Having been given another opportunity to write this column for the Poynette Press/Lodi Enterprise, I had to put some thought into what I wanted to write about, and from what perspective.
I have the privilege to serve my community through various organizations and boards that I am involved with. I am the father of five children and a small business owner with several employees that I have the honor to work with.
For this Community Voice column, I think I’m going to tackle a very difficult topic. It’s a topic that I hope won’t hurt anyone’s feelings. The fact is, along with the many hats I wear that I listed above; I also have the perspective of the role as the Confirmation Guide at St. Thomas Catholic Church.
The topic I would like to address is the school shootings that have been in the news lately. There have been countless discussions about how to prevent them, how to defend against them or how are they happening in controlled areas. I have my own ideas about what causes them. These are my observations, so take-it-or-leave-it. They come from the perspective of a community member, an employer, a father, a Generation Xer and a religious educator.
This is a very complex issue. It’s not a gun control issue. It’s a respect issue. As a society we have set ourselves up for these failures.
In the mid- to late-1800s, discussions were going on as to the level of involvement schools should have teaching religion and saying prayers. By 1962, the Supreme Court had determined that prayer in the school violated the First Amendment in the case Engel v. Vitale. In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled that bible readings in public school shall not be allowed. Public schools during the last 60 plus years have completely relied on teaching moral issues without the ability to mention God as a center of morality. One can argue that one can be a moral person without the need to believe in God, and that is true, but there is also the concept of natural law where all creatures have a program within us (given to us by God) that keeps us from doing certain things; intentionally hurting others is one of them. Removing teachings of God and prayer from schools didn’t suddenly make kids start shooting each other, but it’s one aspect that hasn’t helped. Without the ability to speak of the Golden Rule or the Ten Commandments in public schools leaves our educators less of an upper hand in guiding our youth.
Another thought is how my parent’s generation was mostly brought up in two-parent homes. They went to church regularly and had a defined moral understanding of right and wrong. By the time my generation started to come of age, our moral compass was changed direction. In the 1970s, we saw the Row v. Wade court decision. Whether you like it or not, the idea that not all people have a right to live is firmly embedded in American law. How can we respect life if we are allowing the death of the unborn and now the death of the infirm? Today’s youth have grown up in a world where the choice exists as to whether a person is allowed to live or die. The door has been opened in the mind of a disturbed youth that life doesn’t require respect.
The 1980s ushered in a whole new set of standards regarding what was acceptable as a society. We started to watch television, listen to music, play video games, watch movies and read magazines. We all became more distracted by these things. These easy-to-absorb influences were becoming our teachers and our role models. The morals these portrayed were often not good. By the 1990s, I remember how the limits were being pushed even further. Slowly but surely, I saw drops in kids attending church, increases in sexual activity, substance abuse and less of a regard for authority. By 1994, the year I graduated high school, there was huge controversy regarding prayer being held at the graduation commencement ceremonies. I was heartbroken when my ceremony had none. Then the 2000s came along, and with them, widespread use of the cell phones and personal computers. The amount of information and entertainment from these devices was unbelievable. Gaming, social media, constant entertainment; all of this has replaced a need for contemplating God’s word and his creations. As parent’s church attendance declined over the years, where have their children gotten Biblical teachings on moral issues and most importantly respect of others?
As we are blessed with all the cool technologies and instant gratification that come with this modern era; we are drifting further and further from our time spent in faith formation. We have removed the ability for the public schools to teach about the history, righteousness and morals that are taught in the Bible. As parents, we are not taking on the role as our parents and grandparents did teaching the word of God. I am saying that (in my opinion) we need to step up to the plate as parents, friends, role models and teachers and bring back the discussions about respect and human dignity to our youth. We need to explain that life is about serving others and all people are deserving of respect, to hold those conversations about the beauty of forgiveness and acceptance; all the teachings that are available in a neat little handbook of life called the Bible. There are plenty of seats in our churches. I welcome you to come. Bring your kids. It’s not an instant solution to the ruthless killings; but it is a long-term solution to a very complex issue.