Kids on their Own

  Last month, Jesse Jackson made headlines by defending six students who were expelled from a Decatur, Illinois high school for fighting at a football game. In a spirit of compromise, the school board agreed to send the boys to an "alternative school" for disruptive youth. Dealing with youth violence is one the hot issues in today's public square. But if we want to change kids' attitudes, we need to do more than send them off into exile. Interestingly enough, a story about exiled boys may help us understand how to address the root causes of youth violence. I'm talking about William Golding's brilliant 1954 novel, Lord of the Flies. The story begins when a planeload of British boys between the ages of six and twelve are marooned on a desert island. At first, they institute a British-style government based on civility and order. But order erodes into savagery when most of the boys secede from the group and commence a wild cycle of hunting, dancing, and feasting. One night, the renegade group murders a boy, and the desert island, which began as a mirror of orderly British society, dissolves into a picture of brutal mayhem. Golding says the theme of his novel is that the "defects of society" can be traced "to the defects of human nature." At one time, he explains, he held the typical liberal belief "that man was perfectible"— that "all you had to do was to remove certain inequities and provide practical sociological solutions, and man would have a perfect paradise on earth." But World War II shattered Golding's utopianism, and in Lord of the Flies he portrays a more realistic view of human nature-showing that youngsters can be quickly overtaken by the evil within, if adults do not provide moral direction and guidance. What Golding gives us is a powerful parable of the Christian doctrine of original sin. And today, in places like Decatur or Littleton, we are seeing a Lord of the Flies mentality emerging in all its horror. The Littleton killers were not on a desert island, but they were certainly insulated in a separate culture of violent movies and video games. Their own parents apparently failed to notice that they were building bombs in their bedrooms. Unfortunately, Americans have created a broad range of institutions that segregate children into a parallel world. Many kids today spend so much time in day care, camps, sports groups, and malls that they bond more closely to their peers than to their parents. The entertainment industry offers teens a parallel culture with their own movies, their own videos, their own music, their own Internet games. If we hope to prevent kids from falling prey to the chaos depicted in print in Golding's Lord of the Flies—and at a football stadium in Decatur—passing new laws or sending troublemakers to different schools is not enough. We have to recommit ourselves to giving children the supervision and moral guidance they so desperately need. This might be a good time for mature adults to reread Golding's classic novel—and then be sure to give our children the love and discipline that helps keep us all civilized.


Chuck Colson


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