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Is boot camp the solution?

Sunday, February 28, 2016

It is said that desperate times require desperate measures, but I hasten to add that in spite of our desperation to fix the problem of school violence, I implore serious thought to doing so through boot camps.

This is not an attempt to discredit the efficacy of boot camps, but these measures sometimes have the opposite effect to what is required or intended. Boot camps are rigid military-type programmes which were initially set up to provide juvenile offenders with an alternative to prison, the objective being to give them a “wake-up call”, hoping that their negative behaviours would change. However, these camps are also known to reinforce certain radical attitudes that can thrive with such militant discipline and training.

Over the years many versions of boot camp have emerged particularly in the United States, some of them offering more therapeutic type programmes than the original dispensation. However, it must be noted that boot camps were banned in Florida in 2006, following the death of a 14-year-old, who collapsed under stress of a physical activity in which he was forced to continue, despite his protestations of feeling unwell. It has also been reported that in some of these camps, inmates are beaten to conform to certain practices. 

I am positively sure that should our government agree to the establishment of boot camps, they will do so after extensive research into the pros and cons of this approach. However, I must insist that boot camp is not the panacea for our present problems. Delinquency is not an event but a process that has its roots in childhood experiences, environmental factors and parenting styles. Whatever we determine as a method, must include a comprehensive assessment of the individuals presenting with the behaviour, and this will reveal that we need more personalised approaches to this situation. One size cannot fit all.

What these assessments will also reveal is that there are real deep-seated issues in the homes and families of our delinquent youths, stemming from psychosocial and economic conditions that generate rage, anger and pain in their lives, with school being the only place available to vent. So we have the bullying, fighting and other negative dysfunctional behaviours, which make our schools volatile and unsafe. Please note that many of our hurting children don’t act out, but instead are introverted, bottling up their pain and which can explode at any time in sometimes bizarre ways, for example suicide.

Rather than boot camps, we should establish therapeutic communities where we can assist our troubled youths to (re) learn the art of living within a family structure that is trusting, caring and nurturing and aimed at behaviour modification. Therapeutic communities have been used successfully in many countries across the world in the rehabilitation of prisoners, drug addicts, including adolescent drug users and psychiatric patients. Instead of military authority figures, these communities are managed by persons who take the place of parents, big brothers/sisters and mentors.

Further, I make the case for continuous assessment. Not merely academic continuous assessment, but psychosocial assessments from pre-school to university. This gives us the opportunity to flag the troubled students well before they morph into uncontrollable, unreachable children that eventually become our delinquents. These assessments must be done with the involvement of the families, so that parenting deficiencies can be recognised and dealt with in a corrective manner so that acceptable nurturing is in place for our children. Considering that our children are the future, we should not hesitate to invest our resources in methods that are proactive and which would redound to their positive development. Think about it.

Garvin Cole



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