GRAVES: No such thing as a free lunchEven though something may be provided to one person at no cost to them, somebody is paying for it.
By: Joe Graves, Mitchell superintendent
I have always believed it important to live my life, to make my decisions according to an overall life’s philosophy. But I must also concede that many of my actions are predicated less upon a personal vision or mission statement and more upon rules of thumb, simple notions of how life “really” works. One that I find particularly useful is: There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
It is an economic perspective on life, as so many useful rules of thumb seem to be, that explains the reality that even though something may be provided to one person at no cost to them, somebody is paying for it and that fact has consequences, intended and unintended, for everyone.
I’ve been thinking about this simple rule of thumb as I have wrestled with the primary obligation of schools to keep their students safe and secure. Just how do we manage this and with what “coin” will we pay the cost?
Currently, the most popular solution to the issue seems to be new gun control legislation. Certainly, if the government could remove all such weapons from the hands of the general population, at least some decrease in school violence would seem assured. Then again, the right to possess such weapons, found in the great list of the fundamental rights of humanity, the Bill of Rights, would be necessarily shredded. As would the understanding of many that gun ownership is not just a right but a guarantor of rights. The price, in other words, is hardly negligible.
Gov. Mike Huckabee, popular conservative radio personality, weighed in with his own view on the apparent cause — and thereby suggests the solution — of school violence as the eviction of God from the American classroom. The solution would then be to quash court rulings dating back into at least the 1960s which have removed school prayer and other invocations of the deity from public schools. While I question at least some of the theology inherent in his argument, this is beside the point. The relevant aspect here is the cost of doing so, which in this case is the — in the eyes of the courts — violation of freedoms from religious establishment, the imposition of specific religious views on students in schools among an increasingly heterogeneous society. My views aside, again, the price will be seen by at least many people as pretty steep.
A different solution, though one not talked about a lot — somewhat to my surprise — comes out of a Kennedy Administration initiative from the 1960s, the Community Mental Health Centers Act of 1963. This law is largely credited with what is known as the “deinstitutionalization” movement which attempted to move many of those considered to be suffering from mental illnesses out of the large, faceless mental institutions and into community centers or homes with families. That this was a laudable goal is demonstrated by the ease with which it was possible to institutionalize people in the bad old days, leading to people spending most of their lives, often shortened ones, behind the padded walls of these, essentially, prisons. One unintended consequence of this movement has been the proliferation of the mentally ill homeless on the streets of large cities. Is it possible that another is that truly dangerous people now have the means and access to others to commit what can only be described as disturbed criminal acts? Yet, if re-institutionalization is the answer, how many will then be incarcerated for various levels of insanity and social awkwardness who never really needed to lose the freedoms they have enjoyed over the last 50 years?
Perhaps the most direct “fix” to the problem is increased school security, a goal I have pursued with vigor ever since the modern era of school violence. Electronic locks, school resource officers, video surveillance, single entrances, etc., all have been added to our arsenals of defensive weapons, along with a few others we keep to ourselves. Yet the violence continues. I am reminded of a parent who contacted me after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, wondering what preparations we had taken for a gas or chemical weapons attack on a school. As far as I know, there is no reasonable defense. While we could theoretically enhance school security to a much higher extent — windowless classrooms or windows with bars, full security details, armed employees, parents not allowed into buildings — the result starts to look an awful lot like that institution made of granite in Sioux Falls. Truthfully, I wouldn’t want my children to attend a school indistinguishable from a maximum security prison. That price is, for me at least, too high.
And so, the educational community will continue to move forward, looking to the advice of experts on how to make incremental enhancements in school security while we and society at large examine the price tags of these smaller ideas as well as the larger ones that continue to seize the focus of the national attention.
Meanwhile, I am reminded of a sentiment not of an economist but a politician, scientist, inventor, and author, aka Benjamin Franklin, which sums up in part this whole notion of no free lunch in this context: “People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.”
Such a conviction goes beyond a rule of thumb and into a life philosophy. Yet in the face of so many gone, even its spirited strength quakes before the loss. In truth, there simply are no easy answers.