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I am often asked what’s wrong with our children and I almost always answer, adults are what’s wrong.
It is time for adults of every race and income group to break our silence about the pervasive breakdown of moral, family, and community values, to place our children first in our lives, and to struggle to model the behavior we want our children to learn. School children don’t need one more “Officer Slam” as some students referred to the White South Carolina school resource officer who this week shamed the nation with his violent ejection of a 16-year-old Black female student from her classroom for a nonviolent offense.
A very welcome counter narrative took place when a White female police officer in Washington, D.C. after diffusing a potentially volatile conflict between two groups of Black teens, then charmed with a “dance off” a defiant teen-age girl who had refused to leave.
Any parent who has gone through the challenges of adolescence could only admire the quick thinking and agile footwork of the D.C. police officer. The last thing children need is violent assaults in schools which ought to be safe havens, and a suspension, expulsion and arrest to blot their school records and push them closer to the prison pipeline. And the very last thing children need is out-of-control adults using violence as a way of resolving differences.
I am often asked what’s wrong with our children and I almost always answer, adults are what’s wrong. We tell our children to control themselves while slapping and spanking and ejecting them violently in our homes, child care centers, schools, detention facilities and prisons. Adults tell children to be honest while lying and cheating and not to be violent while marketing and glorifying violence.
I urge every parent, adult, educator, faith and public leader to conduct a personal audit to determine whether we are contributing to the crisis our children face or to the solutions they urgently need. And if we are not a part of the solution, we are a part of the problem and need to do better.
Our children don’t need or expect us to be perfect. They do need and expect us to be honest, to admit and correct our mistakes, and to share our struggles about the meanings and responsibilities of faith, parenthood, citizenship, and life. Before we can pull up the moral weeds of violence, materialism, and greed in our society that are strangling so many of our young, we must pull up the moral weeds in our own backyards and educational institutions. So many children are confused about what is right and wrong because so many adults talk right and do wrong in our personal, professional, and public lives.
© 2015 Children’s Defense Fund
Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund.