Though it’s been 13 years, I vividly remember the fading, type-written sign strung along the wall of “Mr. Mac’s” classroom that poignantly read, “If the student hasn’t learned, then the teacher hasn’t taught.”
I believe now as I did even then as a 17-year-old Austin High senior, that though Mr. Mac’s tenet was commendable, it was an undue, self-imposed burden that was as far-fetched as it was noble.
No doubt hundreds, perhaps thousands, learned under him, and I count myself among them. Invariably, those of us who did received at least as much encouragement to learn from our parents as we did from teachers.
Tragically, many of my peers didn’t have this benefit. Some of them became a habitual source of distraction in the classroom, if they opted to come at all; others seemed content occupying a seat. All were the product of inept parenting.
It is a dereliction of responsibility for a community to place the absolute burden of safety on the backs of police, particularly in the case of youth violence. This year has been terribly gruesome for Chicago Public School students.
Even before the typically more violent days of summer, 23 students have been callously murdered-many by the hands of other young people. It saddens me to reach the personal conclusion that these young perpetrators are perhaps as much victim as offender, and that their victimizers are the very individuals charged with the critical responsibility of imparting empathy, temperance and discipline into their young lives.
For far too long we have looked outward to identify the source of youth violence: guns, racism, poverty and failing schools to name just a few. I don’t intend to brush these aside; they are significant, adverse influences on the conduct and psyche of our young people.
Instead, I hope to expand the dialogue to include what might be the most influential factor: inept parents.
I want all stakeholders, including residents, police and politicians to not just look outward, but homeward. Public policy and law enforcement is no substitute for accountability and personal responsibility.
It’s time we recognize that the callousness contributing to the wanton taking of life originates in the home. There is a vacuum in the lives of violent youth that should be filled by parents concerned with their welfare.
When left unfilled, this vacuum is filled by a culture that glamorizes gratuitous violence, thuggery and materialism as is often communicated through popular music, video games and movies.
Sure enough, these media have thrived for quite some time and are often enjoyed by upright kids with outstanding parents. However, what these parents are providing their children is apparently a sufficient counter.
Unprecedented action is necessary to identify failing parents. One alternative is to implement a parent “report card,” where parents earn grades on markers such as attendance at parent-teacher conferences or report card pick-ups. The point is simply to identify parents that aren’t living up to their responsibilities while recognizing those who are. Accountability is essential.
Conceivably “C” parents are obliged to attend workshops facilitated by school counselors. “C” or “D” parents with a child convicted of a crime could be sentenced to community service, pay a fine or worse.
There are children whose parents work diligently to provide a solid moral foundation but are lured away by the romance of gang life and hoodlum-ism. A parent report card should expose this heartbreaking exception.
My concern is that as the death toll rises, failing parents will continue to evade accountability and won’t be seen as being in as much need of punishment and rehabilitation as their violent offspring.