Challenging Today's Students

The media is once again setting the stage and making judgments that will forever change people's lives. The events and circumstances around the Duke University Lacrosse Team are tragic, no matter what the ultimate truth.

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The media is once again setting the stage and making judgments that will forever change people's lives. The events and circumstances around the Duke University Lacrosse Team are tragic, no matter what the ultimate truth.

Unfortunately, the media seems to have a different sense of justice. They seem to make their own rules and live by them. Guilt or innocence does not seem to be their real focus. Rather, there is more of an interest in what will make the best drama and attract the greatest number of viewers.

Recently, USA Today summed up this unfortunate situation: "Prosecutors, defense 'trying their case in public.' " (Pinkerton, Newsday) It is becoming increasingly clearer that neither side is interested in the truth or justice, but rather are more interested in ad hominum attacks. Let's further blemish the character and integrity of "all" the players involved, so we can dilute or water down all the facts and figures involved in this tragic case.

Before this case goes to trial, its outcome is being determined in the press, on the radio, on the television, in the local pub or in the barber's chair. Be sure that most reaching a verdict will not care about the facts. Why let the truth get in the way of a good drama?

Sadly, when all of this circus is over, there will be no real winners. Everyone involved will lose. The victims, the players (those guilty and innocent), lacrosse at Duke in the future and all the families involved on both sides of the aisle.

Millions of dollars will be wasted for an outcome that ultimately is free, if those involved are willing to tell the truth. However, the real truth will probably never be totally exposed. Some synthetic distortion of the truth will be marketed by whoever puts on the best show.

Meanwhile, all involved will have to live every day of their lives with what really happened on that tragic night in mid March.

Those involved will replay forever the circumstances that led to the events that literally created the social opportunity that has changed so many students' lives forever.

The millions that will ultimately be expended to bring this tragic happening to a close could be better spent on providing greater opportunities for educating students on character formation, tolerance, diversity and respect issues. These issues seem to be getting lost somewhere in our educational experience.

How does an off campus scandal involving some exceptional scholar athletes from a leading, top rated university like Duke happen? How does something like the Columbine massacre occur? What are we not doing in education to empower our students to avoid these tragedies?

Is the answer more metal detectors, increased security guards, school uniformed police and canine patrols in every high school? I would think not.

Unfortunately, too many of our high schools have become wastelands of human potential. We have lost sight of what is essential. Our schools have become void of substance and meaning.

In our community, too often we are more consumed with test scores, percentage ratings and what looks good on the surface than with really looking at the texture and landscape of our school community.

What success do we achieve if our students reach the heights of academic excellence on one end of the continuum but on the other end, we see a dramatic rise in teenage suicide?

Is it success if one hundred percent of our high school students pass the English regents, but the drug and alcohol misuse by juniors and seniors is up by one hundred percent?

Too many of our upper and middle class students see nothing wrong with their drug and alcohol use. Their attitude on this subject is clear and many of their parents defend it by their silence and denial. "If I am a good kid and a good student, it is my right to party however I choose as long as I do so responsibly." (a local high school senior)

The student who made that statement is at the top of his class, but really believes that recreational drinking and smoking pot are his entitlements because he is a good student. Upon further inquiry, we discover that he is no longer a minority voice. A growing number of his peers share his sentiment.

Why should any of us reading this be shocked? As a community, we are a microcosm of the nation. For over a decade our school community and our religious community have remained deafly silent.

Yes, in some schools there have been feeble attempts to address student social behaviors. Unfortunately, these attempts have been without any force, consistency or consequence.

It is great to have athletes sign a contract agreeing not to do illegal drugs or underage drinking during the season. However, everyone reading this knows it has been happening in varying degrees for years; and not just among high school and junior high athletes, but among every social group on every high school campus.

The tragedy is not so much the behavior, because we know it will occur, but rather the blind eye or deaf ear that is often given by people in authority. So, it is not surprising that most students think the issue is ridiculous, a waste of time and the fact that we have laws prohibiting drinking until the age of twenty-one even more laughable.

Although the present landscape seems barren with efforts to change students thinking and behavior, some school communities are taking a risk to influence change. They must be applauded.

On May 10th, Port Jefferson High School will sponsor Rachel's Challenge, a program that was created after Rachel Scott was killed at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. Rachel's acts of kindness and compassion, coupled with the contents of her diaries found after her murder have become the foundation of one of the most life-changing school programs in America today.

Rachel's Challenge is a program that inspires, instructs and empowers students to bring positive changes to the school atmosphere. The powerful video/audio footage of Rachel's life and the Columbine tragedy holds students spellbound for almost an hour. The presentation has motivated students around the country to make positive changes in the way they treat others.

Hopefully, other local high schools will take Port Jefferson's lead and begin to challenge students to look at how they treat one another and to create a more positive attitude toward diversity and difference, where no matter who you are or where you are from, you will be treated with a spirit of inclusion and respect. Now that's a challenge!