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Lynn Schmidt is a columnist and Editorial Board member of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
People ask me all the time why I consider myself a conservative. I can actually answer that easily in just two words: personal responsibility. There is a group of dads in Louisiana who are a wonderful example of just what I mean.
A Shreveport, Louisiana, high school experienced three violent days in which 23 students were arrested for fighting in school. Watching the videos of the fights made my heart ache for those children. Why are these children so angry that they lash out in violence? How can children possibly learn in that kind of environment? Apparently a group of dads were thinking the same things and launched into action.
Some concerned dads from Southwood High School stepped up and formed Dads on Duty, a group of about 40 dads who volunteer to take shifts spending time in the hallways of the high school. They greet students in the morning and strive to maintain a positive atmosphere in the school all day. Their goal is to promote an affirming environment for learning instead of fighting. The dads do this by giving students “the look,” perhaps a stern warning, and telling plenty of dad jokes. One student told CBS reporters: “They just make funny jokes like, ‘Oh, hey, your shoe is untied,’ but it’s really not untied.”
The dads saw an issue in their own community, asked themselves what they could do to help solve the problem, organized, volunteered, and now see what are described as positive results. Michael LaFitte, the group’s founder, said, “We’re dads. We decided the best people who can take care of our kids are who? Are us.”
The Brookings Institution describes personal responsibility as “the willingness to both accept the importance of standards that society establishes for individual behavior and to make strenuous personal efforts to live by those standards.” To take personal responsibility means that we do not look to blame others if we fail to meet those standards, and it also means that we do not look to the larger society or the government to answer those standards. We must look to ourselves first.
Not only did the dads step up and take responsibility for their community, they are also providing an example of personal responsibility for the very children they are trying to help. This example of fatherhood is very much needed. “Because not everybody has a father figure at home — or a male, period, in their life. So just to be here makes a big difference,” one dad told CBS.
Since the dads have been a presence at the high school, there have been no further incidents of student violence. The Southwood High School students responded as well. One student said, “I immediately felt a form of safety. We stopped fighting; people started going to class.” Another student said, “The school has just been happy — and you can feel it.”
Fred Rogers, creator of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” was quoted as saying “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”
I consider the Dads on Duty to be heroes of responsibility.
The term personal responsibility can certainly sound pejorative, cold or selfish. But in fact, if you look at the Dads on Duty’s response as an example of personal responsibility, it can be anything but cold or selfish. Personal responsibility can be, and many times is, an act of self sacrifice.
Conservatives believe in small or limited government, free markets, liberty and personal responsibility. The dads’ response was conservatism in action. The dads did not ask for a government panel to study violence in schools, nor did they request taxpayer funding for a bureaucratic program to address the violence. They saw a need and acted. If I had to guess, the Dads on Duty are probably more successful than any government program could ever be.
The dads plan to continue to stay on duty at Southwood High School indefinitely. They would even like to start chapters throughout Louisiana and possibly expand throughout the country.
The Founding Fathers are no longer the only fathers I think of now when I think of what it means to be a conservative.