crime than the murders that occurred in Colorado.
©1999, William Westmiller
California Coordinator of the Republican Liberty Caucus
Past Candidate for the Republican Nomination for (24 CA) Congress
Former National Secretary and California Chairman, Libertarian Party
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