August 21, 2008
Is education the best way to fight crime? And why aren't these topics linked more in political discourse?
Over at The Faculty Lounge, Dan Filler has this great new post titled "Education In A Crime Control Frame." Here are snippets:
A national organization called Fight Crime: Invest in Kids is pushing a new study showing that a ten percent increase in the number of high schoolers earning their degrees will cut 3,000 murders and 175,000 murders in the United States. And how do we spike those graduation rates? Bigger investments in pre-K programs, of course....
What's worth a closer look, however, is both the framing strategy, and the organization's success in enlisting law enforcement officials as advocates for preschool education funding. The framing of crime as a education issue, and education as a crime issue, are both intriguing.
Too frequently we see crime framed as a matter of individual flaws and failures. Admittedly, progressives are less inclined to view matters this way, but law enforcement officials — who are often battling for tougher criminal laws — often invoke this individualistic rhetoric to justify their support for harsh punishments. Whatever the empirical basis for believing that harsh punishment will deter crime, it's clear that the public cottons to more retributive explanations for tougher criminal law. And retributive explanations are grounded in some notion that crime is caused by moral depravity — rather than a lack of school funding.
On the flip side, we usually see education funding justified either as a fairness issue ("no child left behind") or a macroeconomic concern (we need educated citizens to compete in the world market). Framing education as a crime issue is savvy, because it does a better job of tapping into voter self interest....
This crime control frame ... suggests that education money will pay off for us. Pay for a poor kid to go to pre-K and you can avoid being assaulted!
I have long believed that folks from all political perspectives should see not just the policy justification for, but also the political virtues of, linking education policy/funding to crime policy/costs. Nevertheless, but for Fight Crime: Invest in Kids and a few other public-policy groups, I have seen precious few efforts by politicians to talk smartly about education/crime links and related funding realities. Indeed, as I noted in this recent post, when Reverend Rick Warren this past weekend asked both presidential candidates about the contrast between America's investment in education and in its prisons, apparently neither candidate siezed the opportunity to talk smartly about these issues.
Some related posts on Campaign 2008:
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I find this development troubling. I see several significant problems with it, and I speak from being an educator myself.
(1) At least in theory, education is supposed to be a neutral function. While Doug is quite correct that education is often justified on economic development and other grounds, especially in the K-12 system we all should be very concerned about conflicts of interest. It is one thing for Coke or IBM to say they need an an educated workforce to compete; it is another thing entirely to learn that Coke or IBM is paying for your kid's childhood education. We don't accept the idea that education funding should be tied to the ups and downs of the business cycle and I don't see any valid argument that it should be tied to the ups and downs of crime statistics.
(2) There is no solid proof that education alone deters crime. It is very difficult to tease education out from other SES factors, because they are so closely tied in our society. Claiming that by increasing education X dollars reduces X number of crimes is an unfounded correlation and I think it creates unrealistic expectations of what public-funded education can do.
(3) Even assuming that is some corelationship (however tenuous) between education alone and crime, such a relationship is by definition subject to the laws of diminishing returns. It is simply unrealistic to think that we can educate crime away. If that was the case "white collar" crime wouldn't even exist.
As an educator, I am always troubled when I see people justify education on non-education grounds. It is undoubtedly true that we need education to produce educated citizens for an effective democracy, to compete on a world-wide level, to foster stable community; in short, all those things we mean by "national development". Yet is also an equally true that education first and foremost deals with the individual student and is such is an effort at human development.
I don't want to put to fine a point on it, but it's useful to remember that the British considered the American Revolution to be a crime. It may be that humanity in the future needs another set of criminals like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.
Posted by: Daniel | Aug 21, 2008 10:04:11 PM
(2) There is no solid proof that education alone deters crime.
That is true, but there is a high and significant correlation between level of education and the TYPE of crime society wants to see gone, mostly visible crime committed by those without proper education. Anyone with a good background in criminal justice will tell you that you seldom find uneducated criminals committing corporate and white collar crimes, just as you will not find educated criminals committing petty theft, assault and other crimes that are readily visible crimes. It should be enough, IMO, to know that providing an education to those without an education or job skill will give offenders an extra set of tools to work with when returned to society that will deter them from a life of crime because they are frustrated at NOT being able to find a job paying reasonably well.
"It is very difficult to tease education out from other SES factors, because they are so closely tied in our society.
That is correct; however, sociologists will agree that upward social mobility generally includes a change in culture and value system. For example, a man that has not paid taxes because he has never had a job would care less what tax dollars are spent on. But the educated man that is part of the workforce is MORE interested with what the gov't does with their hard earned dollars.
"Claiming that by increasing education X dollars reduces X number of crimes is an unfounded correlation and I think it creates unrealistic expectations of what public-funded education can do."
Well, that claim in and of itself is false. Increase education X dollars cannot in and of itself reduce crime. Increasing EDUCATION, not necessarily spending, correlates with a decrease visible crime. Remember, there is a definite difference between white collar, corporate, and, visible crime.
I am sure that as an educator you are well familiar with the phrase generalization skills. One way we learn these skills is through critical thinking, usually acquired to education or domain knowledge. It is these same skills MOST offenders lack and seldom are able to apply in everyday life and their decision-making. They need to learn these skills along with communication skills (also learned in college) and coping skills (learned in a good home environment, school, society, and prison).
"...education first and foremost deals with the individual student and is such is an effort at human development."
Exactly. That is why it is in our best interest to educate the prison population MOST likely to be integrated into society--with the exception of those who commit crimes such as rape and pedophilia. Those crimes aren't committed due to lack of afforded education, but more due to lack of a desire to control their disorder (OCD) or need to exert power of those stronger than they, wo/men.
To answer the blogger's question...
As a society, we tend to move away from ANYTHING that requires more tax dollar spending on those we feel are "unworthy." There are ways that we can educate this population with minimal amount of spending. All students qualifying for gov't grants and loans should be be required to give back to society in this area or another area.
Posted by: Ange | Aug 22, 2008 9:54:04 AM
Ange. You and I agree. However, I have a different perspective than you on one important issue. I quite agree that less educated people are more likely to commit "visible" crimes and that it is these visible crimes that society finds most alarming. And that's just the problem. From a moral perspective, crime is crime. I am amused when I hear people talk about the "anti-intellectual bias" in American culture. Really, anti-intellectual? If that's the case then why is it that our entire criminal system is based upon the idea that crimes of physical violence are graver than crimes of intellectual violence? Because fraud just is a crime of intellectual violence. Yet it's extremely difficult to get people excited about "white collar" crimes. There is an intense cultural bias that sees these crimes as less serious than other crimes. A person engaged in armed robbery for a million dollars will get a lengthy sentence; indeed, such a robbery would be national news. And yet the person who defrauds a bunch of old ladies from their life savings for the same amount of money will get probation and the event will pass in a whisper.
Rather than increasing funds to education, let us educated people instead *lead by example* and institute the death penalty for all fraud cases greater than 10,000 dollars. Not only would this deter white collar crime, it would make the criminal playing field more level by removing the pro-intellectual bias in American culture. The real education that lower SES people need is not some Jane Addams' notion of cultural uplift, or an academic credential. The real education they need is the behavioral education that comes when they experience equality first hand.
Posted by: Daniel | Aug 22, 2008 12:36:13 PM
Danial, I like to keep on topic and not venture into other domains unrelated to the topic at hand, education as a deterrent to crime. Once I address the topic I'll respond to those things that may give the appearance of being closely related but are not.
I've conducted lengthy research on the topic of education, particularly learning disability (LD) and emotional/behavioral disorder (EBD), as it correlates with criminality. 35-75% of offenders have been diagnosed with a LD, EBD or dually diagnosed. These are the same offenders that go through the "revolving door" of justice more than just once. People with LD, EBD, or those dually diagnosed are MORE likely than those without a diagnosis (dx) to drop out of school and have encounters with the legal system. This same population also have problems with skills (coping, generalization, social, and, communication skills). Those who are well adjusted and educated are LESS likely to devoid of these skills.
I understand your position is from a moral perspective; however, let us attempt to discuss this matter from socio-functional perspective versus a moral perspective. We all know that in discussing moral perspectives there is always a contention of "my morals and values are better than yours."
"I am amused when I hear people talk about the "anti-intellectual bias" in American culture. Really, anti-intellectual?"
I bet you've had moments where you were like "I'm LMMFAO at this election with the elitism rhetoric and anti-intellectual bias business. /sarcasm
Oh...one last thing. You made the following statement, "The real education they need is the behavioral education that comes when they experience equality first hand."
ABSOLUTELY! I agree 100%. NCLB is an ATTEMPT at educational parity due to the gov't former lack of active involvement in guaranteeing and securing a criteria to measure educational success. Due to this lack of measurable criteria, many Blacks and Hispanics have had to settle for less than the policy of "free and appropriate education." The educational gap between Blacks, White, and Hispanics is HUGE. Being that Blacks are overrepresented in the penal system, for this reason alone you should support education for the incarcerated population. To have it any other way MIGHT give the perception that some people FEAR competition or are not in agreement with racial equality as they purport on to be. --I only say that because evidence show that educating our imprisoned population WORKS--though NOT for every inmate.
So, in an effort to obtain educational parity and close the gap between Blacks, Whites, and Hispanics in America due to lack of funding for our public schools, lack of QUALIFIED professionals willing to teach in at-risk inner city schools, lack of parental involvement, lack of a uniform criteria, and a whole plethora of other reasons that no matter what they are, the conclusion is the same--a POORLY educated group that more likely than NOT will find themselves face-to-face with the revolving door of INJUSTICE--we should look into programs that afford the incarcerated education or technical skills.
In short, to NOT put into practice the result of GOOD research would be doing the same-old, same-old the gov't is used to doing in the are of criminal justice, giving its back to society and spending tax dollars to build MORE prisons, house MORE convicts and NOT getting the results we ALL want, the reduction of crimes and recidivism.
Posted by: Ange | Aug 22, 2008 8:07:33 PM