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Zero tolerance policies necessary, but underlying problems remain

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Growing up, Benny Proffitt recalls angry kids settling their disputes with words and sometimes with fists. But that was long before Columbine and the rash of other school shootings to rock America in the ’90s. Long before moral relativism replaced moral absolutes, Proffitt contends.

A Southern Baptist and a former public school teacher, Proffitt is president of First Priority, a Brentwood, Tenn.,-based ministry that has helped start public school Bible clubs in more than 400 communities.

Recently, hundreds of school districts have instituted “zero-tolerance” policies on such things as violent behavior, threats and possession of objects as seemingly harmless as nail clippers.

Critics have charged the policies are sometimes too harsh. Jesse Jackson drew national attention to the issue last month in protesting the Decatur, Ill., school district’s two-year expulsion of seven students for fighting at a football game.

Proffitt said such policies are necessary and useful in teaching young people accountability, but the underlying problems are a lack of moral absolutes and a youth culture saturated with destructive media influences. “The Generation X’ers and the generation in school now, they are the first two generations to grow up in America making up their own rules. They need to learn that we believe there are absolutes, even though the culture says there aren’t any.”

Glen Schultz, also a former public educator and director of Christian school resources for LifeWay Christian Resources, said the violence that has spawned these zero-tolerance policies is the “natural outcome” of a moral vacuum in the culture.

“When there are no absolutes, then the schools, for the protection of everyone, have to enforce these policies.”

Schultz said he learned in high school government class that citizens would submit to authoritarian rule when they become fearful for their safety. “I think that’s what’s happening. People are becoming so frightened and this is the natural result … We’re seeing the results of a truly secular educational system.”

Schultz said he agrees that zero-tolerance policies have merit, “but it’s not going to solve the problem of school violence.”

An educational system not based on God’s absolutes is doomed for failure, Schultz said.

Compounding the problem, Proffitt said, is that negative media influences now permeate households from rural America to the inner city through movies, music and the Internet.

“I’ve met kids from all 50 states,” Proffitt said. “They’re all the same, they’re all exposed to the same media influences, both positive and negative.”

Proffitt and Schultz agree the church has much to contribute in answering the cries of a public school system gone awry. But they hold different opinions on how that should take place and who should be involved.

Proffitt says parents must equip their kids to take a Christian stand in the public schools; Schultz believes responsible parents will bypass secular education in favor of Christian schools or home-schooling for their kids.

“I think adults have to be (involved in public schools) to have an impact on curricula, on school boards, we’ve got to be involved and make sure we preserve the culture according to biblical standards,” Schultz said. But, “I cannot see where God can honor us if we sacrifice our children.”

Schultz said the church’s impact on society is only as effective as the discipleship Christian parents give their kids.

He dismisses the argument some have made that Christian youths must maintain an influence in public schools. And he believes financial barriers to Christian schools and home-schooling could be overcome by most families if biblical stewardship were practiced.

“There is never a lack of money when God’s will is done God’s way,” Schultz said.

“The Israelites didn’t send their children to Canaanite schools to be salt and light.”

Proffitt, however, said many parents don’t have a choice.

“That’s why we’re so committed to the public school system.”

Proffitt cites 1 Peter 3:15, which commands believers to be ready to give an answer for their hope, as a rallying cry in equipping students to defend their faith.

“For your child to take a stand for Christ, they are standing against the culture,” Proffitt said. “Forty years ago I was standing with the culture when I stood for Christian principles. It’s tougher today.”

In traveling to schools across the country during the past year, Proffitt said the depth of commitment among Christian students is perhaps greater than ever.

“The light is lighter than ever, but the darkness is darker than ever. Columbine is the perfect picture of that.”

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  • Jerry Pierce