"I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty."
John Davidson Rockefeller Jr. 1874-1960.Rockefeller, in his 1941 address to the United Service Organizations, made a cogent statement that holds true in virtually every case. He referred, essentially, to the need to pay a price for the good things of this life.
I believe he was right and that what he said could logically apply to students in Utah schools.
Our society has vouchsafed for them the right to a free education. That implies, as Rockefeller said, a responsibility.
Education gives them the opportunity to participate productively in society. There is an obligation inherent in that opportunity.
They become possessors of what can be most valuable in this life knowledge and better still, the skill to seek and apply knowledge. They have a duty to use that possession for the betterment of themselves and those who share their world.
The question of responsibility is coming into sharper focus in many Utah school districts. In a recent board meeting, principals of Granite District's high schools made a plea to be allowed to make good citizenship a requirement for graduation.
They suggested that students who fail to comply with citizenship standards should be required to take special classes, fulfill community work projects or as a final resort be barred from graduation.
Some other districts in the state have already taken steps to see that students understand the relationship of rights and responsibilities.
The sadness is that such discussions should even have to take place. Somewhere along the line, education has become such a given and so easily available in the United States that it has lost its value for too many students.
To continue to allow them to slip through the system without requiring responsibility will only perpetuate a bad situation. Other Utah school districts should consider following the lead of those that already have determined to take a stand and demand responsibility of students.
Perhaps in time, if these programs are consistently enforced and students become attuned to them, it will become less necessary to demand what they should naturally recognize as the price for their education.
Citizenship problems in our schools reflect societal attitudes and a general decline in responsibility on the part of people at all levels. The pendulum has swung far enough in that direction. If many parents are themselves failing in their responsibilities, schools may need to accept the challenge.
And a challenge it certainly is.
Shifts in attitudes and social mores were reflected rcently in the widely circulated Dear Abby column. The column listed the top school problems in 1940 as talking, chewing gum, making noise, running in the halls, getting out of line, wearing improper clothing, and not putting paper in the wastebaskets.
Today, the Abby column noted, the top school problems are drug abuse, alcohol abuse, pregnancy, suicide, rape, robbery, and assault.
Those are formidable challenges for society at large.
The burden obviously cannot be shifted entirely to educators. Educators, in fact, often inherit problems that parents are willing to ignore.
In the classroom, they face the dual challenge of trying to instruct students who have no desire to learn and coping with their behavior problems.
Applying the converse to Rockefeller's statement, we could say American society has accepted the responsibility for educating its youngsters and so has a right to demand something in return.
Setting a standard for school behavior is a good place to begin.