Friday, June 5, 2009

Does Truancy Cause Social Problems?

Like many cities, Trenton, New Jersey has a Truancy prevention program. The City, The Trenton Police Department and the Trenton Public Schools cooperate to conduct daily truancy sweeps. If a school child is found on the street, he/she are apprehended by the police and brought to the truancy center. Parents then are called to pick up their child.

The justification for this program is that truancy causes many social problems. For instance, the Trenton Truancy Prevention Program notes that
95% of juvenile offenders started as truants. It then adds that truants:

Are more likely to join a gang running the risk of disease, injury or death.
Are more likely than other children to use marijuana, alcohol and hard drugs.
Are more likely to become pregnant and drop out of school.
Are more likely to have a low self-esteem, low aspirations, and educational failure.
Are more likely to be illiterate or have serious trouble reading.
Are more likely to engage in violent and criminal activities.

As regards the first point, 100% of juvenile offenders started out as babies. But starting life as a baby obviously does not cause a youngster to become a juvenile offender. And why should we assume that gang membership begins with truancy? It seems more likely that gang membership encourages truancy. The reasons kids join gangs are many and varied; but you can bet it rarely is caused by truancy. We might first take a look at broken families, for instance.

The same applies to using marijuana, alcohol and hard drug use. Sure truants might be more likely to engage in such behavior. But why assume truancy is the cause?

Are truants more likely to become pregnant and drop out of school? Probably, but here too truancy is an unlikely cause. Wanting to be loved is more likely. As to low self-esteem, low aspirations, and educational failure. they seem likely causes of truancy, rather than the other way around.

How about illiteracy and serious difficulties reading? Is truancy the cause? Isn't it more more reasonable to think that kids with serious reading difficulties are truant out of frustration? And so far as violence and criminal activities are concerned, those things are caused by the same long-neglected social problems that also cause truancy: poverty, broken homes, violent neighborhoods, lack of legitimate economic opportunity, and so forth.

A cardinal rule of research is that correlation is not causation. In other words, just because A correlates with B it does not necessarily mean that A causes B. That's the error underlying all of the Trenton Truancy Prevention Program's assertions. Perhaps they know better. Maybe, in the end, all these bogus claims are nothing more than a defense of the truant industry. But in any case, their claims are bogus.

Given all the problems created in schools by unmotivated, disruptive kids, maybe it's better to give up on compulsory education. After all, we can drag them kicking and screaming to school; but we can't make them learn once they are there. That requires effort on their part.

1 comment:

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