Sat | Dec 9, 2023

Letter of the Day | Work on behavioural challenges to address crime

Published:Monday | November 20, 2023 | 12:06 AM


There are many who think crime an inevitable part of life. Don’t believe it and don’t let anyone hand you that excuse. Crime is not inevitable; it is a failure of the anticipation of consequence. What do I mean? From what I’ve observed as the typical behaviour of schoolchildren, the child must learn as a part of functioning in the real world around them that certain actions bring certain consequences and that the stability of those consequences and their arrival is critical to their being accepted and having the desired effect. What sort of word salad is this, you ask? Real world, story time:

An assistant principal, a teacher on assignment and I worked with an in-school disciplinary-management programme based solely upon making sure that anticipated consequences were consistently provided for the child’s behavioural challenges.

With peer pressure the most important factor in the child’s decision-making at school, removal from class for misbehaviour, not for a mere lack of expected performance in spite of clear effort but as a result of giving a clear set of expectations that were not carried out, I found that asking the student to leave class was the teacher’s “ultimate weapon” and to be used sparingly but consistently to achieve the best result. How was that done?

Every teacher in the school was trained to use the same disciplinary, three-step approach. In each class, cooperative behaviour and individual efforts were rewarded, while uncooperative or disruptive ones were dealt with when necessary.

The first step was to make personal, eye contact with the student, without interrupting the flow of the class; the purpose was to alert the child that they may soon be subject to some disciplinary action for a behaviour that disrupted the lesson.

The second step, if the behaviour was repeated, was to stop the class activity, explain to both class and student why the student needs to take an alternative course to his or her behaviour and issue a warning (the anticipated consequence) that the next occurrence would result in a pass being given to the disciplinary facility and a time set for having left the class.

With the third step, the child was asked to leave the class and go to a central receiving facility where they would be quickly interviewed, a record of events taken and kept, and some level of administrative intervention applied. The level of response was based upon the number of visits to the facility and/or the level of seriousness of the behaviour. The key to the programme’s overall effectiveness, we soon discovered, was to let the student know what would happen in response to future visits and then make sure that response was carried out.

In our case, we utilised a host of methods designed to “hit the student’s hot button” and force an overall change in their behaviour. Every child was different, but there was no doubt that a child’s wanting to remain or be in class with friends was a most important factor the school could use to its advantage. Now to get to the point of my essay:

Crime can be looked at as the misbehaviour of adults in the “schoolroom of life”. The programme in our school, unusual as it was, turned the school within only a few years into the finest public middle school the District had ever seen and eventually received the Florida State’s Department of Education recognition and commendation for its success. So what does all that have to do with crime in our countries and our apparent failures to deal with it effectively?

We fail our citizens and ourselves when in response crimes (adult misbehaviours) we do not first make certain our would-be criminals are fully aware of the anticipated consequences (they know the law). We fail them a second time when we don’t act to impose those consequences and do so quickly, fairly, and with a growing force, i.e., warning, arrest, imprisonment, etc. Finally, we fail them and our values when we set up law enforcement that is slow, selective, and poorly administered – either by intent or ignorance – in the enforcement of the laws we’ve all agreed would govern us.

Many today are saying this final failure is at least in one case happening in the US with the coming of the 2024 election for president and the enforcement of laws concerning the keeping of presidential records. If true, this would be a very poor example for America’s “school of life” to be setting for its citizens and the world around it – no commendation this time, just a lot of bad press and a whole lot of lost hope for a once-great nation’s future.


Bokeelia, Florida