Since late 1960s zealous child advocacy via the U.S. judicial system affected indelible changes, a major metamorphosis has gradually emerged that has converged in a near 180-degree turnaround. Its primary feature is a dramatic shift in prevailing attitudes toward juvenile delinquency from rehabilitative to retributive. Frustrated with the revolving door of youthful first offenders receiving a slap on the wrist, only to turn and then slap benefactors’ faces with skyrocketing recidivism rates, society no longer has much mercy or sympathy for the handy “abuse excuse” once highly touted by criminal defense lawyers with no other valid argument.
Underlying causes of this dynamic are complex and multifaceted, but the most commonly blamed culprits are socioeconomic downturns that leave youth in a cruel lurch. Fewer opportunities for gainful employment combined with unprecedented numbers of broken homes headed by single parents who often work 2 to 3 low-paying dead-end jobs with no fringe benefits leave no quality time or adult supervision put adolescents in a precarious no-win position.
Unable to obtain part-time employment to earn extra money for class field trips, a first car or save for college leads to irresistible temptation to steal or deal drugs for large sums of fast cash that instead end up leading to arrest and conviction that mark for life.
By the same bleak token, young teenaged girls are currently more likely than ever before to become unwed mothers. Prematurely saddled with unmanageable responsibilities at a young age, most rely on public assistance for bare survival.
Both the above outcomes kick off a sequence of continuing events with no positive outcomes. Nothing except prison and lifelong poverty are the two most likely results. Of course, the next generation inherits both “living-dead” legacies and keep the cradle to grave “tradition” alive.
Best ways to break vicious cycle of doomed destiny at birth
Cradle to Prison is a neologism used to describe a population of youth living in conditions that result in their channeling into prison from birth. The “pipeline” suffix implies adverse contributory factors like a lack of education, abject poverty and parental incompetence or absence that leave young victims of circumstance totally helpless to improve their stations or quality of life.
In 2008, the Children’s Defense Fund launched a campaign to halt the devastating pipeline conduit that permanently destroys millions of lives. Dubbed the Cradle to Prison Pipeline Campaign, sponsors charge federal government of spending more to incarcerate than educate its wee citizens in their formative years.
Pipeline proponents envision reversed budgetary priorities will in turn reverse or at least significantly retard progressively faster downward spiraling Pipeline trajectories. Thus, a primary objective is to implement effective preventative measures and garner resources to help children stay on the right track. These laudable initiatives include more early childhood education and guidance, healthcare and mental health treatment and family counseling. Of date, several states have responded favorably to Pipeline advocates and begun to form special alliances and coalitions to devise and implement strategies to dissemble the pipeline.
Ever broadening ray of increasingly brighter hope glimpses near end of the pipeline
The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) official website greets visitors with the large-font message, “Civics is a Crucial Subject.’ Further exploration of CIRCLE’s massive virtual domain reveals encouraging news. One sample reports youth with accessible civic learning opportunities are more likely to pursue a positive academic trajectory that continues an upward incline that increases the likelihood of high school graduation, followed by a well-deserved four-year extended vacation away at college.
An accompanying adjacent header admonishes. “Current Results are Unacceptable.” Stated grounds immediately follow start with citing the fact that just 1/4th of young people attain “proficient” status on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the nation’s largest ongoing national assessment of students’ knowledge and proficiency levels in core subjects.
A little bit farther down on a seemingly endless landing page, a prominent sub header appears that reads ”Effective Practices Develop Civic Skills as well as Knowledge.” Just below that landmark is a paragraph with an opening line that reports good civic education develops deliberation, collaboration, and public-speaking skills that last a lifetime.
The next sentence qualifies that statement by reminding readers that achieving such desirable outcomes entails far more than intellectually rigorous benchmarks in civics education and its seamless multidisciplinary incorporation.
Next is a real-life case study of Action Civics, a novel program that exhibits high potential to raise the bar for entry-level civics competencies such as collaborative and deliberative skills. Progress in those directions is reportedly being made with recent emergence of innovative assessment tools. One particularly coveted sample is a specialized portable badge that displays Web-based certification of demonstrated civic skills, knowledge, and real-life positive contributions. These virtual incentives are urged to award exceptional civic knowledge and participation as well as sharing insights to set entirely new standards of excellence in civics education.
Near the end of CIRCLE’s mammoth homepage, a farewell appears by way of reminder to visitors that civic education is a universal concern. A final parting word follows to encourage greater collaborative efforts to affect major positive changes in all aspects of youth civic engagement. Such efforts should traverse every artificial boundary and extend to organizational, sectorial and other illusory borders to instill an ambiance wherein youth not only have adequate access to civics learning and participation activities, but practical skills development to cultivate an acumen to do so effectively.
Optimistic conclusions and favorable observations
A new day appears poised for imminent dawn on very near future horizons in youth civic engagement landscapes. While long overdue and much welcomed, we cannot afford to sit back on haunches of over-complacency with self-congratulatory expressions. Rather, all affected parties must join the fight to make hay while the sun still shines to prepare for rainy days that must come to ensure appreciation of brighter skies.