Thursday, January 24, 2008

Please Tell Me Who I Am

Fuck, that came out of nowhere. One moment you're reading about the longitudinal study in Dunedin in the Listener, next moment you're told that compulsory screening of pre-schoolers for criminal or anti-social behaviour will begin this year. Show me the child, they reckon, and I will cure him for you. In contrast, Carl Jung said "Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you."

So, what negative traits are the kiddy experts looking for?
  • Disrupts the play or activities of other children.
  • Tries to get own way by throwing tantrums, e.g. sulking, shouting, swearing or refusing to co-operate.
  • Acts violently towards others, e.g. shoves, hits, pushes other children.
Jesus, I would have been screwed. From primary school reports stating "Does not work well with others", numerous occasions standing outside the Headmaster's office, right through to my chisel-chucking incident in intermediate, it stands to reason I should be in Pare right now, statistically speaking. Yet somehow I have avoided murder, rape and pillage. What's with that?

I blame education. A lust for learning has given me a way to articulate my sentiments in a more civilised way than the inarticulate rage exhibited by beating up on women and kids. A decent education has opened up a world of literature where writers share the triumph and tragedy of the human condition, contextualising things in a bearable or enlightening manner. I blame gainful employment, which negates the need to turn to the feral subsistence of a criminal life.

I fear this whole delinquent diagnosis will turn out to be the Christchurch Civic Creche thing times 911. Not only will the witch hunts begin in earnest (Has your daddy raped you recently?), it seeks to condemn a generation of kids to the deterministic theories of a bunch of quacks. Science cannot and will not ever manage to reduce the soul to some pigeonhole schematic. Nature, nurture and time will forever entwine the lives of people into something beyond the standard deviation.

The new vetting procedure begs some intriguing questions:
"Dr John Church, said trials in Canterbury showed that courses would cost about $4000 for each child involved, and have a success rate of about 80 per cent. In contrast, leaving intervention until a child was aged 12 or 13 would raise the cost to $16,000 to $17,000 and cut the success rate to below 20 per cent.

"By the time they get to jail, the success rate is close to zero and the annual cost is well over $90,000," he said. "We have fairly comprehensive evidence that if children are very naughty, very disruptive and throw a lot of tantrums, that's a good indicator for a lot of conditions to occur - leaving school early, getting into trouble as adolescents, drug use, illegal driving, minor thefts."

Wow, statistics and cost-benefit analysis as argument. Quelle surprise! By Dr Church's admission, the $4000 course on pre-schoolers has a 20 percent failure rate. Even with New Zealand sitting with the second-highest prison population per capita (behind the Land of the Free), we have not got 20 percent of school-leavers locked up. It is disingenuous to present a policy based on the implication that if you fund this thing, we'll end up with less murderers, rapists and burglars. It won't happen. We will always have criminals. We're only human.

Diagnosis is one thing, remedial action is another. What to do with the perenially anti-social? As Russell Brown has discovered recently, best to prepare one's kin for a lifetime of parking trolleys. Welcome to our Brave New World of deterministic outcomes.