Letters

Summer 2000
School Suspension . . . of Reason

To the Editor:
Kay S. Hymowitz leaves your readers with an egregiously inadequate assessment of the current state of the law with respect to the capacity of the federal courts to inject themselves into matters of school discipline ("Who Killed School Discipline?" Spring 2000). She opens by referring to the six Decatur, Illinois, students whose expulsions were challenged last year by Jesse Jackson, but fails to note that the lawsuit brought by the students was summarily dismissed in January by a federal district judge, who noted that "a federal court’s role in school disciplinary matters is very limited."

The judge—a Clinton appointee, by the way—was following a body of precedent of which Hymowitz makes no mention. While she discusses the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1969 Tinker decision and its 1975 Goss decision, she fails to note that later opinions of the Court, especially its 1988 Hazelwood decision, have severely limited the capacity of the federal courts to oversee the disciplinary actions of school officials.

A simple statistic serves as a useful corrective to Hymowitz’s judge bashing. According to a report issued in April by the Justice Policy Institute, 3.1 million students were suspended or expelled from school in 1997, nearly 6.8 percent of all students. This is an increase from 3.7 percent of students in 1974. Quite apart from the question of whether this is a statistic of which we may be proud, the fact is that school officials have not been refraining from exercising discipline out of fear that the federal courts will swoop down upon them.

Mark Kozlowski
New York University School of Law

Kay S. Hymowitz responds:
I refer Mr. Kozlowski to page 38 of my article, where I anticipate his objection. The point is worth repeating: Yes, the courts have been siding with the schools in matters of discipline for some time now, very possibly since the Supreme Court’s decision in Bethel v. Fraser in 1986. However, if you talk to superintendents, members of school boards, and their attorneys, you find that they are less concerned with whether they can win in court than whether they will be sued in the first place. Win or lose, lawsuits are expensive and controversial—both qualities that bureaucrats tend to abhor. In their fear, they write obscure and legalistic policies, and practice a defensive and inflexible discipline whose purpose is less to socialize children than to "treat everyone exactly alike" so that their efforts will stand up in court.

I agree that the explosion in the number of school suspensions and zero tolerance policies are cause for alarm. But where Kozlowski doubtless sees them as a sign of a harsher judicial climate, I believe they are an inevitable consequence of the intrusion of the law into the schools. Adults have to socialize children some way or another, and if they are forced to do so with the courts setting the tone, the results are bound to be rigid and alien. A principal who suspends a kid for bringing a plastic Nerf gun to school is not being a tough disciplinarian; he’s just a frazzled bureaucrat with his head in an official codebook and his hand on the phone to the district lawyer.

Christian Charity?

To the editor:
Having been involved with Catholic Charities (CC) for almost two decades, I approached Brian C. Anderson’s "How Catholic Charities Lost Its Soul" (Winter 2000) with keen interest.

I wish Anderson had done more to clarify that Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) and CC are not identical. CCUSA is commonly depicted as a giant social service agency with a multibillion-dollar budget and thousands of workers serving the poor at branch offices throughout the U.S. Unfortunately, CCUSA does little to disabuse the public of that misunderstanding. In reality, there is no giant national CC agency. Every diocese has its own ministry—usually, though not always, called CC—to serve the needy. CCUSA is best understood as a sort of trade association with which most, but not all, CC agencies voluntarily associate themselves, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. CCUSA is supported chiefly by steep membership fees paid by CC agencies that choose to be affiliated.

Diocesan agencies’ dues support a bureaucracy significantly larger than the one that existed before the Cadre Report transformed the National Conference of Catholic Charities into today’s CCUSA. So Anderson is correct in describing the enormous impact of the Cadre Report in redefining the mission of CC. Perhaps it is wishful thinking, but I believe the Cadre Report shaped CCUSA much more than it shaped CC agencies across the country.

The fundamental problem with CCUSA’s heavy involvement with lobbying is not its characteristic bias toward statist solutions but rather its funding those activities with money donated for other purposes. The average Catholic would be disappointed to learn that a portion of his donation was being sent to Washington to pay lobbyists to advocate for policies with which he might legitimately disagree.

The article criticizes CCUSA for failing to emphasize "moral values and ethical conduct" in its ministry, and for neglecting to transform "the dysfunctional worldview that often lies at the root of their difficulties." While use of the word "often" does soften the position somewhat, the thrust of the article does seem to fault CCUSA for failing to operate on the very un-Catholic assumption that people would not be poor if only they led virtuous lives.

Faulty moral values and bad ethical choices can contribute to poverty—just as they can contribute to affluence. Whatever our socioeconomic circumstances, we all need help to stay on the straight and narrow—the rich no less than the poor. Lazarus may have come to his desperate circumstances—lying hungry at the rich man’s gate, covered with sores— because of serious moral failings. Jesus’s parable does not tell us how he got there but focuses our attention on the defective moral values of the rich man who fails to share his affluence with Lazarus. The rich man was not condemned for neglecting to correct Lazarus’s moral failings.

Sometimes the Church merely feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, shelters the homeless, and comforts the lonely and abandoned. At other times, it is able to do the far more difficult work of helping the poor become more self-sufficient. In both instances, CC is doing the Lord’s work—that is its basic mission.

Edward L. Maillet
Chancellor, Diocese of Tulsa
Tulsa, OK

Brian C. Anderson responds:
Chancellor Maillet’s thoughtful note seems haunted by ambivalence. He wishes I distinguished more clearly between CCUSA and CC agencies, most of which associate with CCUSA "with varying degrees of enthusiasm." I made the distinction clearer than CCUSA itself does.

In talking to numerous local agency representatives across the country, I found that almost all shared the CCUSA worldview: that a big welfare state, doling out ever more services in an ask-no-questions way, is the best way to help the down-and-out. I don’t share that view—and neither does Maillet. Before the transformation I describe having taken place in the 1960s, neither did CC.

Maillet charges that I operate on the un-Catholic assumption that the poor wouldn’t be poor if only they led virtuous lives. But is it un-Catholic to look dispassionately at the causes of long-term poverty the better to help people escape it? I don’t think so. Almost invariably, the long-term poor remain poor because of dysfunctional lives—having children out of wedlock, quitting school, doing drugs. We have a responsibility to help these people, as the Lazarus parable teaches. But providing value-free services doesn’t help them, it hurts them by fostering helplessness and dependency. Living virtuous lives would help them, something CC once understood.
 

A Sportsmanship Fan

To the editor:
Brian C. Anderson and Peter Reinharz’s "Bring Back Sportsmanship" (Spring 2000) should be read by every high school and college coach in the country. If the piece can get wider attention, there may still be time to save sportsmanship. But time is running out.

In any case, it is an important article and hits a chord that needs to be sounded more often.

Robert L. Dilenschneider
New York, NY
 

Competing Visions

To the Editor:
Myron Magnet’s "The Cosmic Cathedral" (Spring 2000) ends on a provocative note: why not rebuild the acoustically poor Lincoln Center from the ground up? Indiana limestone is far better suited to New York’s climate than Lincoln Center’s travertine, which will only continue to degrade. Why spend $1.5 billion propping up sandcastles against the tide of time?

What would a new Lincoln Center look like? The scheme I would prefer—to no one’s surprise—would be along classicallines, with all the buildings joined into one supremely decorative whole. Sculpture—isolated figures, statues in niches, clustered trophies, and friezes—would have a prominent role. Perhaps an architectural competition is in order to re-vision a classical, humanist Lincoln Center.

Lincoln Center is truly one of a kind, with its dense concentration of performance-art venues housing world-class companies. If only its architecture expressed the heights of human accomplishment achieved nightly upon its stages.

Henry Hope Reed
Classical America
New York, NY