Chuck Colson posted an article looking at the tragic suicide of Pheobe Prince. My contention is when morality is reduced to “I say” morality or moral relativism, there are no constraints for students to follow; they just make up right and wrong as they choose. Schools become powerless to “force their morality” on the students. Without objective morality there are no rules; there are no set moral standards. What Colson outlines below can be the result and will continue to prevail as long as morals are simply relative.
On Tuesday, three South Hadley, Massachusetts, teenagers were arraigned on criminal charges relating to the death of a high school classmate, Phoebe Prince. The charges included criminal harassment and statutory rape.
The story of Phoebe Prince’s death has gripped the national media over the past few months. Prince, a 15-year-old freshman at South Hadley High School, and a recent immigrant from Ireland, killed herself back in January after being “mercilessly tormented by a [group] of classmates.” The torment consisted of “relentless activity…designed to humiliate her and to make it impossible for her to remain at school.”
Her tormentors were a group of girls whom the Massachusetts press dubbed the “Mean Girls.” The harassment started within weeks of Prince’s arrival at the school. Using the tools of the information age, her tormenters sent threatening text messages, and then, on Facebook and Twitter, called her names I couldn’t repeat on radio. Eventually, Prince hanged herself. Her tormentors couldn’t leave her alone even in death. They “posted vicious comments” on her Facebook memorial page.
From network to cable news to the headlines of the nation’s major newspapers, you can sense the shock and bewilderment. How could teenagers engage in such brutality? But folks, the only shocking thing is that people are bewildered. The cause of this, ladies and gentlemen, is very simple: human sin. It is the nature of people unrestrained by conscience.
When schools fail to teach that there is such a thing as right and wrong, when children are no longer trained by loving families in the morally formative years to choose good over evil, then we have the classic “Lord of the Flies” scenario.
I’m talking about William Golding’s brilliant 1954 novel, Lord of the Flies. The story begins when a planeload of British boys are marooned on a desert island. At first, they institute a British-style government based on civility and order. But order eventually erodes into savagery, and life on the desert island, which began as a mirror of orderly British society, dissolves into murder and mayhem.
Golding said the theme of his novel is that the “defects of society” can be traced “to the defects of human nature.” At one time, Golding held the typical utopian belief that “man was perfectible”—that “all you had to do was to remove certain inequities and provide practical sociological solutions, and man would have a perfect paradise on earth.”
But in the wake of World War II, Golding adapted a more realistic view of human nature. What Lord of the Flies gives us is a powerful parable of the Christian doctrine of original sin—and what can happen when to youngsters when adults fail to provide moral direction and guidance.
The tragedy in South Hadley provides Christians an opportunity to explain why the biblical worldview is the only one that can explain reality, and that can explain the world the way it is. Only when you take sin seriously can you cope with evil in society. Anything else is simply whistling past our children’s graveyards.
What can schools do? One thing is they can let students know there is a right and wrong and you cannot make up morality as you go. Bullying and harassment will not be tolerated and penalties should be expulsion from the district. On the positive side, schools can do a better job to teaching students how to interact with each other in a positive manner. The teaching of socials skills is one way to do just that. I have been doing this for years and have had great success. Middle school students can learn why putdowns do harm and how to build other students up through social skills like encouragement.