Throwing Our Babies Out with the Bath Water
by Jeff Rogers
Americans live and work in a “throw away” society. We literally throw tons of things and people away sooner or later…most often sooner. Worse yet, we are essentially throwing our babies out with the bath water.
“We’ve got kind of a problem here,” writes Kristi Gartner, in a 2016 article entitled ‘Consumerism, Mass Extinction and Our Throw-Away Society.’ “On the right side of the pendulum, consumerism has reached an all-time high, with products reaching their planned obsolescence within absurdly short timespans and new products being rolled out by the millions every day…and on the left side of the pendulum…we’re looking at the very real possibility of mass extinction [through] human deforestation, overfishing, poaching and global warming.”
Our landfills, rivers and oceans, even the sides of our roads, testify to the fact that Americans don’t hang on to things very long. More than 250 tons of solid waste is buried in our dumps across the nation each year. More than 14 million pounds of waste materials, both solid and chemical, find their way into our water ways annually. And tons more broken consumer personal-use and household items litter the narrow shoulders and gutters of so many of our streets and roads.
It’s People, Not to Mention Our Kids, Too
It should not surprise anyone to learn that we do the same with the unwanted people around us? Our prisons, mental hospitals, even the dark recesses of our city streets, testify to the fact that we don’t hang on to people very long either.
“For the last four decades,” writes Harry Belafonte in 2014, on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, “this country has been obsessed with expanding the number of people we throw behind bars and the time we hold them there.” For those who will listen, he keeps saying we must stop throwing our most at-risk people away.
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with 716 out of every 100,000 persons every year sent to jail for various amounts of time, totaling nearly 2.3 million people incarcerated nationwide. Nearly 20 out of every 100,000 people every year are placed in mental hospitals, topping out roughly at ½-million housed patients across the country. And as for those who languish on our country’s pedestrian sidewalks and byways, data from 2016 shows an increase in our homeless population to just over 500,000.
Cris Rogers, writing for Therapy Insider in December 2017, says: “Here in America, we have a serious issue with how we treat our nation's troubled youth. More specifically, we have a serious problem with how our judicial courts perceive, alienate, and fail to "rehabilitate" millions of minor, juvenile offenders - especially when it comes to teens of color.”
Apparently, we are pretty good at throwing our kids away too. Go figure. National figures show that on any given day, nearly 60,000 youth under the age of 18 are incarcerated in juvenile jails and prisons in the United States.
Rogers adds that by “treating teenage offenders -- the overwhelming majority of whom are teens of color -- as if they were fully developed, grown-up criminals -- who, are also, by and large, unfairly punished for non-violent crimes,” our juvenile judicial system has unwittingly created a revolving door situation that only carries over into the adult system down the road.
Needless to say, Rogers emphasizes, “when America's juvenile offenders are being rehabilitated at nearly the same dismal rate as our world-record-setting population of incarcerated men and women (roughly six million), and when our adolescent juvenile detention facilities also mirror the racial injustice of their notoriously racist and ineffectual, adult-counterparts, I think it is safe to say that it is time for its citizens to demand that their policymakers look for alternative ways in which we as a nation, handle adolescent, behavioral reformation.”
Alternative Ways to Tend to Our Troubled Teens
Rogers trumpets programs like the Stargate Theater Company, founded by the Manhattan Theater Club, as groundbreaking programs that seek to immerse court-involved youth in theater arts as a means of teaching them how to cope with and overcome the negative factors in their lives.
Stargate provides transitional employment in theater production, along with intense work-readiness training and literacy education. “Stargate provides rare and profound opportunities for self-expression, confidence building, and joyful participation in a collective creative enterprise,” explains Rogers. Rather than judging, condemning, and literally caging talented and promising (albeit troubled) young men for their self-destructive mistakes, Stargate ingeniously finds artistic inspiration from their troubled pasts.
Rogers concludes that not every troubled young person may find behavioral restoration from participating in revolutionary stage productions, but with programs like Stargate it is clearly seen there are other, more societally-humane ways, we can respond to our most troubled youth’s criminal behavior than incarceration.
Personalizing Learning to the Nth Degree from the Beginning
I applaud Rogers for seeking alternatives to the incarceration of our youth, and I think programs like Stargate can do a great deal of good in both the short and long term, but I think he has done what too many of us have resorted to, focusing too much on the diagnosis end of this national malady, thereby overlooking something even more important on the preventative end of this growing concern…personalizing learning with each and every kid in America to the nth degree from the very beginning. And if we do, we will reduce the numbers of our at-risk youth population to practically insignificant.
By personalizing, I mean, taking seriously the fact that any successful learning situation, whether it is learning how to bake a cake or throw a football, or becoming a caring and contributing adult in society, must begin with each individual and their essential relationship with the adult who is charged with teaching or leading them. Attention to these basic relationship structures will more than greatly increase the odds of growth and success…no matter what is being taught or learned.
According to researchers in the field of Pedagogics, the science and discipline of education, the ultimate success of any educational effort is little better than a crapshoot. At best, it’s “hit ‘n miss.” Going into any educational event, primary attention must be on establishing and then maintaining proper relations of trust, understanding and respect. These three relationship structures must be present to optimize any learning situation.
Trust...The child or children must have a prevailing feeling of confidence and security, and such must be directly related to the teacher or teachers who will be facilitating the instruction. The teacher or teachers must also feel safe and supported as they enter into such activity with any and all given children.
Understanding...The teacher or teachers must have a deep understanding of the child or children they will beinstructing, and the child must understand the specific reasons for engaging in any particular instructional event.
Respect...The teacher or teachers must instruct with the end in mind of giving more and more independence to the child for his or her learning efforts, and the child or children must participate with the end in mind that they will take on more and more responsibility for their learning.
Focus on the Babies, Each and Every One
It is by paying focused attention on the establishment, the development and the maintenance of such basic relationship structures, that any and all learning encounters can have their best chance of ending up in success. It is by personalizing education for every child in this manner that we can ultimately decrease the number of children who end up at-risk by the time they are teens. In other words, the number of teenagers that will need programs like Stargate will be much fewer, and thereby less pressured to take on more troubled teens than they can realistically handle.
In a world where so much is considered “water,” wouldn’t it be better to first put the least number of babies in danger of being thrown out with it?