Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Lindsay Ann Burke Act

Rhode Island just passed a law requiring schools to teach Middle school and High school girls about abusive relationships and how to avoid them. (Story on MSNBC). Okay. On the face of it, it seems like a good idea; I mean what's wrong with educating girls about this?

Then why do I feel squirmy when I consider this? Usually my gut is right when it tells me something is fundamentally wrong here.

So I went through this story again, and I found it: "The initiative was spearheaded by Burke and her husband, Chris, who say schools should be obligated to teach teens the warning signs of abusive relationships."

Whoa! Something bad happened, and now we need a government program to fix it or prevent it from happening again?

Ann Burke states in the article that she recognized the signs of this relationship and warned her daughter. Her daughter ignored her warnings, and maintained what sounds like a co-dependent relationship with her abuser. What happened to Lindsay Burke is a tragedy, but ultimately she allowed it to happen to herself.

What failed Lindsay? The obvious answer is her family. Ann Burke failed to educate her daughter on the difference between a healthy relationship and an abusive relationship. Lindsay's upbringing failed to provide her with the tools to be emotionally self-sufficient, and have the confidence to push back and assert her independence from this criminal. And now Ann Burke wants government schools to pick up the mantle of responsibility to ensure that children are taught that which she failed to teach to her own child.

We should always be circumspect when the government tries to be a nanny state. Children need this lesson, but the proper venue for it is in the home and the community, not the schools. Children learn by example. This well-intentioned usurpation of family responsibilities is a misguided, largely wasted effort. Those who need what this program offers, who for whatever reason aren't getting it from home, will likely not benefit from this class. For those who don't need it, it's a colossal waste of time and resources.

I remember classes like this when I was in school. They were rarely taught by someone who was adept at conveying the information, and resulted in dry lectures and source material that seemed to have little to do with my life at the time. Don't hit girls. Yeah, yeah, I know that. The more subtler types of abuse simply can't be conveyed in a classroom setting. No one appreciates the damage these can do unless they've experienced it. Teaching students to follow a "if-this then-that" set of behaviors is ineffective. Children need to be encouraged to have the maturity and confidence to deal with situations like this independently, because no two situations are going to be the same. I have encouraged my 14 year old daughter to be a critical thinker, and have provided her with emotional and physical skills with which to handle a situation like this. If, God forbid, she ever finds herself confronting a monster like the one who killed Lindsay, I fully expect her to thoroughly kick his backside.

A more effective way to implement a preventive action for this tragedy is to educate the parents, particularly the mothers. This isn't going to happen by sending a read & sign informational flyer home. Parents are far too busy and have far too much to sign coming home from school as it is. The impetus for making parents aware that this is an essential part of a child's family education needs to come one on one, from the teachers, the pastors and the community leaders.

When the government schools find it necessary to usurp the prerogatives of the parent in educating the child on social behavior, a dangerous precedent is set. The government should never be cast into or thought of as a surrogate parent for the constituency. To do so casts the government in a superior role. The government should always be the servant of the people, never their master. In Nazi Germany, and to some extent even Germany today, the government is seen as a benevolent parent, taking care of it's children the population. We saw what can happen when such a relationship between government and the governed falls into the wrong hands. In America, our Founding Fathers saw government as a necessary evil, which should be kept on a leash and fed as little as possible, lest it grow too powerful.

I feel for Lindsay, and I grieve with her parents. But I am reluctant to allow the government another, albeit tiny, usurpation of my responsibilities and rights as a parent and a citizen.

No comments:

Post a Comment