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Your Schools: 'What's done to children, they will do to society'

Recently I met a parent at a Chamber of Commerce business function who told me that while school superintendents are usually known for being boring and stodgy, I seemed more real and friendly.

I took that as a compliment. It gave me permission to keep writing about real things in life.

My wife and I officially moved past the phase of writing tuition and textbook checks to help our children afford their college education when our youngest graduated from UW-Madison a few years ago. We passed part way through writing checks for wedding expenses when two of our four children married their college sweethearts.

With all of this behind us, does it mean we finally have a little extra cash for traveling, hobbies, and retirement planning?

Think again. With the arrival of our first grandchild, new categories seem to be creeping into our budget: Baby outfits, children's books, a car seat, and trips to visit Ava Elizabeth and her parents.

I'm not complaining. My children and grandchild truly are my million dollar bank account. All of their expenses come with the territory of being a parent, and over the years, I have become a believer in Karl Menninger's words, "What's done to children, they will do to society."

By helping our children get a college education, celebrate their weddings, and by gifting their babies, we hope they will always value education and family and pass on these same values, in turn, to their children.

"What's done to children, they will do to society." I wrote a column about those words a few years ago after a school building in my previous district was vandalized by students on a rampage. Those words haunted me recently as I looked at obscene words and symbols of hate spray-painted on one of our schools in River Falls by weekend student vandals.

I don't in any way excuse students involved in these incidents. They must take responsibility for their actions, accept consequences and make restitution for damages. I am happy to see accountability by the guilty students and their families.

Still, what is done to children, they will do to society. Are parents to blame for their children's actions? How about teachers? Administrators? The economy?

None of us would willfully promote violence, animosity or destruction of property. And yet we must all take ownership when children strike out in anger. Good character consists of understanding, caring about, and acting upon strong, core ethical values.

What have we done to instill the values of respect, honesty, human worth and dignity, responsibility, courage and compassion in our children?

Do we intervene when we see exclusive cliques form, putdowns and stereotyping occur, or racial, gender, or sexual orientation slurs pass between young people? How about allowing children to play violent video games, or watch movies and listen to songs about hatred, death, and killing?

Or what about our own role-modeling while driving our cars, or in criticizing those we don't know, like, or understand?

The culture of violence played out every day in the media, real as in wars and murders, or make-believe as on computers and TV, might well be what we have done to our children, and which they are now doing to society.

My wife, a former teacher, reminds me of how one of her biggest tasks each spring was to steer her first graders away from talk of killing, shooting, bombing and destroying.

"What's done to children, they will do to society." Fortunately, that works for the good, as well, and I see that evidence every single day in this community.

I observed a mom and dad, a little tired and worn from their work week, pick up their son and four of his classmates at the middle school recently. They were headed to the Kinnickinnic to take them all kayaking on a rainy Friday afternoon to help celebrate their son's birthday.

I'm aware of a parent volunteer in one of our elementaries who comes every day to help a child recovering from surgery get out of his wheelchair and play for short periods while his muscles strengthen. Did I mention that this child is not the volunteer's?

A parent at our Renaissance program is worried about our budget cuts and the potential impact on her daughter's education. The parent is trying to help by writing grants for the school.

Parents of Montessori teacher Melina Papadimitriou answered her last minute call the week before school started to help with painting, nailing and cleaning while setting up a new Children's House (primary) classroom at the River Falls Academy building that was bright and cozy and colorful.

And I've witnessed parents dressing up as Italian chefs, complete with little black moustaches, to serve pasta dinners after sports practice the night before a big game to their tired but hungry athletes.

Band parents chaperone overnight weekend band performances, prepare meals for over 125 kids, sleep on gym floors, and haul equipment onto the field and back into the U-Haul afterwards.

Parents wait in cars in the high school parking lot until 1 a.m. on snowy nights, patiently awaiting their children to return from a trip to Rice Lake for one competition or another.

Last week, parents stood in the heaviest of downpours, some with umbrellas and some not, cheering their children playing soccer after school.

"What's done to children, they will do to society." Keep doing the good work for the children of this community. They're our greatest asset and our collective multi-million dollar bank account.