Last week, someone sent me a picture of a T-shirt on WhatsApp. Emblazoned on the shirt were the following words:
Why do you allow so much violence in our schools?
A Concerned Student
Dear Concerned Student,
I’m not allowed in schools.
In the wake of last week’s school shooting, many are calling for stricter gun laws. But guns are not the real issue. School shootings were essentially unheard of when I was growing up in Tel Aviv – even though almost everyone I knew had a gun.
But the only people who shot schoolchildren were Arab terrorists from across the border.
In the U.S. too there were guns aplenty. Gun ranges were actually common in many high schools. As Charles Cooke wrote in a 2013 National Review article:
Up until the ’70s, especially in rural areas, it was commonplace to see kids entering and leaving their school campuses with rifle bags slung lazily over their backs. Guns were left in school lockers, and rifles and shotguns were routinely seen in high-school parking lots, hanging in the rear windows of pickup truck.
And in New York City, “virtually every public high school had a shooting club up until 1969,” notes political commentator John Lott Jr. Despite the ready availability of guns, though, school shootings in the U.S. “were extremely rare,” Cooke wrote.
So it would seem that guns are not the problem. As the author of a recent op-ed wrote, “Guns didn’t suddenly decide to visit mayhem on schools. Guns can’t decide.”
But people can. And it’s the people who have changed. Once upon a time, children grew up in a society that believed in respect, obedience, and authority. There was right and wrong and kids were trained to obey – parents, teachers… actually, any adult.
The fictional Anne of Avonlea listened when she was reprimanded by a neighbor for stepping into a puddle and soiling her white boots. Her modern counterpart would most likely have replied, “Who are you to tell me what to do?” And her neighbor likely wouldn’t have reprimanded her in the first place for fear of being labeled an abusive tyrant.
It used to “take a village to raise a child.” Now everyone keeps silent as the child is left to seek a “safe space” to grow up as he feels fit. Essentially, what we’ve spawned is a society of entitled, self-indulgent children, solely concerned with the “I” along with their iPods, iPads, and iPhones.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe foresaw this state of affairs. In the 1960s he noted a rise in juvenile delinquency and argued that better law enforcement will never solve the problem. The only solution is for children “to be ‘trained’ from their earliest youth to be constantly aware of ‘the Eye that seeth and the Ear that heareth,’” he wrote.
It must be impressed “upon the minds of our growing-up generation,” he argued, “that the world in which they live is not a jungle, where brute force, cunning and unbridled passion rule supreme, but that it has a Master Who is not an abstraction, but a…Supreme Being [Who] takes a ‘personal interest’ in the affairs of each and every individual, and to Him everyone is accountable for one’s daily conduct.”
That is why he publicly supported the recital in New York public schools of the “Regent’s Prayer” which read: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country.” (Later, after the Supreme Court deemed this prayer unconstitutional, the Rebbe suggested starting the school day with a moment of silence.)
Some believe education – the study of philosophy, art, literature, music, etiquette, etc. – is sufficient to produce civilized human beings, but the Rebbe adamantly disagreed. Germany before the war, he pointed out, was the world’s leading center for the study of philosophy and ethics.
“But it all led to the most shocking actions against humanity – evils which no one ever believed human beings to be capable of.” Why? Because “they pursued wisdom without the foundation of wisdom…that there is a Supreme Being of absolute truth.”
The importance of acknowledging a creator to whom one owes fealty also motivated the Rebbe to create a children’s organization in the 1980s called Tzivos Hashem – “The Army of God.” To a critic who objected to the organization’s “militant” name, he wrote that contemporary society lacks “kabolas ol [a sense of submission], not only of ol malchus shomayim [submission to God’s sovereignty], but also general submission to authority, including the authority of parents at home and of teachers in school, and the authority of law and order in the street.”
Hence Tzivos Hashem, an organization offering “discipline and obedience to rules which [a child] can be induced to get accustomed to.”
God, obedience, divine morality – these lie at the very core of a proper education. Without them, all is in peril. “Reishis chachmah yiras Hashem – the beginning of wisdom is fear of God” (Mishlei 1:7).
For truly, it is not guns that kill. It’s the minds of children and adults deprived of Godliness that kill.