Community Comment:

Children's knowledge of acceptable behavior is essential


School bells will be ringing again shortly as the nation braces for what the coming school year may hold for the coming school year may hold for students somewhat shell-shocked from the recent violent school tragedies across the country.  A flash back to the past may prove somewhat instructive.

In the winter of 1968, a relatively small, sensitive freshman at Reitz High School remembers the chill he felt sitting at the top of Reitz bowl by himself one afternoon.  He was beginning to dread the rest of the school year.  One reason was that he had earlier in the day been stuffed into a large metal trash can in the gymnasium of the school and rolled down a flight of stairs by a group of football players he met at wrestling practice.

Later, in the spring of 1971 toward the end of his high school career, another group of mischievous students tied our young friend up with ropes and left him on the floor of a dressing room of the auditorium with a new curtain draped over his helpless body. Had the school drama coach, Bill Davidson, not walked through the dressing room at the end of the school day, the young man could have suffocated.

In between, there were many other acts of violence and feelings of alienation.  This was a pretty chaotic period in the history of Reitz High School.  In compliance with federal court rulings, the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation had just imposed court-ordered busing.  Black and white students were not used to going to school with one another outside of their own school districts, and the social adjustments of the forced integration were sometimes violent.  The Vietnam War, which had divided the nation, gushed bloody scenes and protests on the televisions in our living rooms and had serious social repercussions on our streets as well as in our schools.

On Forest Hills Drive, where apparently at one time, "It was a Pleasure to Learn,"  Reitz became a crucible of social engineering which left many of us emotionally scarred, perhaps for the rest of our lives.

It is front this context that I viewed the murderous tragedies in high schools across the country during the last school year, knowing full well that violence has long plagued the educational system in this country.

Secretly, we all know why.  Any serious recollection of the days of early television or contemporary movies remind of countless murders, burglaries, fist fights, rapes and other acts of violence -- sometimes even in comedic settings -- which Hollywood and Madison Avenue purveyed to sell everything from automobiles to cosmetics, corn flakes to insurance policies.

It is apparently now that amid such conspicuous affluence as one can witness today in this country, some of the young people among us suffer more than perhaps at any other time in the nation's history from feelings of alienation and detachment, low self-esteem and with no sense of purpose in their lives.  They are bombarded by a pop culture which venerates and glorifies sexual relations and drug and alcohol abuse, despite the incurable diseases and personal tragedies which can sometimes result. In most instances, children's relationships with their parents are strained through the pressures of economic necessity and parental preoccupation.

There is no question that the nature and environment of the typical American family have been transformed dramatically in the last 30 years. The same holds true for our schools.  From these chaotic eruptions, it is apparent that some people have no business being parents.

So, as our young people return to their scholastic obligations, they should be reminded by parents and teachers alike of what types of behavior are acceptable in our schools and what behaviors are not.

As they search for a sense of belonging among their peers, they should, through their own personal actions, aim toward forging a culture of trust, forgiveness and acceptance of others who may be somewhat different than themselves.

They should ponder in their hearts the sentiments of the Ten Commandments, even though they may not be displayed inside the building.  Personal prayers for our teachers and our schools might also be appropriate outside of the school grounds.

It should be impressed upon them that the emotional wounds inflicted upon another individual now in the springtime of their lives can lead to indelible scars -- years of drug abuse and alcoholism, countless hours of psychological counseling,. treatment and therapy and personal feelings of ineptitude -- for the rest of their lives. 

If anything can be done to break the cycle of the mistakes of the past, it should be encouraged by all parties involved, including school administrators. 

Students should also be reminded that men and women for centuries have gathered in civil societies in an effort to thwart the very barbarism and violence which some of the students today seek to emulate as the result of their alienation.

A society without boundaries of acceptable behavior in its halls of learning is a society doomed.

David Coker of Evansville is a free-lance writer.