It’s High Time to Take Back Our Schools

A few weeks ago a 16 year old high school girl was gang-raped for a period of over two hours in a poorly-lit courtyard on the campus of her high school during the homecoming dance. While there have been outpourings of horror, sympathy for the victim, funds raised for her future, etc., I’ve seen absolutely no call anywhere for holding the school officials accountable. On the contrary, local media has accepted and reported the crime as “nearly inevitable:”

Charles Johnson, one of the high school’s security specialists said, “We know that courtyard, and we’ve been waiting for something to happen there.”

When we were raising teenagers, not so long ago, it was drilled into us that anything that happened at our home was our responsibility: if a kid got drunk or high at our house and drove drunk, we would be liable, and we took appropriate precautions. Of course, I’m not naive enough to think that nothing slipped by us, but it is inconceivable that we would have had chaperones or security insufficient at a school dance to be unaware of 10-20 boys drinking heavily and assaulting a young woman for more than two hours in a well-known hangout on campus.

Yet such now seems to be the accepted standard for public schools—from a mother telling me about her grade-school child who doesn’t drink anything at school because she’s afraid to go into the bathroom there, to our neighborhood’s high school newspaper routinely reporting on muggings on campus—imparted impassively, shrugging shoulders, as if to say, “That’s the way it is and that’s the way it has to be.”

There’s a very real alternative to continuing to moan and wring hands and call for government to “do something.” We see it in examples like neighborhood watch programs, and more dramatically, the Guardian Angels. In Baltimore, “Grandmothers Against Gangs” was formed; when they saw a bunch of kids selling drugs on street corners, they ran out with brooms to chase them away. In Oakland, residents of one of the poorest and worst neighborhoods decided to take back their street by gathering every Friday night to talk and drink coffee on a corner that used to be ground-zero for drug and sex deals. In each of these instances, crime in the areas dropped: criminals go somewhere all those people—largely poor people, armed only with red berets, coffee mugs or brooms—aren’t.

When the school administration and its “security specialists” can blithely declare that they were sitting idly by, “waiting” for this to happen, it’s time to wrench responsibility, funding, and authority from these hired “experts,” and take it for ourselves: It’s time to reassert control over our own neighborhoods, schools and kids. It’s time for parents, grandparents, siblings, neighbors, merchants, and/or church leaders to organize citizen patrols of the public schools: patrolling halls, bathrooms and the campus to establish the environment we want for our children.

We might also learn some lessons from the exercise that we decide to apply in other areas of our lives: a forgotten legacy of how we used to rely on mutual-aid and voluntary associations to address these and worse problems, with great effectiveness (see, for example, The Voluntary City)—before we allowed the government to convince us that we needed “them” to keep us safe. See also, Neither Liberty Nor Safety.

Mary L. G. Theroux is Chairman and Chief Executive of the Independent Institute.
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