Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Crime and Punishment

Hey everyone, hope you enjoyed your Labor Day weekend.  No, I'm not going to take the easy route and make today's post all about labor in this country and how today is a day that is meant to honor their service and contribution which makes our economy and our country strong and dependable.  This should just be a given.  There are things that simply make sense and shouldn't have to be constantly pointed out and explained to people, but alas, this often isn't the case.  So, yes, we have a day where a large percentage of the very people who were out enjoying their 3-day weekends don't even realize or stop to think that they have that long weekend at all as a tribute to the same hard-working men and women who they rail against for being unionized, who they envy for having better wages and benefits than themselves, yet still refuse to organize and collectively bargain for similar benefits.  When you fight against labor, you do so at your own peril.  When you stand against labor as a middle-class American, you stand against your own interests.  But, like I said, today isn't going to be about labor.  Well... not specifically...

Every time you see a politician on television talking about crime, they always say that we need more and better-trained police officers on the streets to help combat it.  There is, of course, sound logic in this.  More and better cops means more and better policing of the streets, more and better response to incidents of crime, more and better detective work to solve crimes and apprehend suspects.  More officers means more police presence to deter criminals and make the citizenry feel safer.  Better officers means more effective police work, higher arrest percentages and a better quality of service to the people.  To say "We need more cops on the beat and we need them to be better trained to deal with the tools and tricks of the modern criminal mind" that makes sense to people and they respond to it positively.

What baffles me, however, is how those same people will also respond positively to the assertion that we have too many overpaid, under-worked teachers in this country who should be gotten rid of.  They support cuts to education - specifically teacher's compensation - and are fine with reducing the influence of teachers in children's lives.  They rail against imagined antagonists like "indoctrination" and an alarming number of Americans view our public education system as the enemy.  Indeed, homeschooling is on the rise as more and more parents choose to pull their children from the established structure of public education and place them in the unstructured, unregulated, non-standardized environment of learning at home.  It will likely be many years before the statistical data is available regarding the impact of homeschooling on the overall educational performance of the next generation, however, given the difficulty many teachers face trying to educate students with the benefit of a degree and a lot of specific educational training, I am rather pessimistic as to any positive impact of simply pulling kids out of the public education system and doing it at home, where there is little to no real incentive to perform even at the level of the most average public school educator.  I will be truly curious to see what the college attendance rate is for homeschooled children, how their standardized test scores compare to those of children who went to adequately-funded public school and so on.  However, the point is, many of the same people who whole-heartedly support increased funding for more police officers and who support pay increases for officers without hesitation also have an unreasonable amount of disdain towards public school teachers and the idea of acquiring more or increasing their benefits in any way.  This doesn't make sense to me for a very basic reason.

You see, to me, there is a very real correlation between police officers and school teachers.  I see them as being in two different branches of the same military, fighting the same war on crime.  Police officers arrest and incarcerate people who commit crimes, but teachers help to steer those people away from a life of crime to begin with.

The greatest weapon against crime is education, always has been.  When a person is educated, they acquire goals and dreams and ideals.  When a person has goals and ideals, they become vested in their future and begin to work towards achieving those goals.  When a person is on the path towards achieving their goals, they are careful to avoid influences that lead to bad decision-making that could jeopardize their plans.  Simply put, the more a person has to lose, the less likely they are to take stupid risks and get involved in criminal behavior that could cost them everything they've worked so hard for.

There's a reason why crime rates are lower in areas that have better education and a more active community involvement in the well-being of future generations.  Communities that look out for each other and support their educators enjoy the benefits of having better educated children with more opportunity availed to them, as well as safer streets.  People who care about themselves and where they want to go in life also tend to care more about others.  People who are taught the value of hard work and determination are less likely to engage in destructive, dangerous or criminal behavior.  These things have been proven over and over again, from a host of different perspectives, by extensive sociological research.

So, in a very real way, teachers who have the support of their communities and access to an adequately-funded school system are "pre-cops" in the fight against crime in this country.  They are the first line of defense against crime and strife in the community, because they are the people who can instill a basic respect for ones self and their peers.  They can plant those seeds of valuing hard work and dedication and taking ones educational career seriously.  They can draw the direct line between academic and professional success.  They can help students learn to find their self-worth and build their pride, not just in themselves but in their community and their country.  Teachers can help students learn to be decent, law-abiding and productive members of society long before they ever become a problem for law enforcement.  However, they cannot do it all by themselves.  Teachers need the support of their schools and administrators, as well as the support of their local, state and federal governments to empower them to be as effective as possible at their jobs.  Most important of all, though, teachers need the support of their communities.  They need the support of families and neighbors. 

Hilary Clinton once famously said "It takes a village to raise a child".  Of course, this statement was immediately scrutinized and mocked by the right as a slogan of socialism, but it doesn't make the words any less true.  It does take a village to raise a child.  If you look back in our nation's history, back to the "good old days" that the Tea Party pines away for, those were a time when communities rallied together and were more like an extended family than a group of neighbors sharing fences.  When one family's son or daughter did well in school, everyone knew about it and were proud of them.  Success was praised, values were instilled and standards were established by the entire community working together in their own best interests.  Teachers were treated with a high regard and held to a high standard of performance.  Parents wanted to see their children do better than they had done growing up and to have more and better opportunity and they identified and respected the importance of adequate education in that equation.  Children were taught the value of being decent, hard-working and law-abiding members of society, not just by their teachers in school, but by their neighbors, their friend's parents, their entire communities. 

If you look at the statistics from back in the "good old days", you will see that crime rates were lower, drop-out rates were lower, juvenile delinquency was lower and the severity of juvenile crimes was definitely much lower.  When educators were empowered by their communities to be the first and most important line of defense between success and failure for children, the results spoke for themselves.  You didn't need as many police officers on the street because there wasn't as much crime for them to have to respond to.  Communities simply "policed" themselves.  People cared, they were vested in their community and they passed those values and that respect down to their children.

Indeed, as education has become less and less of a priority among politicians and government, it has become an increasingly weaker influence on the development of a child's values as they grow up.  The less focus and importance our government places on education, the less capable they are of providing the kinds of goal-oriented curriculum and basic values that have historically been so successful in helping children to grow into focused, determined and motivated young adults.  As the quality of education has declined, crime rates have risen.  As schools are less and less able to work to keep the community involved, the communities have moved further away from their tightly-knit circle of support for their schools and indeed for each other.  You can still see pockets of "good old days" type community support.  Typically, this is often found in more affluent areas, but even in relatively modest small towns and communities, there are districts where everyone in town still turns out for the big game every Friday, where the whole community is aware of who the school's valedictorian and saludictorians are, where kids grow up wanting to graduate, go to a good college, get a good job and raise their own kids in the same community where they grew up.  There is pride in these communities and a sense of togetherness and vested interest in the well-being of everyone. 

This isn't because the police rule those towns and communities with an iron fist.  In fact, for most of those communities, the police officers have a fairly laid-back job.  There's no violent crimes, no constant criminal activity to stay on top of, lest it snowball into epidemic proportions.  Neighbors watch each other's houses when they're out of town.  People don't crap where they eat, so to speak.  It's not because they fear the reprisal of the justice system, it's because they value the benefits of doing the right thing to begin with and those values are taught and learned.

When the tactics used by law enforcement officers are found to no longer be effective, what happens?  Typically, those officers are retrained in the newest, most effective alternative to the old way of doing things.  In fact, officers are constantly being trained in the latest technology and methodology for enforcing the law.  The worse the crime problem in a community is, the more likely the officers in that community are to be kept up to date on the latest tactics and training. 

However, when tactics used by educators are found to no longer be effective, what happens then?  Is there a community outreach program to help get neighbors to look after the educational well-being of their towns?  Are neighbors encouraged to take a more active role in teaching values and providing a good example to the children of their communities, the way they are encouraged to participate in neighborhood watch programs and given numbers to call and report suspicious activity?  In America today, people have a list of numbers they can call to report crimes, criminals, suspicious activity, potentially anti-American activity, illegal immigrants, regulatory violations and all sorts of bad behavior in general, but what number do they call to help get kids to care about their education again?  What number do they call to report children who are failing their classes and starting to run around with the bad crowd and who are heading down an inevitable road to delinquency?  Who do they call to report parents who aren't taking an active enough role in their children's education and development?  Who do they call to say "my teacher isn't trying hard enough"?  Who do they call to say "my school is outdated, falling apart, lacks effective educational materials and isn't doing enough to challenge the current generation of students"?

You can call 911 to report a crime in progress, but what number do you call to report a crime in gestation?  There's no number to call to report watching kids grow up in an environment that's going to ultimately end with them laid across the hood of a police cruiser.

And that's why I don't understand our national attitude towards education.

If you understand the need for law enforcement, how do you not understand the need for crime prevention?  If you see that locking your doors removes the temptation for a criminal to commit an act of theft, then how do you not see that removing the desire to commit theft in the first place removes that criminal from the equation entirely?  If you see that crime is a product of poor values and education, then how do you not support improving the quality and effectiveness of our education system whole-heartedly?  If you think that putting more cops on the street and paying them better will result in less crime and a safer community, then how do you not see that more and better paid teachers provide the same results?  If you support building a new jail or a new police headquarters, how do you not also support building new schools?  If you support equipping officers with the latest in criminal apprehension and law enforcement technology, then how do you not support equipping teachers and schools with the latest in educational technology and the absolute best learning materials?

Pay for it now, or pay for it later.

We can invest in education now and raise a better-trained future generation with strong values and a basic, vested interest in themselves and their communities or we can invest in law enforcement later to lock up all the children who we failed by allowing them to grow up without those tools and opportunities.

We can invest in building more schools and hiring more teachers and installing the latest in educational technology to give them the best possible education and training available or we can invest in building more prisons, hiring more correctional officers and installing the latest in incarceration technology to make sure they never get out of the cages we lock them in.

We can hire more teachers, give them the tools to better educate and empower them with the support of their communities to have the biggest possible positive impact on our children or we can hire more officers, give them the tools to better apprehend and empower them with the support of their communities to arrest the most possible misguided youth before they kill each other or someone else.

We can keep being #34 in the world for education and #1 in the world for the percentage of our population that is sitting behind bars right now, or we can reverse those numbers.

The choice is yours.  Really.  You have the power to change things by who you elect, what measures you support and the message you send to your elected officials.  You can tell your politicians and representatives that you support educational reform, that you're tired of band aids being slapped on top of a massive chest wound.  You can say that you want to see results, not hear excuses.  That you want to bring back community pride instead of community mis-trust.  That you want neighbors looking out for each other, not on the lookout from each other.  It takes a village to raise a child, but that village has to give a damn first.

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