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Criminal, Really Criminal

Saturday, August 20, 2011

One of our correspondents forwarded a list of alleged criminal acts, two of which are included below:

Bumpus, Tennessee
A bank robber in Bumpus, Tennessee, handed a teller the following note: "Watch out. This is a rubbery. I hav an oozy traned on your but. Dump the muny in a sack, this one. No die packkets or other triks or I will tare you a new naval." Dr. Creon V.B. Smyk of the Ohio Valley Educational Council says such notes are, lamentably, the rule. "Right across the board, we see poor pre-writing skills, problems with omissions, tense, agreement, spelling and clarity," he moaned. Smyk believes that the quality of robbery notes could be improved if criminals could be taught to plan before writing. "We have to stress organisation: Make an outline of your robbery note before you write it," he said. "Some of the notes get totally sidetracked on issues like the make, model and calibre of the gun, number of bullets, etc., until one loses sight of the main idea -- the robbery."

Bent Forks, Illinois
In Bent Forks, Illinois, kidnappers of ice-cube magnate Worth Bohnke sent a photograph of their captive to Bohnke's family. Bohnke was seen holding up a newspaper. It was not that day's edition and, in fact, bore a prominent headline from some years before. This was pointed out to The Kidnapers in a subsequent phone call. They responded by sending a new photograph showing an up-to-date newspaper. Bohnke, however, did not appear in the picture. When this, too, was refused, The Kidnappers became peevish and insisted that a photograph be sent to them showing all the people over at Bohnke's house holding different issues of Success magazine. They provided a mailing address and were immediately apprehended. They later admitted to FBI agents they did not understand the principle involved in the photograph/newspaper concept. "We thought it was just some kind of tradition," said one.

Educators agree that such mix-ups point to poor reasoning and comprehension skills, ignorance of current events, and failure to complete work in the time allotted.

These poor criminals are scapegoats who signify the failure of our educational system, and of the government that pays for our educational system, and of the society that pays for the government that pays for our educational system. In a sense, our democratic system guarantees that we get the kind of criminal class that we deserve.

As teachers, we have been wasting our time frittering over issues such as proper pedagogical performance, standardized testing and such. As citizens, we moan and groan (depending on our political outlook) about the over-crowding of our prisons, the escalating financial burden on the taxpayers, the disproportionate sentencing of minorities. We are harangued -- endlessly -- by politicians who want to make names for themselves over these issues, which ultimately leads to our paying more tax money for more ineffectual solutions to the problem. These seemingly disparate complaints, cutting across political demographics, can all be answered by one simple assertion: we need to keep these people out of jail.

All sorts of rehabilitation schemes, fostered by liberals and conservatives alike, have failed -- for one simple reason. We have been telling criminals what not to do. Any parent can tell you that if you order a child not to spill his chocolate milk, he will focus his entire attention on the mental picture of spilled milk -- with inevitable results. This is a pedagogical technique that is doomed to failure.

As the warden so eloquently said to Cool Hand Luke, "What we have heeya is a failya to kamoonnikate."

We have not provided them with something else to do. We have not provided them with the means to do it. Can we expect anything but failure? No, the solution lies in a totally different approach than has tried before. We must train them to be useful and productive citizens, working in their chosen professions, and above all else: keep them from returning to jail. How can we accomplish this?

Simple. We need to train them in the skills they will need to succeed. In the examples cited above, a few simple lessons in rhetoric and logic would have made all the difference. Do you see where this is going? We need, not less criminals, but better criminals -- the kind that are not constantly being caught, clogging up our judicial system. To do this, we must focus on the most needy students: those who are already incarcerated.

We can train them in the refinements of their craft, the little things that spell the difference between a Mercedes and Maximum Security. One might object that this sort of training goes on every day in the joint -- one prisoner educating another. While it is a well-intentioned start, there is a fundamental error underlying the current model. We have losers educating losers. We don't have the best-qualified teachers in place.

We need to do two things to remedy the situation. First, educational professionals need to run the programs. Trial and error are educational techniques, to be sure, but rather inefficient (unless one's goal is to maintain over-crowded prisons at their current level). Trained educators can speed the learning process in even the most challenged students. Second, since (presumably) these teachers are masters of the techniques of pedagogy, not larceny, we need to encourage the cooperation of real experts. How can we compel the better class of criminals, those who are never caught, to act as trainers for their unfortunate colleagues?

Every great artist wants recognition for his work. Let us reward the best by granting them complete immunity from prosecution in exchange for community service -- not someone else's community, but their own. Not only will this raise the standards of criminals everywhere, but it will automatically guarantee that the master criminals will never tie up our courts (and after all, the cases brought against this class of criminal are the most difficult to prove, since they are the most skilled in avoiding prosecution -- through intelligent use of alibi, prudent parsimony with incriminating evidence, as well as the judicious application of extortion, etc).

Eventually, there may be no need for prisons at all. These drains on the public purse could become self-financing institutes of higher learning, like the Harvard Business School. Talented young students could be encouraged to enroll early. This would have the added advantage of removing them from our schools, where they currently disrupt the work of non-criminal students. These non-criminals would quickly become more successful, thereby earning more money as adults, which will -- in turn -- produce better profits for the criminals.

One might argue that we would still wind up being robbed, only by thieves instead of politicians. I would counter that the skillful exercise of criminal talent is more satisfying -- even to the victim -- than the patently bogus dissimulation of professional politicians. The cost might be the same, but the quality of life would be vastly improved.

Everyone benefits in this best of all possible worlds.

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