If you are the parent of a child who is bullied, at some point – once you get over your initial devastation – perhaps you begin to think of the child who is doing the bullying. Perhaps you ponder the cause.
Many of us tend to think kids who bully are hurting in some way, are looking for a target to deflect their feelings of insecurity or inferiority, or can only build themselves up by tearing others down. Perhaps some children are just mean by nature. I don’t know.
In a lot of ways, I applaud the education system for trying to do something about this problem. The way schools have embraced anti-bullying campaigns is commendable. However, I don’t think they can do much more.
We have already asked teachers to become social workers, special education experts, mentors and more. In some cases, teachers are being asked to help kids who come to school hungry, from poverty and crime, and from destroyed or non-existent families. I think we are at the limit of what a school can do.
Schools are not supposed to be (at least not yet) the all-encompassing Big Brother that raises our children for us, from cradle to college. As caring and welcoming as they can be, schools are still limited by the fact that they are institutions and bureaucracies (now more than ever). They may be filled with caring adults, but they can also be filled with agendas. The classroom is not a replacement for the value provided by a family unit.
So while I think schools are doing the best they can in the climate in which they currently exist, I think in many ways they received a fatal blow via the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case Murray v. Curlett.
Madalyn Murray O’Hair, once deemed “the most hated woman in America,” was a citizen who tried to defect to the Soviet Union (she never succeeded, even the USSR didn’t want her), and an avowed atheist, Marxist and Communist. She was also the person finally responsible, following other landmark court cases, for the removal of prayer and Bible study from our schools.
O’Hair’s son, William J. Murray, who as a child was made plaintiff in that case, wrote a book about his experience, and how the history of the country’s founding was perverted in order to fit a political agenda. “Let Us Pray: A Plea for Prayer in Our Schools” (1995, William Morrow & Co.) is an excellent read, and seems relevant today.
I just wonder, if we still had prayer and religion in our schools (as we did for, you know, several hundred years), what would the school climate look like today? How many children would be hurting as they do now? How many would take to gun violence, or bullying, or cruelty?
Gallup polls in 2014 and 2012 found that a majority of Americans, 61 percent, still favor daily classroom prayer, and that 77 percent identify themselves as Christian. We may arrive on this 900-mph-spinning chunk of rock naked and helpless, but I’d be willing to bet many of us believe we also arrive here with a soul, a spark of God.
So what happens when the culture in which children are living sends them messages of violence, envy, greed and worthlessness? Or when the family and community in which they live is devoid of love, and instead filled with despair and poverty?
What was so wrong with sending the message that was conveyed by prayer in school, before the entire history of our country was upended via one atheist and the politically active Warren Court? A court that deemed the First Amendment, which states that the government must neither aid nor oppose religion, was open to new interpretation? A court that suddenly included the schools in that interpretation? (Despite that, the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University Law School notes that the First Amendment is only expressly applicable to Congress.)
Would school prayer cure all problems? No. Would it open the door to other problems? Probably. But is the topic worth considering in light of all of the ills we are facing as a society today? I think that it is.
If children are hurting and turning to bullying, cruelty and violence as they are, and if we’re going to ask the schools to fix the problem, then I think all options need to be on the table.
Julie McDonald-Smith lives in North Yarmouth. She is a registered nurse, former Capitol Hill staffer and former chairwoman of the Cape Elizabeth Republican Committee. Her column appears every other week.