There is rioting in the streets of London, and now it’s spread across the ocean to Philadelphia as well. The London (and Philadelphia) riots seem to be about "getting stuff" that advertising and the media have seduced these kids into thinking they have a right to own.
The British are baffled by this. Theodore Dalrymple (a doctor who has worked in prisons) wrote, "A population thinks (because it has often been told so by intellectuals and the political class) that it is entitled to a high standard of consumption, irrespective of its personal efforts, and therefore it regards the fact that it does not receive that high standard, by comparison with the rest of society, as a sign of injustice." In the Telegraph, Allison Pearson wrote, "Where are the parents? The adults are afraid and the children, emboldened by adult timidity, are fearless."
What no one in the news has noticed is that these seem to be inspired by the "Arab Spring" youth riots in Middle Eastern countries. However, in places like Iran, Libya, Syria and Egypt, young people are protesting against tyrannical leaders and fighting for democracy.
In the Guardian, youth worker Shaun Bailey wrote, "Young people have been looting the shops they like: JD Sports and mobile phone shops have been hit, yet Waterstone’s (a bookstore chain) has been left alone. This is criminality in its raw form, not politics." The fact that bookstores haven’t been hit, indicates the a lack of education might be part of the problem. If I was going to go out and break windows so I could get into stores to steal things, armsfull of hardback books are the first thing I’d want.
In the Daily Mail, Max Hastings wrote, "The depressing truth is that at the bottom of our society is a layer of young people with no skills, education, values or aspirations."
We’ve had riots like this in the US in the past, in places like Detroit in 1967 and Los Angeles in 1992. I was living in Ann Arbor, a college town near Detroit, during the Detroit riots and the famous Swiss sculptor Claes Oldenberg happened to be a resident artist at the university there. A black friend of mine who drove him to Detroit so he could see them for himself said he sat in the back seat of the car with his face pressed up against the back window, staring at the mayhem in awe.
In New York City in the bad old days, before Giuliani and Bratton, a young woman was jogging in Central Park was set upon by a gang of kids who beat her almost to death. When they were arrested, their families and schools were shocked, and said that these were all "nice kids." In another dreadful Central Park incident, a middle-aged man who was biking in the park was casually murdered for his bicycle because three kids wanted to go bike riding and only two of them owned bikes, so the 3rd boy simply went out and killed for one.
The incident of the young women who was almost killed caused the media to coin the term "wilding" about this sort of ting, but this wasn’t actually the term the kids used. In earlier reports, one of them said they were "widing" (which was probably a mispronunciation of "wilding," showing that–despite the testimony of the schools they attended–their education was woefully lacking). I once volunteered in an organization that taught illiterate adults to read. One of our students even worked as a printer! The amazing thing about these grown-up students was that they had all graduated from high school, promoted from one grade to the next because they were too much trouble to bother with.
In those days, researchers were just beginning to learn about dyslexia, a condition that Whitley had as a kid. He remembers a nun in his elementary school sitting him on her lap and patiently holding his hand while he traced letters, again and again. This is a "cure" that’s still used today. Whitley still enjoys reading license plates backwards as we drive along.
In the biking incident, I remember reading the poignant testimony of a bystander, who rushed to the dying man’s side and held his hand while he expired. She wanted to send a message to his wife and said, "Please let her know that her husband didn’t die alone." She had the compassion to stay with a stranger during his time of need.
You can teach reading and math, but how can you teach compassion and consideration for others? We haven’t figured out how to do that yet.