American public education is under siege, but not by kids with guns, as the somber reporters of the six o’clock news would have us believe. Schools are being held hostage by government regulations, antagonistic parents, a biased, mendacious press, and special interest groups who view public education as an opportunity to promote their causes. Many American schools can be compared to combat zones. Classrooms have become arenas where disruptive students ceaselessly challenge the flaccid authority of today’s teachers while cooperative, self-disciplined students are sacrificed to liberal ideals.

The decline of American academic excellence can be traced to the beginnings of the left’s social experimentation within the schools during the 1950’s. Educational “reforms” seemed to make good sense to a public that had become accustomed to science, technology, and psychology. Since then, academics have been gradually replaced by New Age doctrines that have forced teaching and learning to take a backseat to policies of containment and babysitting.

The educational system envisioned by our forefathers to train children to enter society as productive, contributing members has become a laboratory in which to test the left’s secular theories. Traditional subject matter has been replaced by child-centered, self-expressive curricula referred to as “self-esteem.” As long as the individual feels good about himself it does not matter how that satisfaction is achieved. To the advocates of this misleading philosophy, any act is appropriate as long as it adds to one’s self-esteem. Any behavior is considered a true and legitimate statement of a child’s personal expression and is not subject to criticism.

Schools have seen the obligation to discipline insidiously and systematically deleted from the traditional inventory of educational responsibilities. No longer allowed to punish wayward, capricious students for unacceptable conduct, schools now condone bad behavior so as not to offend the offenders. Students cannot learn in the environment of permissive discipline that permeates public schools. If they have no reason to conduct themselves appropriately, children will not do so. The growing numbers of disruptive students increasingly dominate available class time, preventing teachers from teaching and their less capricious classmates from learning. Schools still have rules, but they go largely unenforced. Rules without consequences lead to permissive discipline. Permissive discipline breeds chaos.

In the elementary grades, simple discipline has been superseded by “conflict resolution,” “anger management,” “sensitivity training,” “crisis intervention,” and “peer mediation.” The transference of personal responsibility for unacceptable acts is encouraged, while guilt, shame, or embarrassment are considered detrimental to a child’s psychological and social development. Additionally, teachers are discouraged from ever saying “no” or using any negative comments when communicating with children. During class discussions, any answer is correct. Children, especially adolescents, are eager to learn. It is their natural tendency.

Children need and, indeed, crave structure and rules. Proof of this can be found in the severe codes of conduct imposed upon members of juvenile gangs, for which there appears to be no shortage of recruits. Children instinctively seek allowable limits. The often irritating, sometimes shocking behavior of adolescents is due simply to their natural inclination to discover the borders of acceptability. Yet within our culture, establishing behavioral limits is now considered tantamount to child abuse because it supposedly stifles self-expression and damages self-esteem. In the absence of behavioral limits, children will seek any guidance to which they have access. If their sources are corrupt, their behavior will be corrupt. In schools, this translates into disruptive, out-of-control students who have never experienced the consequences of their errant, aberrant ways.

The lines separating the acceptable from the unacceptable have been redrawn. We are witnessing a vast cultural paradigm shift away from decency, honesty, and honor, to an acceptance of degenerating social values, morals, and ethics at all levels of society.

Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the appeal of the hedonistic messages promulgated by mass media. “Attitude” has become a popular catchword in sales promotions aimed at a growing population that believes that contempt for traditional values is socially acceptable. This, coupled with the glamorization of the “gangster” mentality and fashion, has helped to create a generation of misfits who are hostile to education.

Once, parents and teachers worked together to regulate, motivate, and educate children; now, the two groups are divided into opposing factions. Teachers’ hands are tied by government edicts, while parents, encouraged by 40-plus years of progressive theories and propaganda, remonstrate about a system that seems insensitive and unable to educate their children.

Parents, originally advocates and allies of teachers, have become surrogate enablers of capricious students and adversaries of public education. Liberals (with the help of the press) have brainwashed parents into believing that public education is the source of all the evil in the world. With right-sounding, seemingly well-intentioned arguments, New Age child-rearing experts have played directly to the prejudices and fears of well-meaning but unenlightened parents. Contemporary parents have been force-fed liberal philosophies for so long that they now mindlessly latch onto every child-centered concept propounded by “experts.” These so-called authorities operate from purely theoretical positions using flawed or biased research that supports their personal goals or prejudices.

Parents, reassured that they arc doing the right thing by adhering to psychobabble rationales about child-rearing, become incredulous and indignant when they receive reports from school that their perfect progeny are not performing up to expectations. Liberalism provides these parents with a scapegoat in the form of public education. If parents have indulged their children and allowed unhindered self-expression, then any problems that have developed are the result of the failure of public education. The liberal Utopia relieves parents of guilt by permitting them to transfer blame for their failures to schools and teachers.

Schools tend to take the full force of liberal enmity because they have traditionally been responsible for the literacy and socialization of the nation’s children. As liberal social experimentation has engulfed more and more of education, test scores have declined, graduation rates and literacy have plummeted, and dropout rates, failures, and school violence have increased.

The press, bolstered by a liberal bias against public education, leaves no stone unturned in its effort to undermine schools while promoting the liberal agenda. The failure of liberals to produce the perfect educational utopia is lost on the media. The press spews electronic and printed vitriol upon an educational system that is the most visible example of the failure of liberalism to deliver as promised.

Eager to prove that American public education is failing, the press energetically goes after anything negative that is related to schools. The unthinkable violence of school shootings has a particularly seductive appeal. School shootings produce a feeding frenzy among the liberal members of the press because the violence plays to their entrenched anti-public education bias. Like piranha, these ghouls pounce on any morsel of carnage and human suffering. Instead of reporting objectively, they spin the facts to fit their narrow view of reality. They make martyrs of the perpetrators, who are declared the victims of a litany of injustices that can only be overcome by official intervention and regulation enforced by the government.

The characteristic liberal reaction to the threat of any offensive event ever being repeated, regardless of its rarity, is that new laws be quickly passed. Congress irresponsibly yet solemnly reacts to the opinion of the “people” with knee-jerk legislation that adds yet more layers to the already sedimentary accumulation of gun-control laws (at least 18 state and federal gun laws were violated at Littleton). But school shooters are not martyrs. Nor are they the victims of a failed educational system. School shooters are the demented products of the failed liberal Utopia. These tragedies happen when children are indulged and allowed to express themselves in ever more outrageous ways without criticism. Their self-esteem is high, but their judgment, self-control, responsibility, and empathy for others are nonexistent.

“At-risk” students in many schools now outnumber those who are not hostile to education. School administrators, threatened by antagonistic parents who are a phone call away from a lawyer, routinely fail to support faculty members in matters of discipline. Teachers, often held accountable for the capricious behavior of their students, are increasingly frustrated over loss of authority and mounting levels of chaos within classrooms. A liberal press foments hysteria among the people, adding fuel to the fire. No, more gun-control laws won’t fix the schools. What is needed is another cultural paradigm shift—this time back to decency, honesty, honor, and discipline.