Bill Bennett on Texas school shooting and moral decay: Parents need to parent

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In the wake of the Texas school shooting in Uvalde in which an 18-year-old gunman took the lives of 19 children and two teachers, Americans of all walks of life have struggled to understand how and why such heinous actions occurred. 

The victims were going about their lives, bothering no one. The victims were innocent. They were young children. They were teachers. 

And while there are fervent arguments taking place about guns and gun violence today, wiser heads know that the problems run deeper than that.

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“There was no influence there, no positive influence, no guiding influence — and no one to say, ‘Stop! What the hell are you doing?’” said William J. Bennett to Fox News Digital in a phone interview on Tuesday about the Uvalde school shooter and some of the other recent school shooters in America.

Bennett is a former secretary of education in the Reagan administration, was the nation’s first drug czar under President George H.W. Bush, and is a standout voice on cultural, political and educational issues. 

Dan Beazley, right, with his son Joey Beazley, from Detroit, carry a wooden cross on Monday, May 30, 2022, as they pray at a memorial outside Robb Elementary School days after a deadly school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
(AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Bennett noted that the gunmen in these school shootings “tend to come from dysfunctional” backgrounds, in nearly all cases.

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He reflected that Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, years ago, said that “the biggest change he saw while serving in the Senate for 24 years was — all over Europe and Western Europe and North America — the decline of the family,” said Bennett. 

“That was the most consequential decline.”

“He also said,” added Bennett, “that one thing is true in all civilizations: Boys need men as fathers. You can’t raise boys without men.”

And “you know, we see that every day.”

In an interview with Fox News Digital, Bill Bennett quoted novelist Tom Wolfe: "We have to engage in a great relearning." Too many important "first lessons" have been forgotten or overlooked in today's society, said Bennett.

In an interview with Fox News Digital, Bill Bennett quoted novelist Tom Wolfe: “We have to engage in a great relearning.” Too many important “first lessons” have been forgotten or overlooked in today’s society, said Bennett.

Today, the deliberate choice of “looking the other way” has become an issue as well, said Bennett.

“Look the other way, don’t get involved, don’t get in trouble, you’ll have to go to court, you can get sued and so on — so people look the other way,” he said. “The ‘looking the other way’ has been empowered by something that isn’t exactly a moral decay or failure, but it encourages moral failure. And that is bureaucracy.”

“Schools are there to teach reading, writing, counting, thinking and reliable standards of right and wrong — not a lot of the other nonsense that we’re doing” these days, said Bennett. 

Bennett said that in many of today’s large public schools, “If you go to someone and say, ‘I think this is a troubled child,’ [too often] they’ll say, ‘You need to see the intervention department.’ The intervention department will then send you to the counseling department, the counseling department will send you to the truancy department and they, in turn, will send you to the police.”

“So it’s a way of avoiding responsibility,” he said.

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw is shown during a press conference outside Robb Elementary School on Friday, May 27, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas. Nearly 20 officers stood in a hallway outside the classrooms amid the attack on a school for more than 45 minutes before agents used a master key to open a door and confront a gunman.

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw is shown during a press conference outside Robb Elementary School on Friday, May 27, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas. Nearly 20 officers stood in a hallway outside the classrooms amid the attack on a school for more than 45 minutes before agents used a master key to open a door and confront a gunman.
(AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

In small towns across America, observed Bennett, “usually, if there’s a problem like [the problems shown by the Uvalde shooter], everyone knows everybody. So the principal would call the kid in, call the parents in, call the grandmother in” to deal with it, he said.

“Didn’t they know what this kid was up to?” said Bennett, referencing the community at large. “All the telltale signs were there.”

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Citing novelist Tom Wolfe, Bennett recalled this quote: “We have to engage in a great relearning.” 

“We’ve forgotten all the first lessons,” said Bennett. “The cops are there to protect the innocent and lock up the bad. Schools are there to teach reading, writing, counting, thinking and the reliable standards of right and wrong — not a lot of the other nonsense that we’re doing” these days, he said. “We’ve lost sight of this.”

We need to ‘be more proactive’

And “related to that,” Bennett said, “is a failure to take these things seriously. We just have to be more proactive.”

People react outside the Civic Center following a deadly school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday, May 24, 2022. 

People react outside the Civic Center following a deadly school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday, May 24, 2022. 
(AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

He pointed out that there are disturbing similarities in the personal backgrounds of some of the recent school shooters.

These individuals were apparently bullied, or took part in bullying, he said. 

There is also “the cruelty factor,” as in cruelty to small animals. (The 18-year-old Uvalde shooter was seen grinning — in an undated video obtained by The New York Post — as he held up a clear plastic bag of blood-soaked dead cats, Fox News Digital recently reported.)

One would think, said Bennett, that any responsible adult, having seen some of this activity or been aware of it in some way, would have called it out or stopped it. 

Or done something about it.

A police officer comforts family members at a memorial outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Thursday, May 26, 2022. 

A police officer comforts family members at a memorial outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Thursday, May 26, 2022. 
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Bennett said that during his time as Secretary of Education (1985-1988), he visited some 120 schools — “and saw dozens and dozens of school administrators in my office” during that time as well. 

And “I was shocked,” he said, that “so many of them were no longer administrators. They had become bureaucrats. They weren’t about reading and writing and math and accounting — they were about bureaucracy.”

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He added, “Then when I became drug czar, I found out that many police chiefs were not about, ‘Lock up the bad guys and protect the innocent’ — they were bureaucrats, many of them. They were about protecting turf, trying to get the mayor’s favor and so on.”

“They weren’t about reading and writing and math and accounting — they were about bureaucracy.”

“When things become more bureaucratic” in our society, he said — that’s a problem.

We need faith

Also, Bennett noted, “Faith is the surest anchor of morality and decency, we know that. We’ve known that forever.” 

So a lack of faith among the individuals in these cases — a lack of faith and a lack of belief in a higher power — is a factor to consider as well.

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“Students who go to public school and have parents who don’t adhere to any faith might think the world is mostly an agnostic place. And that’s a bad thing.”

Crosses with the names of Tuesday's shooting victims are placed outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Thursday, May 26, 2022. The 18-year-old man who slaughtered 19 children and two teachers in Texas left a digital trail that hinted at what was to come.  

Crosses with the names of Tuesday’s shooting victims are placed outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Thursday, May 26, 2022. The 18-year-old man who slaughtered 19 children and two teachers in Texas left a digital trail that hinted at what was to come.  
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Bennett also noted, “The other thing that’s notable here [in many of the school shooting cases] is the abusive relationships. Damned if I can figure it out — in this age of sensitivity, of sensitivity toward women and the treatment of women — but almost all of these guys were abusers of their girlfriends. Physical abusers.”

Bennett said he also wanted to make an important point about teachers.

“In a lot of these cases, it was the teachers who put out the alerts, raised the alarms, that there was a problem [with a student] — it was the teacher at [Nikolas] Cruz’s school in Parkland who put out the word about the problems,” he said, referencing the 2018 shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. 

“Every parent is a teacher — and the child’s most important teacher at that, the child’s virtually indispensable teacher.”

And “it was the teacher at Virginia Tech, the creative writing teacher, who sounded the alarm bell” about shooter Cho Seung-Hui, said Bennett, referencing the 2007 shooting on that campus in which the gunman killed 32 people — then committed suicide.

But even those early alarm bells weren’t enough to prevent the carnage later, suggested Bennett, because the warnings weren’t taken seriously enough.

We need to remember: ‘Every parent is a teacher’

Amid all of this, “the most important thing for parents” today to realize, said Bennett, “is that, while not every teacher is a parent, every parent is a teacher — and the child’s most important teacher at that, the child’s virtually indispensable teacher.”

Said Bill Bennett, quoting a Columbia professor of years ago, "For a child's life to be successful, the forces of composition have to be greater than the forces of decomposition."

Said Bill Bennett, quoting a Columbia professor of years ago, “For a child’s life to be successful, the forces of composition have to be greater than the forces of decomposition.”
(Gage Skidmore)

“There needs to be a parent who loves and cares for that child and guides that child incessantly,” he emphasized. “Incessantly.”

So what should parents do if a young teenager, let’s say, is playing too many video games? That should be limited to weekends, said Bennett, and only when schoolwork and other responsibilities are completed. And then, on the weekends — kids need to be outside. 

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“But here’s the most important thing. It is hard to raise children,” he said. “And when you take away all the guardrails — it’s really no surprise, it seems to me,” that some of these terrible things are happening, he suggested.

A local resident holds a placard as people grieve for the victims of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 25, 2022.

A local resident holds a placard as people grieve for the victims of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 25, 2022.
(CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)

Regarding potential perpetrators who might be considering doing harm to others, Bennett said the way forward is clear: “Interrogate them. Tell them, ‘We’re keeping our eye on you. We’re watching you.’ Like that Sting lyric, ‘I’ll be watching you’ — ‘We’ve got our eye on you,'” he said.

Bennett cited the example of the “sheriff in Florida, who said, ‘If you threaten that stuff on the internet, we’re arresting you and bringing you in — and charging you with a crime.'”

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Finally, Bennett mentioned a powerful quote from a Columbia professor of years ago: “For a child’s life to be successful, the forces of composition have to be greater than the forces of decomposition,” he said.

This is what all parents and caregivers must remember today, he said.