Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Students?

"No white males in here," the students shouted. The place was a hallway in Roslyn High School on Long Island, and the passage was being blocked by a group of rowdy black students. White male students were pushed back and told to "go 'round another way." The blockade was set up again and again but, strangely, school authorities refused to do anything. Columnist Nat Hentoff finally asked a teacher why no disciplinary action was being taken against the students. These students "are disadvantaged," the teacher replied. "Some of them need more attention . . . That's why we don't come down hard on them for blocking that corridor." Hold it right there. We're talking about a flagrant violation of order. By refusing to act, the administration was undermining its own moral authority and creating an atmosphere of social chaos. After all, if the administration won't protect access to a hallway, how can students feel safe anywhere at school? And if teachers refuse to enforce basic rules of conduct, what moral authority do they have to teach anything else? What we are witnessing here is a crisis of authority-adults who are afraid to exert their authority to discipline young people who are stepping out of line. Often with the best of intentions, people grant minority students special leniency because of their deprived background. The situation is even worse on some university campuses. According to an article in Heterodoxy, about a year ago members of a minority student association at the University of Florida barged into a student Senate meeting. They demanded an extra $30,000 in funding from the university. To press the point home, they broke into the student government offices, smashing furniture and fax machines. Their misbehavior paid off handsomely. Though they broke several laws-from vandalism to breaking and entering-the students were granted immunity from arrest. The money they demanded was handed over. What happened next was absolutely predictable: Less than two months later, the students were back demanding twice as much money. One of them brandished a baseball bat and threatened that if the cash was not forthcoming, "somebody has to bleed." The only response by the university president was to say that the threats were protected under the institution's free speech code. What we are witnessing, I repeat, is a crisis of authority. The students of the sixties who denounced all authority as oppressive have become the teachers and administrators of the nineties. And they still haven't figured out that lawful authority, appropriately wielded, is not bad but good-for society and for the individual. Letting any group of students flout social standards sends a profoundly negative message: It tells these kids that no one cares about them enough to make them live up to standards of right and wrong; that it isn't even worth the effort of trying to make them. Kids intuitively understand what the Bible teaches about authority: that it is a way of expressing real love. The authority structures instituted by God-in the family, the church, and civil society-are not tools of oppression. They are a means of teaching us civilized behavior and bringing out the best in us.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary