It is reasonably widely known that children are not capable of true abstract thought until the age of 17 or 18, and even then, not all have developed that ability. I can also testify from long experience that apart from the few kids that participate in debate or other academic competitions that require knowledge of current events, virtually no teenagers have anything but the most passing awareness of contemporary sociopolitical issues. This is particularly true of the gun debate.
The Parkland, FL attack has, as those paying attention know, dramatically illustrated the unbridgeable differences between those in support of the Second Amendment—and every part of the Constitution—and those that would gladly destroy it all. On one hand there is reason, adherence to principle, and love of liberty and the rule of law. On the other is tyranny, rage, and hatred, driven by unthinking emotion and cynical manipulation of children in the pursuit of raw political power.
It is therefore reasonable to believe eleven year old children—kids attending middle school—know little to nothing about the Parkland case (the SMM Parkland archive is here), and less about the constitutional and societal issues swirling about that massacre. Finding one that has actually read the Second Amendment, to say nothing of the Heller decision (2008), would be virtually impossible. To find one that understands the implications of Heller would be nearly miraculous. But one can be reasonably sure they’ll tend to believe what their teachers tell them about it, and until they grow older, or are taught by someone they respect more, will tend to profess that belief with all the unreasoning passion of youth.
A substantial number of kids in that age group still want to please their teachers. They are generally willing to do as their teachers ask, though they are of an age where that too is beginning to change. It was perhaps that willingness to please that cost the life of Jonathan Benko, forever 11 years old, in El Paso, TX. Local station KVIA reports:
University Medical Center has announced a memorial for the Parkland Middle School student struck and killed Friday.
Police say 11-year-old Jonathan Benko was taking part in Parkland Middle School’s organized walkout when he and a group of students left the designated walkout area. Police say around 10:30 Friday morning, the group crossed Loop 375 then attempted to cross it again. Benko was the last in the group to cross and was struck by a Ford F150.
Benko sustained serious injuries and was taken to UMC where he died.
The driver, a 61 year-old man, has not been charged, which may indicate Benko darted in front of him, giving him no time to react, or there were other mitigating circumstances. I’ve not seen any specific information on this part of Benko’s death. The media have published his name. I choose otherwise. Absent wrong doing on his part, it’s not relevant, and I’ve seen, at first hand, the horror of good people, through no fault of their own, thrust into such a terrible situation. There is another, perhaps greater, horror:
Officials say Benko’s mother works as a Registered Nurse in UMC’s Emergency Department and his uncle, Michael Benko, is also an employee at UMC, where he works as a Respiratory Therapist.
One might safely presume Benko’s mother was present when her son, his body shattered, life quickly draining, was brought into the emergency department. I’ve seen—experienced—the horror of that. There is nothing anyone can say or do—not then.
On April 23, I posted Going Loco With In Loco Parentis, the story of two boys punished by their school because they posted, on social media, a photograph of a few firearms they used in a trip to a shooting range with their parents. Reader RD brought the KVIA report to my attention, for which I am grateful.
In Loco Parentis—in the place of the parents—is the doctrine by which school authorities may exercise parental authority over the children of others, but only while they are in their care. When kids are in school, or engaged in a school sponsored and supervised extra curricular activity, teachers may discipline kids and otherwise direct them and regulate their actions just as their parents would. Holding school would be otherwise impossible. However, that authority ends when school ends. When a child steps off school property at the end of the school day, in loco parentis no longer applies until they step onto school property the following morning.
The modern age has introduced some small exceptions. If, for example, a student has access to a school website or social media site for the purpose of updating to further school goals or assignments, the school may discipline them if they abuse that access by attacking a teacher or other students, or for other expression that would be unacceptable if uttered or done in class. This is reasonable. What happened in New Jersey is not.
The Lacey Township School District in New Jersey decided in loco parentis applies 24/7/365 regardless of where kids are or what they’re doing, but particularly, if they dare have anything to do with guns. That indefensible assumption of power has blown up in their faces, and while they’ve been forced to rescind the punishment of the two boys, and even to apologize for verbally abusing citizens during a school board meeting, they still haven’t fully understood that a position on a local school board is not equivalent to the hereditary divine right of kings.
But let us return to El Paso, where the attorney the Benkos have hired—or surely will hire—is delivering his opening statement to the jury hearing the civil case for the wrongful death of Jonathan Benko:
Ladies and gentlemen of the Jury, I am John Law, attorney for the Benko family, a family now smaller, empty, because of the unnecessary, preventable, foreseeable loss of Jonathan Benko, only 11. On April 20th, 2018, Jonathan Benko was killed while trying to cross a street. He was struck by a driver who has not been charged in his death. We do not pursue that man for Jonathan’s death, because he was not at fault. He did nothing wrong. He is not negligent. You will hear from him later, but for him, like Jonathan’s family, life will never be the same, because there were people who did something wrong, who were negligent.
On April 20th, 2018, Jonathan Benko should have been safe. He should have been sitting in a classroom at Parkland Middle School, attending to his lessons. He should have been learning. Instead, he was required to participate in a partisan political exercise, an protest that was not approved by his parents, that was not, that could never be, part of a legitimate school curriculum.
Because his teachers wanted to impose their political beliefs on their students, because his principals agreed with that unprofessional, unethical exercise of political anger and arrogance, because the Superintendent of the El Paso School District sanctioned that futile, unnecessary political statement, a statement Jonathan and the rest of the children could not possibly fully understand, Jonathan Benko is dead.
And what was that political message? You will doubtless hear that it was an absolutely vital exercise of the First Amendment. You will be told that it is the height of professional educational practice to remove kids from their classes to agitate for the diminishment of a fundamental, unalienable right. You will be told those forcing their political wishes on children had the best intentions; they were trying to build a better society by guiding children to think the right thoughts and to encourage their parents to vote in the right ways. They were trying, very hard, to make them all “woke.”
I will show you something else. I will show you evidence that unmistakably proves the defendants were not using precious school time for the purpose of education. You will see e-mails that prove their connection to a larger, national, distinctly partisan political movement cynically using children to try to force legislators to enact laws they cannot obtain through the normal legislative process. You will see other e-mails, documents and testimony that prove they were not motivated by providing for Jonathan’s welfare, but for their own, for the attainment of their own political goals. You will see their motivation was not pure and benevolent, but was fueled by anger, rage, even hatred for those who do not share their political views.
You will see that Jonathan died for their unethical, unprofessional, trivial political desires.
It does not matter which side of the gun debate you hold. What matters is the duty of the people to whom the Benko’s entrusted the very life of their son to preserve that life. On April 20, 2018, Jonathan Benko should not have been outside Parkland Middle School trying to cross a busy road. He should have been safe within its walls. So must every other student of that school and every school. Children should never be used as political pawns, no matter how worthy adults think their political goals, for any reason. There is no excuse for this. None.
The defendants will try to tell you their protest was for the safety of all students, but that’s an abstraction. They will tell you they could not have foreseen that Jonathan would be killed by a truck while trying to cross a busy roadway, a roadway he should have been nowhere near. They will tell you their “solutions” to school attacks would make every child, everywhere safe, but that too is unproven, an abstraction. What is not an abstraction, but a concrete, daily reality is their duty to protect the life of Jonathan Benko while he was in their care, while his parents trusted them to protect him, just as they would protect him.
Even if we give the defendants credit for good intentions—and the evidence will prove they don’t deserve it—good intentions did not, for a second, lessen their duty to educate Jonathan Benko, and to keep him from harm, to keep him from being run down and killed by a truck on a busy road he should have been nowhere near.
Eleven-year-old children do not need to be involved in adult politics, of any kind. They do not need to be told what to think or what to say. They need to learn how to think, and how to express themselves. The world of adult politics should be foreign to them. It’s something they don’t need to know and can’t understand until they become adults, adults who were properly taught, who survived middle school, so they can form their own opinions.
The defendants had a duty to teach Jonathan Benko a professional, politically neutral curriculum. They purposely, knowingly failed. They had a duty to keep Jonathan Benko safe. They purposely, knowingly failed, and because of their failure, Jonathan Benko is dead, dead at the age of 11, denied the chance to grow up, form his own political beliefs, and to raise his own family.
By putting Jonathan, unnecessarily and without cause, on that busy roadway, the defendants decided their politics were more important than his life.
Nothing can adequately compensate the Benkos for the loss of Jonathan. No parent should outlive their child. But you can, ladies and gentlemen, help them, help us all to make this right, to ensure the defendants get the unmistakable, permanent message that the citizens of this community expect them never to impose their political beliefs on children, that their job is to teach, not to indoctrinate, and above all, their duty is to preserve the lives of children. Help them ensure that this will never happen again.
Jonathan Benko. Eleven. Another victim of Parkland. Another victim of the arrogant conceit that essential liberty. may, and should, be surrendered for ephemeral safety.