By Ian G. Strachan
Abuse, armed robbery, housebreaking, rape, assault, murder and attempted murder are rampant in The Bahamas, and speak to social breakdown, and in fact, constitute an on again off again war against the social and economic system. There are no shortcuts. I propose seven areas of focus in terms of improving the situation. I address the first three today.
Inequality and social justice
Poverty is the breeding ground of violence. Check the location of murders and the residence of murder accused and victims. Look at education and income levels. This recession, the lack of skills of the citizenry and their lack of hope, are breeding violent criminality – not in all poor people, but in enough poor people to terrorize a seven by 21 island. Baha Mar, in this respect, can’t be finished fast enough.
It does not help that our system of taxation burdens the poorest the most. It doesn’t help that crass materialism parades itself before the hungry, underprivileged, and marginalized each day, provoking them to question the order of things and take risks. There aren’t enough jobs, or there isn’t enough pay, to make the life of crime seem like a foolish option for many young men. The death of their brothers, cousins and friends in the streets doesn’t seem to matter either. And though we hunt down and lock up the drug dealer, we elect his lawyer to Parliament and make him a knight. What message does that send? It is cheaper to invest properly in a citizen’s education, health and socialization than it is to police, hospitalize, imprison, punish and rehabilitate that citizen.
First, Bahamians no longer see the value of formal education. Most parents are unwilling or unable to make the sacrifices necessary to ensure that their children function as civil, thoughtful, analytical, creative adults. Seventy to 80 percent failure in math for instance, means 70-80 percent of students can’t reason well. That’s alarming.
I believe that too many Bahamians believe they don’t need to do well in school to make it. They are wrong. Many in our labor force have found out the hard way that when you are uneducated, you may find a job but you will rarely find a good paying one. Our expectations are far too great when compared to what most of us can earn. Add to this the fact that the work ethic of our high school graduates seems to deteriorate further with each passing year. Many men who entered the job market in the 60s and 70s with nothing but a junior or high school education knew a trade and worked hard. Many are successful businessmen today, walking in step with peers of their generation who got college degrees. The gap doesn’t seem so wide for them; however, the achievement gap that now exists between school leavers and college grads is big.
Second, the entrance requirements for the teaching profession must be raised and the salaries and benefits must be raised at the same time. Educational administrators (principals as well as ministry technocrats) must be held accountable for failure and rewarded for success. How can a system produce such levels of failure and fire so few of the people paid to fail? We want criminal justice, but what about educational justice? Make examples of those at the top before you squeeze those at the bottom.
The goal of our schools should be to produce responsible, civil, analytical, creative, trainable citizens. Such people will almost always believe they have options that go beyond violence and criminality. Most high school leavers in this country aren’t “criminals”, but they are citizens who, in a myriad of ways, can make life choices that contribute to the culture of disorder, incivility, destructive individualism, blind consumerism, civic impotence, foreign dependence, political ignorance, mediocrity, low productivity, prostitution, predation and poverty.
Third, our schools aren’t producing citizens who understand each man, woman and child’s responsibility to and dependence on “the other”. A key plank in the proper education/socialization of our citizens could be a national service curriculum and program. This should target all students. We want at-risk youth to have wholesome experiences and nurturing adult guidance that builds skills, builds community and builds esteem, but we also want to foster a sense of social responsibility and duty to the community and to nation-building in the well-to-do young Bahamian. Environmental stewardship, social outreach, agriculture, fishing, infrastructural maintenance, military and public service and so much more can be incorporated into such a program.
Fourth, college attendance is a serious problem. Our goal as a country should be to ensure that one in three Bahamians attains higher education. Currently it is closer to one in 10. This affects human potential, the social fabric, and our overall economic horizons. They will be able to approach life’s challenges with greater resilience and creativity. In a recent study by College of The Bahamas (COB) faculty, who surveyed a pool of over 300 prison inmates, it was discovered that 90 percent of those inmates had no tertiary education and over 50 percent of them had dropped out of school. College education is not the panacea for all that ails us but it is a crucial tool in the effort to build a more prosperous, versatile and peaceful society.
The way that parenting impacts our nation is powerful and dynamic. Having an economically depressed, frustrated, neglectful and possibly violent person for a parent is tragic, but doesn’t show up on our crime radar, and that is a large part of why this very potent area is hard to properly address. The state, by and large, cannot police parenting. However, this does not mean that the state cannot and should not try to heavily influence parents and provide greater social and economic support for families. Funding may not be as great as we would wish, but how we distribute the funds we do have can always be evaluated and reevaluated based on clearly set objectives. What are our objectives? I have read many manifestos and still can’t point you to where our nation’s objectives are when it comes to family and parenting. Well, here are the five objectives that have guided France’s family policy over the last several decades:
Solidarity – to compensate families for the economic costs of child rearing;
Pronatalism – to encourage a higher birth rate;
Social justice – to redistribute income to low-income families with children;
To protect the well-being of children; and
In more recent years, to protect parental choice among family types regardless of whether parents choose to work outside the home or to remain at home to rear children.
All of these, save perhaps number two, should interest us greatly. The size of the population and the budget of a nation certainly allow a nation like France to have far more programs and initiatives; however, what money is needed to have a clearly-stated objective? And once we are clear on what we want to accomplish, then we can allocate whatever funding we have appropriately. There is a clear connection between parenting, violence and criminality. COB researchers found that 18 percent of the inmates who were high school dropouts, dropped out to help their families. Thirty-one percent indicated that they had been abused, 47 percent of them by their parents. Forty-nine percent witnessed violence (abuse) in their homes, 66 percent of that violence was physical, not including sexual abuse which was another five percent. The initial exposure to violence as a way of life and as a problem solving technique is most often in the home, the least regulated place in society.
So how do we get past the barriers and reach parents where they are? When a child is born, who is assigned to the mothers, particularly the 623 teen mothers we had last year, to help them with their most important social responsibility: parenting? Are teen mothers, unemployed mothers and mothers living in poor, high crime neighborhoods automatically assigned a case worker and nurse to monitor them for at least one year? If not, why not? How can our laws enable women to stay at home longer after giving birth instead of being forced to return to work, sometimes as quickly as six weeks later due to economic pressure? What are we doing to encourage young fathers to be more involved, positively, in their children’s lives? How closely do we regulate child care for babies and toddlers? Why is there such a wide range of standards for paid child care in this age group? Infant and toddler care should not be better in East Bay than it is on Balfour Avenue. This age group is far too vulnerable to be subject to inferior care because their parent(s) are low income generating. Regulating the business of child care, and income won’t be a barrier to good care.
Another point of concern is when we sign heads of agreements with major investors, if we have no family objectives before us then we end up agreeing to things that potentially hurt families. We allow multimillion dollar investors to ignore basic day care for workers so that the option is unavailable for young children to be close to their working mothers. I especially would like to see this happen in the hotel sector where shifts are spread across 24 hours. In fact, perhaps we need laws or industrial agreements that protect single mothers of infants/toddlers from overnight shifts and Sunday work.
Next we conclude this series with a look at community development, creating a climate of discipline and order in our society, and our notions of criminal justice.
Nov 07, 2011Gangster’s Paradise Part 4
Gangster’s Paradise Part 2