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One of our readers called the other day, quite upset because he still hadn’t seen in all our recent pages any evidence that WORLD is editorially in favor of spending substantial federal money to arm and protect our schools—with military weapons. “If it were your kids who were being shot and killed,” he said, “it would have been a cover story.”
Well, yes indeed. I will quickly acknowledge that as soon as any horror story invades my own personal space, both my interest and my involvement tend to accelerate. It tends to be that way for all of us. I remember when Bill and Hillary Clinton, just before he took office, traveled to Washington to choose a school for Chelsea. In spite of all their talk about the virtues of public education, they signed up for an elite private school. “She could’ve got hurt or something,” said family spokesman George Stephanopoulos, “because there’s a lot of pushing and shoving in the halls.”
And now, a generation later, things are a lot worse than pushing and shoving. Which is why we now have so many people begging us to listen to their crazy proposals to spend billions of dollars on lock-and-key systems, armed guards, and specially built desks designed to let children hide underneath. A vast new array of considerations will now face parents as they seek to make wise choices about the schools where their children will enroll. Will the U.S. Department of Homeland Security soon be offering new guides, annually ranking the schools in your town for the quality of military defense they offer?
Ultimately, parents should be most frightened about their children’s spiritual and moral safety.
But don’t be sidetracked. A terrible result of all this focus on physical safety would be to forget the intellectual and academic devastation that has already been inflicted on our culture. SAT scores are full of bullet holes, and so are basic skill tests. The last generation’s misdirected priorities are leaving us with a populace unable to read, unable to calculate, and unable to think critically or productively about the educational mess they find themselves in.
Ultimately, though, parents should be most frightened about their children’s spiritual and moral safety. “Do not be afraid of those,” Jesus said, “who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” It is no accident that the first segment of the American population to desert the public schools in significant numbers over the last 50 years was made up of evangelical Christians who sensed the spiritual violence and moral mayhem occurring there.
So millions of Americans, driven by these various fears for the safety of their children, have sought to make a prudent choice. The challenge now is that folks will be tempted to be preoccupied with the most colorfully dramatic of the dangers rather than the threats that, while less noisy, are potentially the most destructive.
Only three or four schools in America (and I use the word only to make an important point) have been terrorized during the last few months by ultra-equipped gunmen. Those have been devastating events whose repetition we should do all in our power to prevent. But even if that grim number were multiplied by 10 before the coming summer is over, the waste and destruction would be nothing compared with the profound losses we can accurately predict in the hearts and souls of students in America’s schools.