Considering the recent school shooting in Florida, other similar incidents, and the moral panic they have caused, Natalia Dashan and David Gelernter ask what, exactly, has gone wrong:
No child should have to ask his mother whether he is likely to die today at school. But no mother should wonder whether her child is apt to kill someone, either. . . . And the bigger question, the elephant in the room trumpeting constantly as we ignore him: who rears our children nowadays? Where does a child get his conscience? Who supervises children day-to-day while they learn to be human beings?
Religion used to give parents a reason to discuss good and evil, right and wrong with their children. Religious schools used to help fill the gaps in a child’s moral worldview. Yes, some children figure it all out for themselves—but many don’t. This used to be a religious country, and still is. But children learn less about religion than they used to. Does religion matter, in practical terms? What made Americans such a stubbornly religious people in the past? . . .
Some children show good moral judgment, generally because of their families. Some children don’t. But if they are sent to religious school or Sunday school, they all stand a chance of learning to think things over from a moral viewpoint. Their families are the best places for such thinking. But their families might be too busy—might be exhausted getting a living; might be embarrassed and not know where to start; might feel incompetent to discuss the topic. Or they might not give a damn after all. In any case, Sunday school is better than nothing. . . .
But nowadays we send fewer and fewer children to Sunday school. And their weekday schools treat religion and the Bible as toxic substances to be avoided at all costs. Children who used to grow up with Christianity and the Bible are not likely to read Aristotle or Kant instead. Too many grow up morally illiterate. . . .
The Bible was the most important unifying force in American history: Puritans and Catholics, evangelicals and the poshest Episcopalians, trailer-park residents and mansion-dwellers, old WASP stock and Jewish immigrants from Poland, blacks and whites read the good book. But we have shrugged off the moral education of our children. What do we think will happen now?