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Friday, May 11, 2007

Putting a Lot on the Schools

by krshorewood

Just got back from Toronto Friday night. As I was making my way down Concourse D at Mitchell for the first time in a long time I became crazy eager to find out how the Brewers did.

Ever since losing interest in the American past time from having Miller Park shoved down our collective throats and followed by a string of lackluster seasons, the rejunvinated team has given me Brewer fever. My burning desire was to get to my car radio.

That means tuning into "news" radio WTMJ. As we know the letters WTMJ now decodes into giving every crackpot idea a 100,000 watt platform. Tonight was no exception.

After spending a full day being exposed to the rather reasoned media in the Great White North, TMJ was my cold water bucket of reality.

Filling in for the always in control Jessica McBride was the new darling of the local right wing James T. Harris. The topic was violence in the Milwaukee Public Schools. Harris invited the sagely TMJ audience to phone in their solutions and they didn't fail to disappoint with the usual feel goods that were not too thought out to well.

The hour started out with a suggestion for putting God back into schools and progressed to having fathers around so they could mete out beatings. Hold the MacArthur genius awards.

This line of reasoning follows along on Harris' suggestion that detonated Jay to detonate the Milwaukee Public School system.

To say this is a well-meaning suggestion would be the height of cynism, but the real problem is when it comes to dealing with violence, the place to solve it is not in the school house. Because of conditions outside the walls of our places of public education the best we can expect is for teachers and administrators to manage the violence.

We all of course expect parents and kids to surmount the challenges that lay before them. Some do but many don't because of the size of the negative forces in the community. Now some people like James T. Harris leads an exemplary life and I'm sure he will tell you he does. But it's kind of like saying Harry Houdini could wiggle out of a straight jacket while being suspended upside down, so why can't all Jewish guys do it.

The problems in the inner city are huge, and tough if this sounds like excusing the population, but it is the economy stupid and so much more.

Take the damage our lock em up mentality in this once progressive state. Gretchen Schuldt lays it out in her blogpost on Violence, the schools and the community.

She cites a report from the University of Wisconsin on the inner city 53206 zip code.

In this state we have a penchant for putting to many people behind bars. Just to take one of the bullet points:

For the 30- to 34-year old age group, 21% of the men from 53206 are reported in a state DOC facility, another 42% were previously incarcerated in a state correctional facility, and only 38% were never in an adult state correction facility.

You can read the rest. The term bullet points puts it well.

Now of course the response of many, especially among our conservative bretheran, is if you do the crime you should do the crime. And like HL Mencken once said for every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, neat and wrong.

So in binary conservative world that is true.

There are alternatives. Let's shift our attention westward. Minnesota in 2005 had a violent crime rate (per the FBI) of 297 per 100,000. We in the Badger state we slightly better behaved with a rate of 241.5 per 100,000.

On the other hand, the incarceration rate in Wisconsin in 2004 was twice that of Minnesota?

And as could be expected, Wisconsin in 2001 spent twice as much on prisons than our neighboors in Minnesota.

But of course Minnesota was not blessed with the politicians we have. People who came from relatively low crime districts who want to make a name for themselves by demonstrating what crime fighting heroes they are. These are made men in the whacky wing nut sense.

Aparently Minnesota has chosen to do other things with their law breakers than we do, at a lower cost to their state budget and to the lives of those who have run afoul of the law. Life is full of choices and it appears in Minnesota they have made some better ones than we have. But I've heard callers on wing nut Milwaukee radio say they don't care what it costs so long as these people as put away. This is not the Wisconsin I know or care to know put this is what becomes public policy.

Case in point. Thursday two students got into a fight during a high school rugby game outside of Toronto. One of them got knocked to the ground and subsequently died after lingering for a day in the hospital.

Open up the phone lines if this had happened here in Milwaukee and you'd hear callers cry for the offending 16 year old to be stuck away for life. But instead the the dying kid's uncle (a Mexican by the way) said, "We don't want to make another life miserable."

"And as devastated as my brother and my sister-in-law are, they really don't want to see anything wrong happen to this other kid that was involved," he said.

So we don't have to turn to the Amish for maturity and compassion in the face of tragedy.

Mind you there are other things going on in the 53206 such as a terrible dearth of job opportunities and the cumlative malfunctions piling up on the lives of these people, while some in our society choose to blame the unionized teachers for not fixing it.

But making a major portion of the men in that area unemployable for life because it just plain feels good to put people away isn't helping. And there is nothing a teacher or a principal can do about that in a public school or even in a private school.

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