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Not surprisingly, the most recent annual Gallup poll on attitudes toward education in the United States showed that violence and lack of discipline in schools are the public's two top concerns.

The almost daily stories of mayhem and disorder in our country's schools are enough to turn your stomach. They tell a sorry story of a general decline in respect for people and property - a lack of the simple regard for the sanctity of human life that underscores civilized living.We all have ample cause for concern about what is happening in our schools. But schools simply mirror back the conditions of their communities. If they are in disarray, you have to look at the whole of which they are a part.

An aspect of the poll, however, that was interesting to me is what you can read between the lines. I sense an implicit admission by adults that they have failed to do their part in rearing a generation of respectful, responsible young people.

When the Gallup pollsters asked 1,326 Americans if they thought schools should teach children about honesty, democracy, acceptance of people of all races and ethnic backgrounds, patriotism, caring for friends and family members, moral courage and the Golden Rule, the responses were above the 90 percent mark in favor of such teachings in each instance.


I wonder had the pollsters asked the adult sampling if THEY were teaching their children these same character traits, the same percentage would have answered in the affirmative. If the qualities were being taught in every American home, there wouldn't even be such a question on anyone's poll.

Not that schools should avoid teaching children positive character traits. They should be vigorously reinforcing positive teaching that children get in their homes. But they will never effectively replace the homes. If our children are not learning simple ethics where they live, it may be impossible to teach them such ethics anywhere else.

When it is educators who are being polled, one of their top concerns is the burden that has been dumped on them to teach children to behave so that they can teach them anything else. Some of them simply throw up their hands and quit trying, and it's hard to blame them.

Even those families who want their children to learn positive character traits and who set them a proper example are fighting an uphill battle today. Over time, we have created a society that is so pervasive, persuasive and permissive that it is all parents can do to compete. Outside influences threaten to negate their efforts to implant ethical standards in their children.

And if there are parents who won't do it and parents who can't do it, the schools will never be able to fill so large a void. Schools are, for certain, the best second line of defense, but we may be asking them to pick up a battle that is already lost if the first line of defense has failed.

Parents and schools working together could accomplish much. Nothing could be better. Schools working by themselves are only better than nothing.