The sound of guns and violence in Littleton, Colorado signals a youthful rebellion, the sound of youthful energy crying out, searching for guidance. For adults, the challenge is to help lull the cry into strong, sure voice. "Yes" we must tell our young people, "take that energy and do try to change the world for the better. Don't accept the status quo. Don't stand by and tolerate injustice."
Young people are searching for a reason that makes life meaningful. They may not articulate it so clearly, but that is why their souls cry out. They become seriously disillusioned with the hollowness they see in their parents' pursuits, and they sense that without a greater purpose, life is just an unconnected series of events. They are busy looking around the world trying to figure out where they fit in, what they are supposed to accomplish with their own lives.
The answer is clear. Each of us was put on earth to accomplish G-d's mission by living a spiritually meaningful and productive life, and it is this message that we as adults must convey. Because this message is not being transmitted today, we are seeing an unprecedented level of rebellion and disillusionment among our youth.
It is true, especially in this country, that youthful rebellion has led to extremes. But why did the rebellion come about in the first place? Because young people are saying to their parents, "No, we will not be happy with the creature comforts you are passing on to us. We want something deeper. We want a world with meaning and a value system. We want a G-d."
Why has the moral fabric of this country deteriorated so badly? Because children are no longer taught about G-d. From its inception, the United States has been the refuge for millions of people of every religion who fled their homelands so they could worship freely. It was in such a spirit that we used to educate our children. Then a slow but devastating process began that often resulted in diluting and, ultimately, eliminating an education based on our own personal responsibility to G-d. The old battle between G-d and science expanded into one between G-d and education. This is one of the primary reasons for much of today's moral deterioration, and that is why there is no choice but to return to an educational philosophy in which we teach children not just the value of a mathematical equation, but the value of their souls.
Eighty-four percent of America's children are educated in its public schools. Since the 1962 Supreme Court decision that formal recognition within the public schools of a supreme being is unconstitutional, G-d has effectively been eliminated from the cognitive experience of millions of children attending public schools. Growing up to believe in a G-dless world, these children are deprived of the opportunity to explore and fulfill their innate potential to aspire to a higher kind of existence than is the norm today.
Education that is merely concerned with the transmission of information is doomed to failure. It must serve the greater and nobler purpose of cultivating the student's moral character. The development of a student's mathematical skills, knowledge of history, science etc., cannot be divorced from his growth as a well-functioning and productive member of society.
It behooves us to acknowledge that children reared with a strong consciousness of a G-d who watches over them and bids them to conduct their lives with sensitivity, honesty, respect and compassion for others, have far less difficulty checking their behavior against those criteria.
It is this consciousness - sorely lacking today among youth - that must be nurtured as a priority, within each child, so that he knows even before he learns to read and write, that there is "an eye that sees, and an ear that hears," observing all of our actions. Certainly before a student maps out his or her career path and financial future - he/she must have a strong awareness of his/her responsibility to those around them and of those precepts upon which any functioning human society depends, as mandated by G-d, such as that "I may not take what does not belong to me," and that "I may not covet what belongs to my friend."
Because a child is impressionable, he or she will be influenced by whatever is around him. Children today are inundated by many influences that are detrimental to a proper education. After fighting through all the modern-day distractions - whether it is television or the lure of crime and drugs - there is precious little time and energy left to cultivate our children's minds and hearts and souls. It is not enough to send your children off to school with a packed lunch, education is a full-time duty. We must always be as vigilant as when the child was a newborn - always on the alert, always ready to serve the child's spiritual needs.
Why do the Ten Commandments, which include moral laws, begin with "I am your G-d?" Because without the acceptance that morality is derived from G-d, morality - and, therefore, education - is guided by nothing more than human whim and conscience. History has shown us that a society can be extremely well-educated and yet, if not guided by G-d's precepts, it may be steeped in malevolence.
Establishing a system of morally sound education is one of the primary responsibilities of society. To hand off such a responsibility to a group of administrators, no matter how qualified they may be, is both neglectful and ineffective. While there must be a certain group of people whose primary responsibility is to implement education, each member of society must take an active role. For parents of young children especially, the responsibility is clear. Think how disturbed we would be to learn about a parent who had a sick child but refused to take the child to a doctor. If that is the case for the child's body, shouldn't we feel the same concern for a child's mind and for his soul?
And yet because of the heavy workload of so many parents now today, our schools have assumed much greater responsibility. There was a time when basic values were taught at home while schooling served primarily to give children the skills for a career. Many parents now depend on the schools to teach their children both skills and values. This underscores the great need for schools to establish moral curricula. Especially today, children as well as adults are longing to learn about high values. We need to appreciate this receptivity and respond to it with the most effective and aggressive educational campaign possible.
Remember that it is children who can best relate to simplicity and the essence of G-d. Do not project your own skepticism onto children. Children, unlike adults, do not chew over every piece of new information until its essence is diluted or destroyed, they just listen and absorb - which is why they learn so well.
We must look at our children and tell ourselves again and again: Here is a fertile soul, an open heart and mind, that I have been given by G-d to nurture and teach. This child's life will affect many others, and I must teach him as best I can. Will G-d and society be pleased with the job I have done?
Rabbi Anchelle Perl
Director, National Committee Furtherance
of Jewish Education of Nassau County,
Spiritual Leader of Congregation Beth Sholom Chabad of Mineola.