Request the scenic route to Kansas City from Siloam Springs and the answer is to take highway 59 through Noel, Missouri. The interstate is avoided and the beauty of pastures, creeks, and deep forests soothes the stress wrinkles out of life. Although beautiful, the short stretch of road leading into Noel does raise the blood pressure for some. Rock bluffs and steep embankments falling into the Elk River leave just enough space for two lanes of traffic and a solid long guardrail between them.
The stubby wooden guardrails pierced by a steel cable and painted white look sturdy enough. They have long stood sentinel and bear witness to occasional accidents by their scars or temporary breaks in the rail system. They provide more than a sense of safety. They provide boundaries and strongly resist any attempt to stray from the roadbed toward the danger of falling down the bank and eventually into the river. The mountains of Colorado and the California coastline prohibit guardrails everywhere they are needed due to their tremendous expanse. The traveler is warned via signage of dangers ahead even as they are left unprotected.
Children traveling the road of life should not be left to their own abilities. One of the most often quoted pieces of wisdom comes from the book of Proverbs. “Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.” The joy or grief of parents reflects the degree of their child’s obedience to principles of wisdom. Too many children at home and in school bring grief to themselves and those around them due in part to the dearth of common principles of wisdom taught and enforced.
Kay S. Hymowitz writes, “Discipline in the schools isn’t primarily about expelling sex offenders and kids who pack guns, of course. Most of the time, what’s involved is the ‘get your feet off the table’ or ‘don’t whisper in class’ kind of discipline that allows teachers to assume that kids will follow the commonplace directions they give hundreds of times daily.”
Some educators, counselors, psychologists and judges have charted a course leading to destruction. They lead with the best of intentions, but each passing decade points to the failure of deemphasizing personal responsibility and over emphasizing cultural context. Zero tolerance discipline policies may not allow or encourage those in authority to dig into the reasons a child acts out or seek solutions tailored to ones personality and circumstances.
The other extreme of blaming culture and the lack of proper nurture, however, is to encourage rebellion, which destroys the atmosphere of trust and security needed for learning. A student who threatens a teacher or a lawsuit because their rights in their eyes have been violated must be evaluated carefully. A valid claim of harm must be acted upon promptly even as discipline must be quick and proportional when deserved.
The 1975 Supreme Court decision in Goss v. Lopez is an example of good intentions gone astray.
Several students were suspended for brawling in the school lunchroom. Though the principal who suspended them actually witnessed the fight himself, the court concluded that he had failed to give the students an adequate hearing before lowering the boom.
Another case in point is that of New York City special-ed teacher Jeffrey Gerstel. When a student threatened to kill the assistant teacher, Gerstel pulled the student out of his classroom. The boy collided with a bookcase and cut his back, though not badly enough to need medical attention. Even so, Gerstel found himself at a hearing, facing the student’s indignant mother, who wanted to sue, and three “emotionally disturbed adolescents”—classmates of the boy—who witnessed the scuffle. The mother soon settled the dispute out of court and sent her son back to Gerstel’s classroom. But by then, Gerstel had lost the confidence that he needed to handle a roomful of volatile teenagers, and the kids knew it.
Both cases contributed to the rising tide of school violence, fear, and the deterioration of a quality-learning environment. School discipline is the number two concern of parents today a Gallup poll reveals.
Thirty-five years ago all the access doors in the Springdale High School were unlocked. Rifles were not an uncommon sight in the gun rack of student’s pick-up trucks. There were no off-duty policemen patrolling the halls. A locked down campus and roaming guards today fail to return the sense of security experienced only a few years ago.
The importance of every child having their mom and dad active in their lives with loving discipline and encouragement cannot be underestimated.
Proverbs pictures a few of the guardrails necessary for kids to mature into productive contented adults. Value a good name over riches. “Humility and the fear of the Lord bring wealth and honor and life.” “A generous man will himself be blessed.” “Drive out [expel] the mocker, and out goes strife”. “The lazy person claims, “There’s a lion out there! If I go outside, I might be killed!” “The mouth of an adulteress is a deep pit.”
Guardrails are not decorative.