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Ex-Education Secretary Sees Sickness of Soul

September 04, 1993|From Associated Press

Standards of behavior are collapsing in the United States because of failure to nurture the soul, says former U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett.

In a newly devised statistical analysis of the nation's culture, he finds that as moral education has decreased, social ills have soared. He emphasizes a direct connection between the two trends.

"The social regression of the last 30 years is due in large part to the enfeebled state of our social institutions and their failure to carry out a critical and time-honored task: the moral education of the young," said Bennett, regarded as a likely Republican presidential candidate in 1996.

He says that neglected task is historically the primary objective of education.

"We desperately need to recover a sense of the fundamental purpose of education, which is to engage in the architecture of souls," he says. "When a self-governing society ignores this responsibility . . . it does so at its peril."

Bennett makes his assessment in an unusual compilation of statistics on U.S. social and moral conditions--a 22-page report called "The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators."

Measured by the statistics, most of the 19 cultural indicators examined are in steep decline. The figures show that during the past 30 years, violent crime has risen 560%, illegitimate births have increased 400%, divorce rates have quadrupled, teen-age suicide has risen 200% and Scholastic Aptitude Test scores have dropped 80 points.

The analysis also says juvenile crime has quadrupled, the number of children living in single-parent homes has tripled and the time spent by the average American watching television has doubled to nearly 50 hours per week.

The compilation was issued by Empower America, a political study group Bennett co-directs, and another conservative Washington group, the Heritage Foundation.

Several Christian ethicists have voiced similar distress at many cultural trends, but say Bennett's analysis is sometimes superficial.

Sociologist Larry Lynn of Baylor University says he generally agrees with Bennett's assessment and applauds his attempt to measure social ills by objective statistics, but adds that "he simplifies and sometimes misinterprets some of the indicators to make things look worse than they are."

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