Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Responding to my recent posts on the issue of crime in T&T, Damien suggests that "the authorities in Jamaica, Guyana and now Trinidad and Tobago are failing" to "directly affect the costs of crimes, either by adjusting punishments [or] increasing the probability of capture and conviction".

"Police in the West Indies are overly reactive; they respond to crime and deal with its aftermath, as opposed to preventing it and changing the cost-benefit calculation of potential criminals....

"Incentives are the reason why the Prime Minister's meeting with the gang leaders is a fundamental mistake — by sending the signal that he will reason with gang leaders, Manning is also showing that the cost of crime to criminals is going down, not up."

He agrees that education is a crucial long-term strategy, quoting economist Gary Becker's argument that "being low-educated and having fewer alternatives, you will be more likely to commit crime."

It's important to stress, though, that the value of education as a long-term crime-fighting technique is not merely in increasing earning opportunities for poorer citizens. The character-building aspect of education (an old-fashioned idea, maybe) should not be slighted. Open-mindedness, justice, civic responsibility, a real appreciation of the rights of others & of the principles of liberal democracy, are qualities too uncommon in contemporary T&T. I persist in believing that stringently screened, highly trained, highly motivated (which means highly paid) teachers — with a grasp not merely of the imperatives of the curriculum but of social & individual psychology, & of the values I suggest above — can have a decisive positive effect on the students under their instruction & hence on the wider community. In childhood & adolescence I was lucky enough to have a few teachers like this (except they weren't highly paid), & I can discern the benefit to my younger self.

As my friend Anu Lakhan of the Cropper Foundation writes:

"...if, say, while you were learning the fundamentals of language and numeracy, when you were just starting to identify things and their relationships with other things, in short, when your learning-wiring is still new and responsive, if you learned then how to take care of the world — your world — then you'd be hard pressed to think any other way. School was supposed to equip you with some basic survival tools: be able to read these signs so you don't get crushed by heavy machinery on a construction site; add things up the right way so unscrupulous parlour-people won't swindle you. As the world hurls greater threats at us, surely school is the obvious place to learn the counter-curses."

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