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A depressing display of American generosity

The YouTube video of a group of middle school boys callously terrorizing an elderly school bus monitor with vicious and obscene verbal abuse has brought out the best—and arguably the most depressing—aspects of our national character.

The best: There was an outpouring of sympathy for the unfortunate woman from all over the country. And, in an effort to comfort her, tens of thousands of people opened their wallets to contribute to a fund, initially aimed at sending her on the vacation of a lifetime.

By the time $300,000 had rolled in, the goals of the fund had broadened to buying her a home and enabling her to quit her low–paid, under–appreciated and utterly unrewarding job.

By all accounts, this extraordinary example of American generosity couldn’t have happened to a nicer person. Despite having been treated in such a hideously cruel fashion, the lady has declined to press criminal charges against the culprits and has even refused to ask the school authorities to punish them.

The depressing: This remarkable display of Christian forbearance is entirely misplaced. A failure to punish the culprits will only encourage further bad behavior both by them and by children with similarly vicious dispositions.

This bodes evil for everybody living in an America already wracked be a growing plague of youthful violence. Here in Baltimore, for example, a horde of school children, most of them in uniforms, recently pillaged a convenience store and assaulted the owner.

In a brazen display of cowardice and folly, city prosecutors announced they would not be pressing charges against the culprits even though many are easily identifiable from the store’s security cameras.

What’s more, the city authorities seem to be taking a similarly laid–back approach to the ugly gangs of youthful marauders who regularly descend on the Inner Harbor, intimidating—and often assaulting and robbing—visitors to our attractive waterfront.

If there are no consequences to youthful criminal activity, we can only expect it to increase. As the Nobel Prize–winning economist Milton Friedman sagely observed: If you subsidize something, you’re going to get more of it.

Even more depressing: Instead of doing something about youthful violence, we take the easy way out and throw money at it! Usually this takes the form of costly but utterly ineffective and unappreciated programs aimed at keeping kids busy and off the streets. Occasionally—as in the case of the unfortunate bus monitor—it takes the form of cash to comfort a victim and salve our consciences.

We will pay any price, it seems, to avoid tackling the problem in the way that historically has been the most effective. Until the advent of modern sociological theory, we civilized our children—and all children need civilizing—by turning little boys into “Christian gentlemen” and little girls into “Christian ladies.” Reactionary, it might be, but it worked.

Today, by contrast, we’ve stood the process on its head: We try to turn little boys into little girls and little girls into little boys. And we are amazed it doesn’t work. Go figure! GPH✠

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