OPINIONS

Teaching dogs not to do old tricks


Some things that people do are bad, and so society not unnaturally seeks to dissuade people from doing them. One method is education. This is a favoured method in todayís enlightened modern times, and is preferred to savage beatings. I have, however, noticed that there seems to be a pattern in the evidence. See if you agree.

Crime is a problem, and some areas suffer more from it than others. Accordingly, the police forces of Britain have put time effort and money into educational programmes aimed at the people of such areas, teaching them that crime is bad, and that they will lead better, happier, more constructive lives if they avoid it. People trained at university in sociology are confident that this is the proper way to tackle the problem of crime, that it is attacking the problem at its root. Follow up studies of these educational programmes, however, have found otherwise. The crime rate amongst those who have been educated and had it made clear to them that crime is bad, is higher than it is amongst those who have been left ignorant.

Smoking is a problem. People start young, get addicted, in adult life become heavy smokers, make the air smell foul for all of us, and then die. The governments of Britain have in their magnanimous wisdom funded extensive educational projects to show to kids at schools the harm that smoking does. Studies of the effectiveness of this education have all had the same result: the more we educate children not to smoke, the more likely they are to smoke. True, if the education is very intensive, there is a slight rise in the number of children who never take a single puff, but this is not important. The problem is not the occasional puff, but lifetimes of regular smoking.

Psychopathy is a problem. Psychopaths commit a high proportion of all crime, especially crimes against the person, such as kidnapping and murder. Psychopaths seek to manipulate others to their own ends, and have no sympathy for their victims or guilt for their crimes. A psychopath is defined as someone with no capacity for guilt. At an innate emotional level, it does not bother them that they have harmed others. A psychopath is enormously more likely to apply for parole than a normal prisoner, because he doesnít feel that he has done wrong. Enlightened prison authorities have set up educational programmes to teach psychopaths that their actions are wrong, and to get them to appreciate the suffering they inflict. Classes have been organised in which psychopaths come together and talk of their wrong doings, and the discussion is designed to make it clear to all that cruelty is harmful and wrong. Follow up studies of such programmes have found that psychopaths who have been educated in this way are significantly more likely to display serious psychopathic behaviour in the future. Reconvicted psychopaths, it turns out, were often inspired to commit their extra crimes by the interesting tales they had heard in their psychopathy classes. They learned new ways to manipulate people.

Sectarian prejudice is a problem. In Northern Ireland, educational programmes have been set up to bring children from the divided communities together, and to show them that deep down they are all the same, and can leave peaceably. Follow up studies have shown that the strongest sectarian attitudes, and the most acts inspired by these, are found to be held by those children who have been on these courses. When a child returns from his course, to be again with his peers, he has to go to some effort to prove to his mates that he hasnít been infected with soft thinking.

Have you spotted the pattern too?

There are, as I see it, a few problems with these educational programmes.

The first is that people do have an innate nature. Some people have brains which work one way, and that is part of these peopleís physical make up. The brain is a physical organ, and education will not change this simple fact. One might as well try to educate a kidney to be more like a liver. Psychopaths have no ability to feel guilt, and no amount of education will make their brains grow the bits necessary for guilt to be felt. If sexual harassment of women in an office is a problem, the solution is not to educate men to believe that women are unattractive. Similarly, if paedophilia is a problem, the solution is not to educate paedophiles that children are unattractive. Brains have a certain amount of ďhard wiringĒ which cannot be altered.

The next problem is that this education is not really education at all, because it does not teach people anything they didnít already know. Everyone knows that smoking is harmful, murder a crime, and that people in neighbouring communities are human too. By trying to teach people things they already know, you insult them. Some educational campaigns do work. Children used to trespass on electrical railway lines for larks, and some got electrocuted and died. Clearly, some didnít know what a risk they were taking, and they could understand that being electrocuted was not in their best interests. The number of deaths by this cause declined.

Children do not want to be electrocuted, but they do want to appear adult and smoke. Psychopaths do not want to go to prison, but they do want to gain power over others. Sectarian kids do not want to be beaten up, but they do want to feel solidarity with their peers, and so they bind themselves to their friends with shared hatred, and they feel the solidarity and feel that there is someone there who will protect them if the time comes. This is the third factor which I think explains the failure of these educational programmes: they are trying to educate people against doing things which those people like doing and see as being in their best interests.

Further, it will appear to the pupils of these courses, that what they are being taught is not in their interests, but in the interests of those teaching them, and their world. Parents donít want their little darlings to grow up too fast, nor to make the house stink, so they insist that their children do not smoke. The children want to grow up fast, and canít smell the stink. Psychopaths carry out armed robberies, because they want the money, and of course society at large doesnít want them to gain money this way. Poor people in awful housing estates want to be richer, so they steal things. They steal things for themselves, and often they succeed. Then someone comes along and starts telling them they shouldnít do this. It is clear that those doing the teaching are from a world which suffers more, and potentially gains less, from stealing. People are happy to be taught how to help themselves. They are happy to be taught how to drive a car. People are much less happy to be taught how to have less fun and to help others. A kid who loves stealing cars and crashing them will listen diligently to someone who knows how to break into a Jaguar, but will not be so attentive when being told that it is better to help little old ladies across the street.

Last, there is the issue of control and self-determination. People just donít like being told by others what to do. If someone is not too bothered about what colour clothes he wears, and then find himself in a situation where he is being told never to wear blue, then he will want to wear blue. If prison uniform forbids the wearing of orange, then as soon as a prisoner leaves prison, he will want to wear orange, just to express his freedom of choice. If some middle class know-it-all middle aged teacher tells a fourteen year-old working class child that he shouldnít smoke, then that child, even if he had no strong feelings either way before, will want to smoke just to poke two fingers up at his teacher.

Given that these educational programmes are all essentially similar, and are demonstrably counter-productive, I believe that they should all be scrapped, and that the trained social worker and well-meaning teaching personnel thus freed up should be put to good use in a salt mine somewhere far away.



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