Shots rang out during a Downtown Brooklyn melee last week, leaving a 16-year-old boy dead and an 18-year-old man with a gunshot wound to the ankle.
This unfortunate incident joins many similar ones around our city and country.
Although juvenile crime seems to be on an unseen low since the 1960s, still that “low” is way too high. Especially taking into account that these crimes are being conducted by kids and teenagers whom, you would have assumed, are in the custody of their parents and educators.
The causes for this unfortunate state of affairs are diverse; some blame the TV programs or the movies and video games that children are exposed too. Some think it’s the lack of more forceful parental control, while others demand heightened security measures from the police departments and some even blame the lead in the paint manufactured in the 1980s!
While it is definitely true that some or all of the above do share a part in this, we fail to notice that even if all these — and any other — causes would indeed be eliminated; people, especially young people, will still have a drive to behave in a lawless way.
So more than the world, in which our children are raised, needs to be fixed; the children themselves need to be corrected!
In a paper, first published in the 70’s, titled “Some Basic Problems in Education,” the Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneersohn, presents his thesis on what would be the only viable solution:
“There is only one factor which can induce children to curb their desires and cultivate decent and moral conduct. That is – the knowledge that the world in which we live is not a cosmic accident, but that it has a Creator and a Master, Who takes a “personal interest” in all its affairs and in every individual in particular. Imbued with this idea, the child will grow up with the realization that his actions come under Divine scrutiny; that nothing can be concealed from Him, and no one can outsmart Him. It will not be fear of Divine retribution alone that will deter him, but as he grows more mature it will be the feeling of awe, coupled with love, for the Divine Majesty that will be “a lamp unto his feet” in his daily conduct.”
In order for this to happen, the Rebbe prefaces, we must understand what education means:
“Education, in general, has two primary objectives: (a) the acquisition of knowledge, including the application of the acquired knowledge, and (b) education in a stricter sense, namely, the cultivation of a proper code of ethics and morality, and the development of a concept as to his purpose and mission in life, which will be reflected in the daily, conduct of the boys and girls when they grow up and take their places in society.”
The Rebbe goes on to describe the grim situation of the world of then, which has only doubled and tripled since:
“In our generation … the pressures, social, economic, etc. are directed towards a formal education. There are various effective ways and means of stimulating the child’s interest in, and ambition for, scientific advancement. These have created a drive towards the acquisition of knowledge within the contemporary child.
“On the other hand, in so far as moral conduct is concerned, the influence of the home, house of worship, and society in general, has been on the wane, for reasons into which we need not enter here. As a result, the moral and ethical standards of our society have not kept pace with the advancement of knowledge. On the contrary, they have deteriorated, so that the influence of the contemporary environment in the area of moral advancement has become negligible, and often more negative than positive.”
The Rebbe goes on to coin a new educational term which, he feels, has been forsaken:
“The emphasis on scholarship and scholastic achievement is very much in evidence everywhere: at home and in the schools. It is geared to a society where scholastic achievement is a deciding factor in many job applications, promotions, careers, etc. Curricula are steadily being expanded and intensified, and there is a constant endeavor to accelerate the rate of scholastic advancement. The contemporary child hears a great deal about intelligence tests and aptitude tests; I.Q. and A.Q. have become familiar symbols to children.
“But what about C.Q. (character quotient)? Is it not as important to test and measure the child’s progress in character building and moral advancement as his progress in amassing facts and figures? A great discrepancy obviously exists between the degree of emphasis placed on scholastic achievement and that which is placed on “moral conduct””.
But it’s not like the children don’t hear about C.Q.; they most certainly do:
“It would be unfair to say that the public schools have completely ignored the moral issue, or the need of character building. There is no denying that much of the material that goes into the so-called Social Studies in the public schools, to mention one instance, has been conceived with a view to emphasizing the ideals of democracy, tolerance, social justice, respect for the law, and the like. Why, then, have these efforts not been effective in curbing juvenile delinquency and spreading juvenile decency?
“I venture to suggest and emphasize here one reason, in addition to the many others one often hears in a discussion of these issues:
“An essential factor in the deterioration of the moral standards of the children and adolescents of our contemporary society is the fact that vast numbers of children in the public schools are brought up on a strictly and exclusively secular morality and ethics.
“The exclusion from the public schools of any activity that would mention and inspire some thought about a Supreme Being is to vast numbers of school children tantamount to almost a denial of His existence.”
That explains it all. The Rebbe concludes his paper with a heartfelt plea to parents, educators, government and society as a whole:
“In an era when old-established scientific theories frequently toppled and are cast by the way-sides it is to be hoped that educational concepts and practices will not escape the scrutiny of a fresh reappraisal in the light of experience. After all, what is at stake here is not just another technological improvement, but the youth of our generation, the very future of mankind.”
The full paper will be published, G-d willing, in the forthcoming print edition of Principles Magazine. Our thanks to Nissan Mindel Publications for providing us this important work to reprint from the soon to be published Vol. III of “The Letter and the Spirit – Personal and Public Correspondence with the Lubavitcher Rebbe” – purchase online at www.NissanMindelPublications.com.
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