Friday, December 27, 2013

Probation and whiskey school

    The recent decision by a Texas juvenile judge to sentence a north Texas teen to probation and whiskey school as punishment for killing four people has provoked jaw-dropping disbelief and anger across the country.
    The 16-year-old had a blood-alcohol level nearly twice the legal limit and was driving a Ford F-350 pickup without his parents’ knowledge when he lost control, slammed into a car disabled on the side of the road, and killed the car’s driver and three people who had come to help her. One of the seven people who were riding in his truck will be severely brain damaged for life.
    The youth’s lawyers successfully argued that he bears no personal responsibility for the death, pain and suffering he caused because he was never taught right from wrong. He has what the lawyers called “affluenza,” a psychological malaise that supposedly affects wealthy young people. The symptoms include lack of motivation, feelings of guilt, and a sense of isolation.
    So, Texas logic and law now holds that being young, rich and clueless is a defense for youths that commit manslaughter.
    It’s a good bet that if the kid came from poverty and neglect, he would now be sit-ting in a youth correctional facility or would have been tried as an adult and sent off to rot inside prison walls topped with concertina wire.
    Yet, the very fact that a judge in a court of law came down on the side of affluenza and the near impossibility of punishing someone untutored in civilized behavior should give us pause. Labeling the judge as crazy would be the easy way out, but that would ignore the larger issue: How can we teach all American children how to tell right from wrong?
    Thomas Lickona, Ph.D., director of the Center for the Fourth and Fifth Rs (Respect and Responsibility), is the author of an article titled “Teaching Johnny to be Good.” Lickona says respect forms the restraint side of morality. His center says that teaching respect requires parents and other adults to set boundaries for kids to help them learn appropriate and inappropriate language, tones of voice and demands of others. The center urges parents to be parents, not partners of their kids.
    Some kids have parents, grandparents, or adult friends who model decency. Some learn ethical behavior from teachers, coaches, or youth activities directors. Others are not so lucky.
    In an awful way, the Texas judge sent the nation a message: Teach your children well or risk having chaos, manslaughter and murder become the norm in everyday life in a nation where privileged people won’t be punished for bad acts because they just don’t know any better.

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