Again, we, the citizenry of the United States of America, have experienced an attack on our youth. The shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 of our youth and dedicated educators. As per usual the responses have ranged from the expected knee-jerk reactions that include the anticipated gun control response to the national and international headlines castigating the sheriff’s deputies that did not respond to the threat. Politicians, in an attempt to protect their political posteriors, respond using language that meets the political aspirations needed to satisfy their constituency. All the while, we keep asking ourselves why!
How many times have you heard that kids are different today? Frank Martin, the head basketball coach at the University of South Carolina, has a different take. He works with the youth of today. Coach Martin says, “You know what makes me sick to my stomach? When I hear grown people say that kids have changed. Kids haven’t changed. Kids don’t know anything about anything We’ve changed as adults. We demand less of kids. We expect less of kids. We make their lives easier instead of preparing them for what life is truly about. We’re the ones that have changed. To blame kids is a cop-out.” Whether you believe Coach Martin’s perspective or not, something has changed. Anecdotally, I was in high school in the early 70’s, and I do remember walking through the parking lot during hunting season and seeing shotguns in racks in the rear window of pickup trucks. We never had someone walk into the school and start shooting. The guns were part of the culture. So clearly, something has changed.
If crime is the focus, then the root issue that allows crime to exist must be identified. Only by addressing the root cause can a catalyst for change be implemented. The one constant that transcends the crime problem at all levels is education. Education Week reported that an estimated 1.1 million prospective 2012 high school graduates did not earn a diploma. An overall dropout rate of 7% was experienced in 2012. The U.S. Department of Education (2013) estimated that 14% of the general population cannot read and that 21% of U.S. adults read below a fifth-grade level. Further, 19% of high school graduates cannot read. An American Psychological Association report published in 2012 that reported 14% of the adult American population demonstrated a below basic literacy level and 29% demonstrated a basic reading level. Student from low-income families are five times more likely to drop out of high school than students from high-income families. Dropouts are less likely to secure employment that pays a living wage and are more likely to be involved in criminal activity. A study in 2007 reported that California high school dropouts were between two and eight times more likely than high school graduates to be incarcerated.
Cohen’s Delinquency and Frustration Theory directly relates the lack of educational preparation to rates of delinquency. This was in 1955! Cloward and Ohlin suggest that members in the lower socio-economic status who cannot reach their goals through legitimate means use an illegitimate opportunity structure to reach those goals. This was in 1960! Merton’s Strain Theory suggests that delinquency is a result of a lack of opportunity, particularly economic opportunity, and the lack of educational opportunity is the primary cause. This was in 1968! The lack of education is a root cause of crime. These theories have one overriding premise: a lack of education leads to a lack of economic opportunity. The lack of legitimate economic opportunity forces one to use illegitimate avenues to reach the desired economic level.
Part II to follow. Thank you!