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Could a long neglected law help curb violence?

Spencer Leak, Sr., CEO of Leak and Sons Funeral Home. | Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times

Now that the mayor has forced us to have a conversation about the lack of “moral values” as it relates to gun violence, what is he prepared to do about it?

Spencer Leak Sr., president and CEO of Leaks and Sons Funeral Home, argues that the mayor has the power to do more than call out bad parenting.

He points to a statute that was put on the books 25 years ago that mandated public schools teach moral values, but was not widely implemented.

An amendment to the school code in 2005, HB 1336, “requires teachers to teach pupils honesty, kindness, justice, discipline, respect for others, and moral courage for the purpose of lessening crime and raising the standard of good citizenship.”

“It is the law of the land, and if schools were doing that, they would have saved a bunch of lives,” Leak argues.

“Rahm Emanuel can bring the message about violence — that it is values and it is a problem — but he runs the Chicago Public Schools. He can make sure that his school board follows the directive,” Leak argues.


He emailed me a copy of a powerful article written by Jesse L. Prince and published in the “Personal View” section of the Chicago Sun-Times in 1983.

“Currently, attention in public education is shifting to student achievement in such basic subjects as English, science and mathematics. But ‘honesty, kindness, justice and moral courage’ are the most basic of basics. An education lacking moral content is a poor education,” Prince wrote. “Unfortunately pressures must be brought on some teachers to make them accept the principle that, in public schools ‘honesty, kindness, justice and moral courage’ are to be instilled in pupils …”

Character education is mandated in 22 states, Leaks points out.

Formerly executive director of the Cook County Department of Corrections, Leak has seen up-close the toll declining moral values has taken on communities.

Now, as the owner of a funeral home, he sees the toll it is taking on families as more mothers and fathers are burying their sons and daughters.

“They need to put the bible [in schools] as the textbook on moral values and character. This is all on Rahm. There’s no looking around for somebody else. He can’t say ‘values’ and don’t do anything about it. If it is not going to be taught in the homes, then they have to teach it in the schools,” Leak said.

Under the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Act of 2003, the state called upon the Illinois State Board of Education to develop and implement a plan to incorporate social and emotional development standards as part of the Illinois learning standards.

“The State of Illinois has recognized the significant impact of children’s mental health on student’s ability to learn, propensity for violence and likelihood of involvement in other delinquent behavior,” legislators concluded.

Still, there continues to be a lot of debate surrounding this subject, and teachers may be reluctant to add one more expectation to an already lengthy laundry list.

Twenty-five years ago, Prince argued:

“Students must confront violence, vandalism and intense peer pressure in their schools, making it difficult to learn any subject. A high moral atmosphere would ease the way for them,” he said.

Clearly, we are living in a time of moral decline.

The violent crimes that are being committed on a regular basis are so brazen; it is obvious the criminals have no fear and no empathy.

But what does it say about moral values when people boldly snatch packages from a neighbor’s porch, or rip off someone else’s identity, or steal another person’s credit cards?

Demanding public school teachers mitigate the bad behavior that young people witness on the streets and too often in their homes will mean shifting priorities.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. noted in an essay he wrote in 1947 while studying at Morehouse College, “intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.”