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Ventura County Perspective

When Feeling Good Comes at the Expense of Doing Good

God must be mentioned in virtually all areas of society, including at school, if we are to stop the vicious behavior that plagues us.

May 30, 1999|ROGER R. ELLIS | Roger R. Ellis is a Westlake Village lawyer and author. He is married and has three children. You can write to him at PO Box 3422, Westlake Village, CA 91359-0422 or

On May 20, a teen shot and wounded six students with a rifle and handgun at a suburban Atlanta high school--exactly one month to the day after the Littleton, Colo., murders. This is a war. But this is not some Hollywood fantasy war fought in a galaxy far, far away. It's a values war, being waged in our public schools due to more than 30 years of moral confusion.

Go back and look at school records from the 1950s. The biggest problems teachers had with students were chewing gum, talking in class and running in the halls. Today the problems are weapons, assault and murder. Even more alarming, some don't even seem to believe this war is very serious.

An article in The Times Opinion section May 9 actually asked, "Why Demonize a Healthy Teen Culture?" Healthy? If many in society think a teen culture fixated on death is healthy, we are in even deeper trouble than anyone knows. To conclude, as this article does, that "the shootings in Littleton and other schools are not part of a larger trend toward more student and school violence, but tragic aberrations" is like British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in 1938 celebrating "peace in our time" just days before Hitler started World War II! Just as Mr. Chamberlain was soon replaced by Sir Winston Churchill, we need a few Churchills to convince those morally confused in our culture.

But, if we are in a war, who is the enemy?

In our public schools for 35 years, feeling good has been one of the sacred gods. Public schools have emphasized self-esteem and feelings. This has created immature teens (and adults) who believe the universe revolves around them. Some teens have taken self-esteem to mean that if that if they "feel" anger or rage they can express this in any way they "feel" is right. We must demonize a teen culture that says your feelings are more important than anything or anyone else.

Some of these selfish, self-centered teens have also been reinforced by parents who just can't seem to tell their own Eric Harrises, "No. Because you and your friend Dylan Klebold were arrested for breaking into a van, you can't see him any longer. No, you can't have bomb-making materials in our garage. No, you can't go on the Internet without supervision."

It should not be a parent's mission to make sure his or her child feels good at all times. If you are never giving your child any discipline and only rarely say no, you are allowing your child to slip closer to a culture that ignores all discipline. This culture must be demonized.

One lesson from Littleton is this: High self-esteem without any moral foundation breeds monsters who one day, if left unchecked, may decide to play God. Witnesses in Littleton said the killers seemed to grow happier each time they murdered. They wrote and said many times over in German: "I am God." Apparently they took a little too seriously their self-esteem and values-neutral anger management classes.

When a self-centered child hurts another at school, too many parents and teachers rush first to the "at-risk" child to counsel him on anger management. Rewards are too infrequently given out to those who obey while at-risk children are rewarded equally with those who follow the rules. This creates a "why-bother" attitude. Self-esteem is dispensed equally whether it is deserved or not. Then some parents, teachers and principals express shock when some "well-loved" child expresses outrageous anger.

If we had a less violent society today than in the 1950s, I would have to seriously reexamine my beliefs. If test scores were higher, I would have to look to see why those who removed God from much of public life were right. However, the facts require all honest civil libertarians to reexamine their beliefs, which instead removed nearly all references to our Judeo-Christian history from public schools.

We have been chanting tolerance for so long because it feels good to never make any judgment against anyone, but the results of only wanting to feel good, as we have seen from at least 11 teen shootings in 18 months, have been devastating.

We all must have the courage to stop calling names and come together to start a serious dialogue on a values curriculum in our public schools. If carefully drafted with those on all sides, this values class would pass the 1st Amendment test, as the government would not be establishing any one religion.

God must be mentioned again in schools, churches, synagogues, psychiatrists' offices and virtually every place in society if we want to stop this vicious behavior. How many more "tragic aberrations" in this war do we need before we realize we're going the wrong way--and fast?

Let's stop trying to make our youth feel good at the expense of doing good. Let's begin to reward good deeds such as doing what's right even when we don't feel like it or when it's not in our best interest. This would bring well-deserved self-esteem, create self-control and wipe away anger.

Telling our children no can sometimes be the best way to show our children just how much we love them.

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