Home > Uncategorized > Chris Hedges “Pity the Children” Underscores Need to Change Schooling to Address Violence

Chris Hedges “Pity the Children” Underscores Need to Change Schooling to Address Violence

Truthdig blogger Chris Hedges writes prolifically and forcefully about the dystopia we have created for those living in poverty and the urgent need for action. “Pity the Children“, his post today, does just that. Using the life story of a young man convicted of murder and sentenced to 35 years in prison, data on crime and poverty, and the writings of criminologist Lonnie Athens and a book about Mr. Athens by Richard Rhodes, Hedges paints a picture of our country that is distressing:

Violent criminals are socialized into violence. And a society that permits this to take place is culpable. Over 15 million of our children go to bed hungry. Every fifth child (16.1 million) in America is poor. Every 10th child (7.1 million) is extremely poor. We have 25 percent of the world’s prison population. We have scaled back or cut social services, including welfare. Our infrastructures—including our inner-city schools, little more than warehouses—are crumbling. Police regularly gun down unarmed people in the streets. The poor spend years, sometimes lifetimes, without meaningful work or nurturing environments. And these forms of state violence fuel acts of personal violence…

In past societies, such as medieval Europe—where corporal punishment, especially of children, was widespread, along with domestic violence, sexual abuse, public floggings and executions—there was a corresponding higher rate of violent crime. In 13th-century England, Rhodes points out in his book on Lonnie Athens, “the national homicide rate was around 18 to 23 per 100,000.” The United States has a homicide rate of 4.5 per 100,000. But when you look at impoverished inner cities you find homicide rates that are astronomical. St. Louis has a homicide rate of 59.23 per 100,000, Baltimore 54.98 per 100,000, and Detroit 43.89 per 100,000. Some impoverished neighborhoods within American cities have even higher homicide rates. West Garfield Park in Chicago, for example, with 18,000 people, had 21 murders last year. This gives the neighborhood a homicide rate of 116 per 100,000 people.

Hedges, a radical writer who strongly opposes the neoliberal direction our nation has taken, does not believe things need to be this way. We do not have to impose austerity measures on the poor, cut their social services, and abandon them to commit murders against each other. Given his strong assertion that violent criminals are socialized into violence, a premise that drives the work of Lonnie Athens, he sees a way we could pull people into the world we live in and develop a future that is less dystopian than the current course we are on today.

Violent criminals, like all of us, begin as vulnerable, fragile children. They are made. They are repeatedly violated and traumatized as children, often to the point of numbness. And as adults they turn on a world that violated them, as the criminologist Lonnie Athens—himself raised in a violent household—has pointed out.

All of us, Athens says, carry within us phantom communities, those personalities and experiences that shape us and tell us how to interpret the world. The impact of these phantom communities, Athens writes, “is no less than [that of] the people who are present during our social experiences.” The phantom community, Athens says, is “where someone is coming from.” When your phantom community is a place of violence, you act out with violence. Violent criminal behavior is not a product of race. It is not even, finally, a product of poverty. It is a product of repeated acts of violence by figures of authority, including the state, upon the child.

And Hedges catalogs the way the State as it is constructed now bring violence into the lives of children by placing too many of them in overcrowded and dysfunctional foster homes, placing most of them in dilapidated and underfunded schools, and by shortchanging the very social services that could serve as a lifeline to them. The solution?

“Give the poor a chance economically by providing jobs, integrate them into the social order, provide vigorous protection and quality education for children, make possible a life of dignity for families, secure neighborhoods, end mass incarceration. If those things are done, violent crime and drug addiction will dissipate. If we continue down the road of neoliberalism and austerity, violent crime and drug addiction—the way many of the broken cope with the stress, humiliation and despair of poverty—will grow.”

For schools this does not mean more tests or more “no excuses” schooling, for those both look like the work of authority figures imposing themselves on children in the same way the violent community does so in their everyday lives. Hedges and Athens both want to introduce love and compassion into shelves of those being raised in violence… and and both believe if we continue down our current path we are doing it at our peril.

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