Teaching Our Children to Fear
I’m not just being a contrarian when I say that I have concerns about this legislation:
The Rhode Island Senate has approved legislation creating the “Lindsay Ann Burke Act,” an effort to protect those most vulnerable to dating violence by calling on schools to provide dating violence education for middle school and high school students.
Named after a 23-year-old North Kingstown woman who was brutally murdered in fall, 2005, by her former boyfriend, the “Lindsay Ann Burke Act” will require every school district in Rhode Island to develop a model dating violence policy and a policy to address incidents of dating violence involving students. Each school district will also be expected to provide dating violence training to school staff who have significant contact with students, with such training to include basic principles of dating violence and warning signs of dating violence.
The bill also calls on each school district to incorporate dating violence education that is age-appropriate into the annual health curriculum for students in grades 7 to 12. That education, the bill says, should include defining dating violence, recognizing violence warning signs and characteristics of healthy relationships.
It’s obvious that schools ought not tolerate date rape and ought to be vigilant that the potential for it is not developing among students. It’s so obvious that, as a simple matter of government principle, I’m not sure that the general assembly has established a need for its involvement, much less the requirement that strapped school budgets make way for the development of policies and curricula. There isn’t even any indication that the legislators have looked into the effectiveness of such programs.
As a more general social consideration, I wonder whether the extent to which we’re teaching children to be suspicious of one another isn’t unhealthy, in itself. I do think that schools should ensure that the kids who spend so much time within their walls understand that they are places of refuge, with resources available if they feel they’ve nowhere else to go in response to problems, but it seems to me that enumerating the possible villains will tend to decrease kids’ capacity for trust and comfort with others. Must we turn every adolescent dating adventure into even more of a drama than it already is? Must we taint the childhoods of all because some of them may have bad — even dangerous — experiences and we just have a feeling that lesson plans might decrease the number of those incidents?