The latest tragic and sad deaths on the schoolyard in Jonesboro, Arkansas,following similar killings in two other states, deeply trouble us. And well they should. Neither our laws nor our sensibilities can make room for two boys opening fire on their schoolmates.
Responses are predictable: keep guns away from kids (editorialists), prevent school violence (Clinton), research possible violation of federal laws (Reno). Another response is: change laws to make children adults at an earlier age so they can be executed at an earlier age. Already, some states have started down that path.
The government and editorialists have redoubled their rhetorical resolve and can feel good about having done their duty on their way to rhetorically addressing the next social issue. But questions do remain in my mind.
What is happening to our boys? In all these three cases boys have done the murders. Violence is still largely a male activity. If we don't address that (and not with more drugs to subdue them), I fear we will struggle bewilderedly with more incidents in schoolyards and on street corners.
Do we adults even like youth? In 1995, North Carolina's adult legislators passed a law requiring all drivers under 21 to be arrested if they had ingested any alcohol or drugs, no matter how little (not holding adults to the same stringent standard). Adult television and newspaper reporters write news stories (48 and 40 percent respectively) involving children and youth in crime and violence. "If children don't see themselves as dead, arrested, hurt, or hunted, they see themselves as problems," said one astute observer. Adults are the ones who make and distribute alcohol, drugs and TV violence. Even the current adult rhetoric about saving children from cigarettes is punitive and political.
Still, external factors can explain only so much. What is needed is an inner moral sense that weighs the immediate against something immutably right, and, then, follows the higher calling. That will require adults to articulate (and live) higher values. Adult toleration of current adult political behavior is not encouraging.
One culinary answer to our problem was given
by Jonathan Swift (author of Gulliver's Travels) in a 1728 essay,
"A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People
in Ireland from being a Burden to their Parents or Country and
for Making them Beneficial to the Public." Many propose a
swifter answer: lower the age for capital punishment.
--Robert H. Tucker
13 April 1998