Noble: Will we condemn our children to lives of crime? There is another way

EPL Infrafred Sauna

“The lie of a pipe dream is what gives life to the whole misbegotten mad lot of us, drunk or sober.” Eugene O’Neill.

Media scrutiny of all criminal incidents has heightened in recent months and intensified with the promise of “crime talks” between the Government and the Opposition.

A TTPS exercise.
Photo: TTPS

I admit to being envious of the promoted certainty of solving crime. Rittel and Webber (1973) coined the term wicked problem to describe problems with many interdependent factors, making them seem impossible to solve. Crime is a wicked problem.

Yet, we see persons voicing with certainty their supposed fail-safe solutions. Some even cite the improvement in Jamaica’s crime data. But they do not quote Mark Shields, a former deputy commissioner, who said: “SOEs [states of emergency] will fail if long-term plans are not implemented to improve education, employment and effective enforcement of the law supported by an efficient justice system.”

Neither do they see the change in policing methods there. By reducing the use of lethal force and thereby increasing respect for their work at a community level, police are having a real impact on citizen security. According to one slum-dwelling Kingston resident: “Police always used to come with guns cocked, but more of them are calmer now and have a better attitude.”

We are having a pipe dream when we vigorously agree with the expulsion of the young Siparia schoolgirl and believe that is the end of the matter. The Ministry of Education (MoE) is in a difficult place. They had warned about flawed behaviour leading to expulsion. What happens when we ignore her mother’s cry?

Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament 2022)

“[…] Sometimes, parents don’t know what is taking place,” she said. “[…] We become the bad mother, but, sometimes, we are not the bad mother, but we try our best.”

Professor Emerita Rhoda Reddock (2021) reminded us: “…the past two decades have seen a sharp growth in the number of people, enterprises and places expelled from the core social and economic orders of our time.”

Not only was the child expelled, but many mothers and families have been evicted from living a decent life. Should we not do more for distressed families than the $1,000 book grant? We will have hell to pay if we do not address the situation afflicting our families.

It’s a hard knock life for too many families.

Many youths hustle to substandard lives. Disruptive behaviours, like arguing and temper tantrums, are common among children who are experiencing frequent violence in their homes and communities. Knowing the link between past trauma and the problematic behaviours that get kids suspended and expelled can help turn the MoE’s ‘zero-tolerance’ approach into one that seeks to understand why the students behave in those ways.

Failing to unlock the present trauma leads to students desiring to have ‘rank’ and move seamlessly into anti-social behaviour, even gang life.

In her book, Becoming, Michelle Obama said: “…kids know at a very young age when they’re being devalued when adults aren’t invested enough to help them learn. Their anger… can manifest itself as unruliness…”

Rhondall Feeles correctly identified: “There is no criminal maternity ward…where children who are going to be criminals are born.” But his conclusion leaves me breathless: “It is the environment and what you allow them to be exposed to as a parent that cultured criminal behaviour in them.”

Allow them?

A young man glorifies the gangster lifestyle.

He also minimises the value of community involvement. But Vigil (1988, 2003) asserts when social conditions are harsh and social institutions like the family (and the school) fail, the children are ‘up for grabs’ by older, more experienced gang members and susceptible to the street rather than institutional socialisation processes.

Leventhal and Brooks-Gunn’s (2000) contribution, via the social disorganisation theory, posits that neighbourhood structural factors (poverty, residential instability, single parenthood, ethnic heterogeneity) are prime in explaining behaviour in a communal setting.

They hold the view that there is no single factor, but there is an accumulation that results in positive or negative outcomes. Hoffman (2006) supports their position. He found no conclusive proof that family structure causes delinquent behaviour but that other factors—not least neighbourhood characteristics—were influential.

A child observes his surroundings.

Raj Chetty, a Harvard professor, concurs.

“Neighbourhoods with many role models: adults who are smart, accomplished, engaged in their community, and committed to stable family lives” contribute to the achievement of parenting successful children.

Harking back to the ole days is a pipe dream that lacks appreciation for how life has changed. It ignores the selfish growth in inequality since the 1980s, which causes working-class people to catch their tails each morning to hold body and soul together.

Ancel Roget joins Feeles in dismissing the trauma of living as a poor person. Amazingly, Roget does not connect the advocacy work of trade unions in influencing budgets and the worsening conditions in the home with its knock-on effect on crime.

Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU) president general Ancel Roget.

In his recently reported speech (Guardian, October 2023), he abandoned the fundamental intersection of class, race and colour as drivers of crime in his haste to swipe at Dr Keith Rowley.

The speed with which the business class baited the poor people over the Regulated Industries Commission’s electricity rate proposals was left unremarked by him. The business class threatens to raise their prices again.

How, at every turn, the first instinct is to raise prices. They are single-minded: more profit and guns! Little thought is given to social ills.

Does Mr Roget believe that young black men are responsible for the crime crisis? I hope not. Crime is not driven only by urban youths.

Change is gonna come?
(Copyright Kal)

The staggering contempt for our young children was immortalised in the lack of action accompanying the 2013 results of 3,000 children in early childhood and primary schools given to Dr Tim Gopeesingh, then education minister.

That study found that 25 per cent of the children required little external assistance to achieve educational success, 25 per cent could achieve success with some degree of external neurodevelopment assistance, and the other 50 per cent needed significantly more help.

Neurodiversity, as a term, encapsulates the range of natural neurological variations within the human population, including conditions like autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and dyslexia. Addressing neurodiversity helps us understand and address the underlying causes of criminal behaviour. Many individuals who engage in criminal activities have unmet emotional, social, or psychological needs.

Understanding neurodiversity…

Reading is a core challenge for many young children. Mr Imbert admitted: “…the data… reveals a consistent and troubling percentage of students who do not achieve 50 per cent or more in the SEA.”

Being unable to read contributes to their anger and causes dropouts, making them vulnerable to gangs.

The longer we leave this situation unremedied, the angrier the children become. Vickram Ramlal, Presbyterian School Board chairman, observed that while the Ministry of Education implemented the remedial programme, it did not have the desired effect because of low attendance.

Will Minister Imbert’s 2023 Budget’s corporate sponsorship allowance improve our high-risk schools?

Minister of Finance Colm Imbert.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament 2022)

Or is it a gift to already successful schools? Will it perpetuate performance inequality, as evidenced by the results of the World Bank (2015) report? Will it help the performance of the schools under “academic watch”? Will it help our boys?

Here are some highlights:

The achievement gap between Trinidad and Tobago and OECD countries is the equivalent of slightly more than two years of schooling.

As in other countries in the region, poverty is a large predictor of achievement. Students in the bottom quintile by socioeconomic status (ESCS) score close to three years of schooling below those in the top quintile.

Belmont school boys smile for the cameras during a visit from two-time Olympian Jehue Gordon in 2010.

Male underachievement is a stubborn challenge tied to student motivation and educational relevance, and, in the case of Trinidad and Tobago, relatively attractive low-skill jobs in the petrochemical industry. Males in Trinidad and Tobago perform about two-thirds of a year of schooling below females in science, and this disparity is the fourth-largest among all 72 PISA participants.

Males are overrepresented among low achievers in all subjects. In science, for example, 51 per cent of males score below the basic level of proficiency, compared to 41 per cent of females. The contrast is starker in reading: 52 per cent below proficient for males and only 33 per cent for females.

Can we consider how we may improve family life and teach our children life skills from a younger age? We can provide continued comprehensive academic, health, nutrition, and emotional support for children through their academic years, including meaningful engagement of parents and communities. We can follow Jamaica’s example by starting from the pre-natal advice offered to our parents.

The joy of reading.

Will we condemn our children to lives of crime to make a living? Or will we revamp the schools which serve them and thereby provide an opportunity for a better life?

We will reap a whirlwind of hate and criminal activity if we fail.

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About Noble Philip

Noble Philip, a retired business executive, is trying to interpret Jesus’ relationships with the poor and rich among us. A Seeker, not a Saint.

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