How To Counter Crime? Wide-spread Vocational Training Programs Beats “Boots on the Ground”

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The dreaded Rikers Island. Writer says the best solution is to equip young people with skills and remove them from school-to-prison pipeline.

To date, the Pandemic-death swath has left nearly a million Americans dead in its wake. Additionally, some lucky businesses were left reeling as they held on to the government lifeline of grants, loans, and other subsidies.

The unlucky ones, which painfully held on, finally succumbed to their prolonged death throes. They closed. Schools were also closed. They are the arbiter of the nation's culture responsible for acculturating a new generation of youth to their roles and responsibility as citizens in a democratic society. Teachers are at the forefront of such a mission. Teachers, doctors, nurses, law enforcement officers, and many other skilled and unskilled workers were among the dead.

They all learned their vocation directly or indirectly from schools. Hence, schools and teachers must replace these professionals and other workers who succumbed to the pandemic. So again, as was done in the late 1950s when fear and war anxiety gripped Americans, schools must be called upon to rise to the new challenge. Of course, Americans never back down from a challenge. Now, as was the case in the earlier era, the United States and Russia—the former Soviet Union--were at a stalemate. And as fear-inducing war-talk now permeates the minds of Americans, so was it then. Possibly adding to American deaths from heart failure and anxiety at the time, the U.S. considered a response that could have wiped out humanity at the time.

However—as is now hoped for the current crisis—calmer heads prevailed. The U.S. did not set off a thermonuclear bomb on the Moon. It rallied its schools. When schools were majority white, America sought its best and brightest children—the gifted and talented. President John F. Kennedy challenged those youth to reclaim America's pride. They did. The fear-inducing and anxiety-creating Soviet space race victories were neutralized. The U.S. subsequently landed humans on the moon and it’s now the dominant space exploration nation.

Notwithstanding the school demographic shift to majority-minority, or Black and Brown, we must challenge the current generation of students to replace workers who succumbed to the pandemic. Additionally, we must challenge them to produce future middle-level workers—bricklayers, carpenters, electricians, HVAC, steel-workers, plumbers, welders—needed to rebuild the nation's aging infrastructure and to maintain the new ones. It will not be business as usual as per the pandemic constraint. This pandemic has dictated a “new normal”. We must not only search for our best and brightest children, but we must also search for the "not-brightest" ones. The ones who were once, erroneously, and euphemistically referred to as “dunces.”

Many of those children were not born that way. Many were failed by the racism of schools' social sorting function. Some schools prepared children to become law enforcement officers—representing good citizens—and others to be criminals. The school-to-prison pipeline informs how schools produced criminals. Fear of brazen criminals now grips New York City. Comparing the demographics of the nation's law enforcement and its criminals, or criminalized, could explain the resurgence of crime on New York City and other streets in urban communities. All is not lost. Vocational training can rehabilitate those who have been criminalized; just as it can save those who have been failed by the school-to-prison pipeline.

There is irony rarely discussed built in the system. The criminals are necessary for keeping the law enforcers employed. To totally eliminate crime is to put “good citizens” out of work. Hence, police resistance to bail reform and closing Rikers Island prison. A balance must exist between law-abiding and criminalized citizens. Schools must provide training so those with criminal records can learn skills for entrepreneurship or gainful employment to abate crime.

As much as we pan altruism about giving the criminalized equal opportunity for work, we know the reality is different. In the first week of school, overwhelmed teachers in urban communities develop a schema to determine the children from “decent” homes and who have the potential for success. They also envision which child could have a future embracing the criminal injustice system. As a result of their actions, teachers welcome and push the “decent kids”; they unconsciously—or consciously—build up protective barriers against the others, hoping they will drop their class. They, in effect, believe they have identified the so-called “dunce”; while actually also, unwittingly or wittingly, creating others. A mindful administrator would be aware that not all students are interested in book learning.

This is no way mean they are intellectually deficient. They are kinesthetically or hands-on learners. Germany identifies such children from early grades and tracks them for vocational training—a program that has a three-year waiting list. Germany has the most vaunted vocational training program in the world. Singapore, with the world's best vocational program learned from Germany. Germany’s and France's vocational trained workers informed the construction of China's world-class training system. New York city has nothing comparable to Germany’s, France’s, Singapore’s, and China’s vocational programs.

Yet, the powers that be are surprised that the system produces young people who can carry our brazen crimes, including murdering police officers. The administrators who can guide students not interested in book learning; just as the students need to be identified early and set straight by appropriate schooling. Billions of dollars are coming down the pike for such training. Vocational training can transform the United States; it must not be associated with the word “dunces.”

The current system of “college for all” mantra sets up some children for failure. Additionally, even intelligent and capable children may not want to attend college. Therefore, they must be provided with skills to engage them in legal productive employment instead of pushing them to illegal gun-based ones. Consider this: the electrician who came to my house to pull a snake—run a wire—made $900 in two hours. A man who cut down part of a tree in my yard made $300.

We reap what we sow. Vocational training are the seeds we must plant in abundance.

Rupert Green (EdD), the CEO of the Institute for Hands-on Science, Engineering, & Technology, can be reached via

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