I have written before about our national propensity to use government when it is not the proper tool for the job. Scott summed my point up very succinctly in a recent post:
There is a proper tool for every job. Use of the wrong tool often produces substandard results. Sometimes it is necessary to make do with what you have. That’s called innovation. But regularly using the wrong tool when the right tool is available is just plain stupid.
One of the basic tenets of classical liberalism is to regard government as a tool to be used only where it is most appropriate; the chief role of government being to safeguard and expand liberty. Many people (from all over the political spectrum) view government as a big stick to be employed in forcing others to conform to their particular view of good.
Government is not the only tool that we often use inappropriately, and sometimes the wrong tool is employed not because it is the tool of choice, but because we refuse to use the proper tool. Such is the often the case with regard to schools disciplining children.
A large number of schools use potentially dangerous methods to discipline children, particularly those with disabilities in special education classes, a report from Congress’ investigative arm finds.
In some cases, the Government Accountability Office report notes, children have died or been injured when they have been tied, taped, handcuffed or pinned down by adults or locked in secluded rooms, often to be left for hours at a time.
Some people would be quick to blame the authoritarian, impersonal schools for their outrageous methods of discipline and while I am far from a believer in the infallibility of schools I think that such blame is misplaced in the vast majority of cases.
The real blame lies in the fact that many parents fail to enforce discipline in their homes and even among those who do enforce discipline in their homes all too many make themselves unavailable to take on that responsibility when their children require more discipline than can reasonably be applied by a teacher in charge of more than a dozen students. What’s worse, is that we cannot even safely place the blame fully on the shoulders of the individual parents. Too many of them are forced into situations where they cannot devote themselves to parenting full-time. (Sometimes they just feel forced into those situations.)
As a society we have set too low a value on the role of parenting – placing it completely secondary to economic productivity. We have set expectations too high for our material and economic standard of living – where the luxuries of yesterday must necessarily be necessities today. Consider cell phones for every family member over the age of 10, cars for everyone over 16, cable TV, computers, game consoles, television sets in every room, dance-lessons, sports, and hobbies for each day of the week.
None of these things is intrinsically bad, but together they form unreasonable and unsustainable expectations and they destroy the possibility for most stable families to keep at least one parent available to take care of their children when needs arise.
Not only that, but we expect the schools to provide many of those hobbies through requiring gym, art, and music classes as well as extracurricular sports. The result is that even where there are parents at home and available the children often spend too many hours under the care of their teachers and not enough under the influence of their parents. This serves to lessen the parental influence and offers incentive for parents who would otherwise be available to commit themselves to other activities lest they feel they are wasting their time.
The problems are complex and interwoven so that any hope of identifying the solutions is dependent on our recognition of how and when any given tool can be used and insisting on using each tool in its proper place rather than finding favorite tools and trying to make this reduced tool set suitable for all our needs.
Cross Posted at Pursuit of Liberty