Evaluating Broken Windows Theory

Broken Windows Theory suggests that high levels of physical disorder such as litter, graffiti, vandalism, or people engaged in Anti-Social Behaviour will result in higher crime rates. Broken Windows Theory is one aspect of the Right Realist approach to criminology

The evidence supporting Broken Windows Theory is somewhat mixed

This 2008 ‘£5 Note Theft and Social Disorder Experiment’ offers broad support for the theory…

In this (slightly bizarre sounding) experiment an envelope containing a £5 note was left poking out a letterbox, in such a way that the £5 note was easily visible. The researchers did this first of all with a tidy garden, and later on (similar time of day) with litter in the garden – on the first occasion 13% of people took the envelope, on the second, the percentage doubled to 25% – suggesting that signs of physical disorder such as littering encourage deviant behaviour.

broken windows theory

The experiment was actually a bit more complex – for the full details see the Keizer et al source below – this was also actually one of six experiments designed to test out Wilson and Kelling’s 1996 ‘broken windows theory’.

A second experiment, however, does not support broken windows theory…

Empirical results of the “Moving to Opportunity” program (reviewed in 2006) – a social experiment in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Baltimore and Boston did not support Broken Windows Theory. As part of the program, some 4,600 low-income families living in high-crime public housing communities—characterized by high rates of social disorder—were randomly assigned housing vouchers to move to less disadvantaged and less disorderly communities. Using official arrests and self-report surveys, the crime rates among those who moved and those who did not remained the same.

The problems with evaluating Broken Windows Theory

Wesley Skogan (see source below) identifies several reasons why Broken Windows theory is hard to evaluate – mainly focusing on how hard the theory is to operationalise:

  • Firstly, there are several different ways of defining ‘social disorder’ (litter, vandalism, antisocial behaviour) – so which do you choose?
  • Secondly it is difficult to measure levels of social disorder accurately – how do you actually measure how much disorder what type of littler represents – is one sofa in a garden worth 14 toffee wrappers, or what? And if you’re talking about anti-social behaviour, you can’t necessarily rely on public reports of it because sensitivity levels vary, and it’s just not practical to measure it using observational techniques.

For these reasons, the validity of broken windows theory is always likely to remain contested, and so it’s worth considering the possibility that it’s popularity could be more to do with ideological bias rather than being based any significant body of supporting evidence.

Further Reading

Keizer et al – The Spreading of Disorder – Science Express Report

More details on the Moving to Opportunity study

This chapter by Wesley Skogan identifies a number of reasons why Broken Windows Theory is difficult to evaluate

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ASBOs – Arguments For and Against

ASBOs are a form of Zero Tolerance crime control and have been in use in the UK since 1999 – below are a few examples of how they’re used. Read them through and consider the arguments for and against using them in each case…

An ASBO for shop lifting

In 2013 jobless single mother Jade Underwood received a CRASBO banning her from 80 stores because of her serial shoplifting. She also made neighbours’ lives a misery and verbally abused mothers taking children to a nearby school.

CRASBO.jpg

Shopkeepers and neighbours told how the 5ft menace treated shoplifting like a job and blighted their lives. One said she was such a problem that the local branch of Boots in Edgeley, Stockport, stopped putting make-up out on display.

Former neighbour John Duggan, 55, said Underwood had ‘absolutely no shame whatsover’.

‘She used to wear tracksuits and looked just like Vicky Pollard from the TV show [Little Britain],’ he said. ‘She is a little toad, she’s just horrible.

But Underwood posted a defiant message on Facebook, saying: ‘Heyy yah dont bring me down, least am famouse!! Yah all whata leve meh alone.’

An ASBO for Public drunkeness and Abusive Behaviour 

A Rhondda man who was banned from hospitals for two years in a landmark ASBO case in 2012 was placed on a second order, months after the first expired.

In 2012, Geoffrey Russell Thomas, 59, became the first person in Rhondda to be given a banning order from hospitals to curb his unacceptable drunken anti-social behaviour which included continued foul, abusive, threatening and drunken abuse of residents and hospital staff.

thomas

The new ASBO means he will have spent an almost-unbroken four years subject to an order which bans him from attending any hospital anywhere, unless it is in the case of a genuine emergency or pre-arranged appointment.

He is also banned from being drunk in a public place, using abusive or threatening language or behaviour towards any other person.

Paul Mee, head of public health and protection at RCT Council, oversees the Anti Social Behaviour Unit and its work.

He said: “The disproportionate nature of this man’s offending on the wider community, including the men and women who are employed to provide care for others, means we have no choice but to continue dealing with him robustly and effectively.

“Despite a two-year order banning him from doing so, he has continued to drunkenly abuse and threaten many people, including those who were trying to help him.

“He has clearly not learned his lesson and continues to act in an anti-social, drunken, threatening and abusive manner, so we will continue to protect the public and the frontline workers who have to deal with him from this unacceptable behaviour.”

An ASBO for playing loud country music 

From 2010 – A country and western music fan has vowed to keep listening to his favourite songs, despite admitting breaching anti-social behaviour laws.

Partially-deaf Michael O’Rourke, 51, of Peterhead, admitted breaching an anti-social behaviour order (Asbo) after complaints from neighbour. Dolly Parton is among Michael O’Rourke’s favourite artists

O’Rourke commented….

“My neighbours were just being vindictive… If you’re joined onto another house you’ve got to expect a bit of noise.”

He explained: “I play my music every day. Who doesn’t like music? I like country and western, 60s music, Scottish music. I also like some of the up-to-date stuff. Why should I stop listening to my favourite music just because of a few vindictive folk? I’ll never stop playing my vinyl.”

One former neighbour said: “I wasn’t sorry to see him go. He wasn’t the best of neighbours.”

 

An ASBO for Riding your Scooter on the Pavement?

In 2009 a woman criticised police after she was sent a letter about her 12-year-old son riding his push scooter on the pavement.

scooter
The letter told Vicki Richardson that if officers were called because her son, Thomas Read, was riding his scooter again he could be given an asbo.

She wrote to Hucknall Police Station in Nottingham about the letter as her son thought he would get into trouble for going out to play.

A police spokesman said the action was part of their policy to control anti-social behaviour.

For more examples of ‘dubious’ ASBOs check out ‘Statewatch‘.

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Evaluating Rational Choice Theory and Routine Activities Theory

To what extent can Rational Choice Theory and Routine Activities Theory explain recent trends in property crime?

Rational Choice Theorists argue that, all other things being equal, crime will be greater in those areas where there is more opportunity to commit crime with little risk of being caught and/ or punished.

In Rational Choice Theory, criminals are held to make rational (logical) decisions about whether or not to commit a crime – they weigh up the costs and benefits of getting caught and if a target is not protected enough, and if the perceived reward of doing crime outweighs the risk of getting caught, crime will happen.

Routine activities theory builds on Rational Choice theory, pointing out that most crimes are petty theft and go unreported to the police. Crime is generally not spectacular or dramatic, it is not only committed by ‘feral youths’ or ‘unhinged maniacs’ – most crime is mundane and happens as a routine part of life, and most of us engage in it.
Together, Rational Choice and Routine Activities theory help to explain the most common (if not the most dramatic) types of crime, and also offer us relatively easy solutions to crime in the form of situational crime prevention and zero tolerance policing.

Together these two theories seem to explain crimes such as petite theft and even more serious corporate crimes because of the ease of opportunity and low risk of getting caught.
This theory better explains instrumental (means-ends) crimes rather than expressive (emotional) crimes.

An example of an instrumental crimes include petite thefts such as shop lifting, illegal downloading of music, motoring offences such as drink-driving, fly-tipping, thefts from work, tax evasion, and most frauds including many corporate crimes

The theories don’t necessarily explain crimes involving emotion and lack of rational thinking without being concerned of future consequences, such as non pre-mediated murder such as manslaughter, and assault.

With other crimes, such as domestic violence, it is difficult to assess the extent to which the theory may be applied because it is difficult to assess the extent to which the crime is planned or purely emotional.

It seems fair to evaluate these theories by looking at the types of crime they best explain – namely property crimes, and below I just focus on the extent to which these theories can explain the medium term decrease in property crimes since 1995. 

The Relative Decrease in Property Crime since 1995

Trends in Property Crime - Crime Survey of England and Wales

Trends in Property Crime – Crime Survey of England and Wales

The Office For National Statistics identifies seven existing theories/ pieces of evidence for why property crime has fallen. Read them through and consider how many of them support Rational Choice Theory. 

ONE – The rise in the use of the internet has roughly coincided with falls in crime 

In 1995, use of the internet was not widespread. As it became more popular, it may have helped to occupy young people’s time when they may otherwise have turned to crime. Farrell et al., 2011 suggests the internet also provides more opportunity for online crime – which possibly explains the increase in Fraud in recent years, although this may be down to improvements in detection and recording of this offence.

TWO – Reduced consumption of drugs and alcohol is likely to have resulted in a drop in offending

A 2014 Home Office research paper ‘The heroin epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s and its effect on crime trends – then and now’ supports the notion that the changing levels of opiate and crack-cocaine use have affected acquisitive crime trends in England and Wales, potentially explaining over half of the rise in crime in the 1980s to mid-1990s and between a quarter and a third of the fall in crime since the mid-1990s. (Bunge et al., 2005).

THREE – Significant improvements in forensic and other crime scene investigation techniques and record keeping

Advancements in areas such as fingerprinting and DNA testing may have led to a reduction in crime.perceived risk to offenders may have increased, inducing a deterrent effect (Explaining and sustaining the crime drop: Clarifying the role of opportunity-related theories, Farrell et al., 2010).

FOUR – The increase in abortions

The ONS also site this classic study by Levitt et al – which suggested that the introduction of legalised abortion on a wide number of grounds in the US meant that more children who might have been born into families in poverty or troubled environments and be more prone to get drawn into criminality, would not be born and therefore be unable to commit these crimes (The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime, Donohue and Levitt, 2001).

FIVE – Changes (real or perceived) in technology and infrastructure.

This includes an increase in the use of situational crime prevention technieques such as CCTV, which may act as deterrents to committing crime (CCTV has modest impact on crime, Welsh and Farrington, 2008). 

SIX – Longer Prison Sentences

The impacts of longer prison sentences and police activity on reducing crime, particularly property crimes, are likely to act as deterrents (Acquisitive Crime: Imprisonment, Detection and Social Factors, Bandyopadhyay et al., 2012).

SEVEN – Target Hardening

Increased quality of building and vehicle security is also likely to have been a factor in the reduction in property crime. This concept of ‘target-hardening’ which makes targets (that is, anything that an offender would want to steal or damage) more resistant to attack is likely to deter offenders from committing crime (Opportunities, Precipitators and Criminal Decisions: A reply to Wortley’s critique of situational crime prevention, Cornish and Clarke, 2003).

Findings from the CSEW add some evidence which may support this, indicating that alongside the falls in property crime, there were also improvements in household and vehicle security. Since 1995, there have been statistically significant increases in the proportion of households in the 2014/15 CSEW with:

  • Window locks (up 21 percentage points from 68% to 89% of households)
  • Light timers/sensors (up 16 percentage points from 39% to 55% of households)
  • Burglar alarms (up 11 percentage points from 20% to 31% of households)

The ONS also notes that it does not endorse any one of the theories over the others and that many of these theories are contested and subject to continuing discussion and debate.

NB – Just because most of the above theories seem to offer broad support for RTC and RAT theories, doesn’t mean there aren’t other factors that need to be considered when explaining the decrease in property crime.

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Crime and Deviance Exam Practice Questions (10 markers)

The ten mark question on crime and deviance in the A Level Sociology Crime and Deviance/ Theory and Methods paper will ask you outline and analyse something. Below are a few exemplars (well, one for now, more to follow!) I knocked up, which should get you 10 marks in the exam… 

My suggested strategy for answering these 10 mark questions is to make two points which are as different from each other as possible and then try to develop each point two to three times. You don’t have to evaluate each point, but it’s good practise to put a brief evaluation at the end, but don’t spend too long on this, focus more on the development (which is basically analysis)

Question: Outline and analyse two reasons for the formation of subcultures (10)

Point 1 – Consensus theorist Albert Cohen suggested status frustration was the root cause of subculture formation.

According to Cohen deviant subcultures are a working class problem – working class boys try hard in school, and fail, meaning they fail to gain status (recognition/ respect) – these boys find each other and form a deviant group, whereby they gain status within the group by being deviant – by doing things which are against the rules – for example bunking lessons – and the further you go, the more status you get. 

Another Consensus theory which we could apply here is underclass theory – Charles Murray would argue that lower class boys fail at school because their parents don’t work and fail to socialise them into a good work-ethic, hence offering a deeper ‘structural cause’ of why subcultures are more likely to form among the lower social classes.

Hence applying these two consensus theories together, the process goes something like this – and individual is born into the underclass – they are not socialised into a work ethic – they fail at school – they get frustrated – they find similar working/ underclass boys – they gain status by being deviant.

A Problem with this theory is that it blames the working class for their own failure, Marxism criticises consensus theory because the ‘root cause’ of subcultures is the marginalisation of working class youth due to Capitalism.

Point 2 – Interactionists would point to negative labelling as the root cause of subculture formation

According to Howard Becker, teachers have an image of an ‘ideal pupil’ who is middle class – working class pupils don’t fit this image – they dress differently and have different accents, and so teachers have lower expectations of them – they thus don’t push them as hard as middle class students – over the years this results in a self fulfilling prophecy where working class students are more likely to decide they are failures and thus think that school is not for them – It is this disaffection which results in subculture formation.

David Gilborn further applied this idea to the formation of subcultures among African-Caribbean students – according to Gilborn teachers believed black students to be more disruptive and thus were more likely to pick them up for deviant behaviour in class, while White and Asian students were ignored – this marginalised black students who when on to develop anti-school subcultures as a form of resistance against perceived racism.

In contrast to subcultural theory, in labelling theory it is the authorities who are to blame for the emergence of subcultures, rather than the deviant youths themselves.

A criticism of labelling theory is that it is deterministic – not everyone accepts their labels, so not every negative label leads to a subculture.

This should be sufficient to get you 10/ 10. 

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Grammar Schools – Arguments For and Against

Grammar schools have been in the news this week – Theresa May’s plans to reintroduce grammar schools is actually one of the most unpopular policies in her party  but despite this opposition, and more opposition from nearly everyone who knows anything about education, she seems hell-bent on bringing the grammar school back into the state system, so it looks like we’re going back to selective state education.

Hands up – I went to a state grammar school in Kent – so I’m a living, breathing example of someone from a working class background who benefited from a state-grammar education.

And get  this for a ‘school motto’ – ‘Knowledge is a steep which few may climb, while duty is path which all must tread’ (talk about hegemonic!) 

Despite appreciating the leg-up, I’m not so sure it’s a good idea to expand grammar schools nation wide, despite widespread parental support for the policy.

What are grammar schools?

In short, they are schools which focus on providing an academic education based on selection by ability, typically through an entrance test at the age of 11.

The term ‘scholas grammaticales’ was first use in the 1500s when monarchs, nobles and merchants founded schools for ‘poor scholars’. In Tudor times, pupils were taught to read and speak Latin by learning classical texts from heart. School days spanned from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. and boys caught speaking in English were punished.

The big expansion of grammar schools came with the 1944 Butler Education Act, which launched the tripartite system – every pupil sat an IQ test at the age of 11 which determined which of three types of school they went to for the next 4-5 years –

  • Grammar schools were established for those ‘interested in learning for its own sake’
  • Technical schools for those ‘whose abilities lie markedly in the field of applied science or art’
  • Secondary modern schools for those who ‘deal more easily with concrete things and ideas’.

There was supposed to be ‘parity of esteem’ between these three types of school – which means difference but equal in principle.

How successful was the system?

Basically it was great if you were one of the 20% pupils who made it into a grammar school,  which tended to have a public school type ethos and prepared students for ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels, there is also  a commonly held view that these schools offered a ‘ladder of opportunity’ to bright, working class students, although this may be a comforting myth, rather than the reality (see below).

On balance, there seem to be more failings of the tripartite system:

  1. There was no parity of esteem because the secondary moderns were poorly resourced and pupils were taught a watered down curriculum.
  2. The system branded anyone who attended a secondary modern as a failure from the age of 11.
  3. The 11+ didn’t measure intelligence – it was easy to coach children to get higher scores, which benefited the middle classes.
  4. There was no equality of opportunity – In the 1940s and 50s few secondary modern pupils took public exams and when they started to take them, they were typically limited to CSE exams rather than O levels.

Why was the Tripartite System Abolished?

The county of Leicestershire was the first to experiment with a new comprehensive system in 1957, to placate the parents of children who had failed the 11+, and by the late 1950s, there was mounting evidence that the 11+ was a flawed measure of intelligence and that secondary moderns provided a sub-standard of education.

In 1965 the then Labour government issued a circular requesting that all Local Education Authorities abolish  the 11+ and move to a non-selective, comprehensive system – effectively meaning they had to abolish grammar and secondary moderns and establish comprehensives.

However, it was only in 1976 that Labour brought in an education act that formally required all counties to go fully Comprehensive.

How did some grammar schools survive? 

Some local authorities dragged their feet and clung on until the Tory election victory of 1979, when Thatcher repealed the 1976 act. England today has 164 state grammar schools – Kent is one of the few which is wholly selective.

Arguments for reintroducing grammar schools 

  1. Proponents say they will provided a ladder of opportunity for poor, bright kids.
  2. Possibly the best argument – we’d see the withering away of private schools – whose going to pay £10K a year when you can get a similar quality of education for free?
  3. Comprehensives are not good enough – we need more, quality education to prepare our brightest kids to compete in a global job market.
  4. We already have selection by mortgage, grammar schools may help remedy this.
  5. There is strong parental support for more grammars.

Arguments against grammar schools

  1. Number 1 is a myth – the reason so many bright working class kids seemed to benefit from a grammar school education in the 1960s was because of a change in the class structure at that time – basically the decline of working class jobs and the increase in middle class jobs meant there was more opportunity to go up the class ladder. This no longer applied.
  2. It’s unfair on those who don’t get into them.
  3. The 11+ favours those who can afford private tuition – so all we’re going to see is the reproduction of class inequality, then again, if we have quotas, this may not be the case (fat chance of that actually happening fairly though?)
  4. Standards are currently improving, so do we need to disrupt schools AGAIN with ANOTHER policy upheaval?

 

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Joel Spring – Education Networks: Power, Wealth, Cyberspace and The Digital Mind

A summary of one thread within this excellent book….

The DFES (2013) has an overwhelmingly positive view of the future role of ICT in schools and colleges, noting that it has transformed other sectors, that parents and pupils expect it, and that pupils need ICT to equip them with future-work skills. In DFES literature, digital media seems to be presented as a neutral technology through which individual students can be empowered, with emphasis on the benefits such technology can bring to schools, such as more personalised learning, better feedback, a richer resource base and the possibility of extending the learning day. This discourse further constructs not only technologically reticent staff and lack of access to ICT resources as a potential problem, but also centralised government itself, with the forthcoming renewal of the ICT curriculum being fully endorsed and authored by Google, Microsoft, and IBM, with the vision being that 16 year olds will be able to write their own apps by the age of 161.

There are, however, those who are skeptical about the neutrality ICT, the claimed inevitability of its expansion and the supposed benefits of the increasing digitisation of education. One such skeptic is Sociologist Joel Spring who, in a recent book, Education Networks: Power, Wealth, Cyberspace and The Digital Mind, draws our attention to the increasing control of education systems around the world by global corporations, a process which he refers to as Educational Corporatism.

The Nature and Extent of Global Educational Corporatism

According to Spring, a global shadow elite network is responsible for encouraging the growth of Information Communications Technology in state education programs in the USA and increasingly in other countries, something which is unsurprising given that the global education market is a $7 trillion industry, greater than the value of every other information industry combined (WEF 2014).

This network consists of a relatively small number of IT and communications company executives who have close links with senior policy makers in governments, who together have overseen an increase in the use of ICT for the surveillance and education of students. Spring characterises this network as a ‘Flexnet’ because the key actors, or ‘Flexians’, move between government departments and education, media and ICT companies, spending a few years working respectively for one government department before moving to an ICT corporation, and then back to the public sector to spearhead technological initiatives drawing on their corporate contacts to do so, and finally moving back to a more senior Corporate role, supposedly to take advantage of the profits generated from said initiatives.

The Corporate takeover of New York City’s Schools

The means whereby Flexians within the global shadow elite operate is illustrated by the Corporate takeover of New York City Schools.

In 2001 billionaire and superlcass ICT mogul Michael Bloomberg was elected mayor of New York City. After lobbying for and gaining control of New York schools, Bloomberg appointed as school chancellor Joel Klein, a lawyer from another ICT conglomerate, Bertelsmann. Technically Klein lacked the legal requirements to head NYC schools, but this requirement was waived by the state commissioner for education.

Klein initiated changes that centred on student testing and data collection (echoed in education ministries around the world). To aid in this, he contracted with the company Wireless Generation to use their ‘ARIS’ system of data collection and management. Klein then left his position as chancellor to become executive vice president at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which bought 90% of Wireless Generation for $360 million.

In addition to the above, while Klein was chancellor, Murdoch’s New York Post also supported Klein’s efforts to establish more charter schools and undermine protection for teachers.

The Global Neoliberal Agenda for Education

At a global level, the shadow elite influence governments through The World Economic Forum and The United Nations, which both voice considerable optimism about the future role of ICT in meeting the world’s educational needs in the future. As an example of this optimism, Spring points to The World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report 2010-11, authored by prominent members of the Shadow Elite.

Where education is concerned, the report anticipates ‘Transformation 2.0′, a process in which educational institutions will make increasing use of analytic software tools which convert data into actionable insights. This not only means the now well established use of data on students’ past test results to predict the probability of their passing or failing certain subjects and then directing resources more efficiently to those in need, but the report also predicts the increasing use of ‘data exhaust’, or more qualitative information collected on students throughout their school careers, for the same purposes which in the future might mean increasing surveillance of the number of and length of virtual interactions students make each term in in order to inform educational interventions.

Individual schools and universities do not possess the resources to develop and maintain the kind of software required to collect and collate such ‘Big Data’, so ‘transformation 2.0 might see educational institutions becoming locked into long-term data-analytics contracts with global ICT companies: The future of education might be one where schools do the teaching at a national level but informed by data analysis carried out by global corporations using global data sets.

The WEF report makes several other recommendations:

  • To use ICT to make education more engaging and better suited to the needs of each student through making greater use of data analytics and what Spring calls ‘edutainment’ software, which special emphasis being given to promoting STEM subjects.
  • To better link technology to assessment.
  • To support access to online instruction in and out of school.
  • To increase ‘productivity’ in the education sector: ICT is seen as a relatively const-efficient means whereby schools can accelerate student progress, rather than employing more teachers.

According to Spring’s analysis this vision is ideological and it represents a global Neoliberal agenda for the progressive privatisation of education through governments spending more public money on data analytics, online instruction and assessment delivered by global ICT corporations. It is already the norm in the US for IT and communications companies to develop educational software which are provided to schools for a profit, a practice which the ICT elite wishes to see replicated in other parts of the world.

The ICT Shadow Elite’s ambitions are not limited to developed countries, they are also targeting the education sectors of developing countries, and as an an example of this Spring cites the Microsoft-UNESCO agreement established in 2009 regarding ICT and Higher Education. As part of this agreement, Microsoft offered £50 million of ‘seed money’ to introduce a range of educational technologies to a number of countries – such as DreamSpark, MicrosoftLive@edu, Digital Literacy Curriculum, and The Microsoft IT Academy Program. Spring’s theory is that such an initial seeding will reap dividends in the future as public education sectors expand they will spend increasing sums of money on upgrading software and buying related ICT educational products from Microsoft in future years.

Potential Problems with Increasing Educational Corporatism

Spring points to several possible negative consequences of global companies effectively having more control over national education systems.

Firstly, this is likely to further reduce educational management to the employment of data mining and analysis to predict how student test scores and graduation rates relate to social characteristic information and identifying which limited interventions can be made to improve examination results, with the effectiveness of teachers further reduced to how efficiently they can enhance these measurable results.

Secondly, it is likely that there will be an increasing level of control of knowledge by ICT corporations. The concern here is that this will lead to the further standardisation of knowledge into a form which can be easily assessed through technology, which potentially means preferencing quantifiable knowledge over more qualitative and critical knowledge which require more human intervention to asses. In addition to this, schools are increasingly likely to be seen as institutions whose job it is to provide a 21st century workforce for ICT firms, meaning the preferencing of STEM, ICT and business related courses.

Thirdly, the corollary of greater control being handed to global ICT corporations is declining autonomy of individual schools and teachers. This actually seems to be an explicit goal of the global shadow elite: the WEF (2011) states that the main barrier to extending technology in is ‘human’, with ICT, rather than more teacher-time being (quite literally) sold as the most effective means to personalise learning in order to meet the needs of each learner.

Another idea which potentially undermines teachers which is widely publicised by prominent Flexian Bill Gates is that we should have least one good course online for all subjects rather than lots of mediocre ones. This idea seems both sensible and inevitable but its manifestation might come in the form of a core of highly skilled experts constructing corporate-approved online content for a global education market, with for-profit companies responsible for managing testing and tutoring replacing much of the work teachers currently do.

A final possible consequence is an increasing inequality of educational provision. As governments struggle with finances in the age of ideological driven Neoliberal austerity, it might be that cash strapped schools move towards providing online only tuition for some courses while students at better managed and funded schools retain more formal ICT-supported lessons. This is precisely what happened in Florida in 2010-11 when 7000 students in Miami-Dade county were placed in virtual classrooms in order to beat the state’s class size mandate, which specified a maximum of 25 students per class, but did not apply to virtual classrooms.

Conclusion:

While the increasing use of ICT in education appears to offer many benefits, such as enhanced personalisation of learning and increased teacher productivity, the importance of Spring’s analysis lies in reminding us that while technology itself is neutral, the way in which it is deployed is not given the corporate networks and which are currently lobbying for the further digitisation of state education, and the neoliberal agenda of which this is a part.

At present it is difficult to see how anything can halt the spread of Educational Corporatism: there is a clear demand from today’s students and their parents for digitised education and global ICT corporations are clearly well positioned to play an increasing role in the delivery and management of virtual learning environments; and with further government cuts likely, the viritualising of learning seems an obvious way to save money in the education sector by reducing the number teachers.

Whether or not the future of education will be one of reduced teacher autonomy with for-profit Corporations having greater control over national curriculums and thus even more access to students, and what the effects of this will be remain to be seen.

Bibliography 

C. Paucek et al (2014) Chapter 8: Online Education: From Novely to Necessity, in World Economic Foundation: Education and Skills 2.0: New Targets and Innovative Approaches. Geneva: Switzerland.

DFES (2013): Digital Technology in Schools. http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/curriculum/a00201823/digital-technology-in-schools accessed 16/01/2104, updated 18 October 2013. Archived at http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130123124929/http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/curriculum/a00201823/digital-technology-in-schools

Spring, J (2012) Education Networks: Power, Wealth, Cyberspace and The Digital Mind. New York: Routldege. Kindle Edition.

WEF (2011) The Global Information Technology Report 2010-11: Transformations 2.0

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White Working Class Underachievement

A recent parliamentary report has found that poor white boys and girls do worse in schools than children in other ethnic groups.

How much worse do poor white children do?

The report uses students who received free school meals (FSM children) as an indicator of poverty:

  • 32% of FSM white British children get five good GSCEs, compared to…
  • 42% of FSM Black Caribbean children
  • 62% of FSM Indian children
  • 77% of FSM Chinese children

The achievement gap between poor white children and rich white children is much larger than the corresponding gap between poor and rich children from other minority groups, and the gap widens as white children get older.

How has educational performance changed over time?

The achievement rates of poor white kids has actually improved signficantly in the last decade – in 2008 only 15% of white pupils on Free School Meals got 5 good GCSEs, which has now doubled – the problem is that pupils from more affluent backgrounds have also improved, meaning the ‘achievement gap’ has stayed the same for white kids – today 65% of better off white children get 5 good GCSEs compared to only 32% of FSM white children, meaning a and achievement gap of 33%.

This trend is different for ethnic minorities – poor minority children have closed the gap on their wealthier counterparts. For Indian and black students the gap between rich and poor is only 15%, and for Chinese students it is 1.4%.

This has led some to conclude that there must be cultural differences influencing the way poor white British children approach their education.

Do Cultural Differences Explain why White Working Class Underachievement?

The cliche is that the children of immigrant parents are put under greater pressure to study, and the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England suggests some supporting evidence for this view:

White working class boys and girls are more likely to have anti-school attitudes than other minority groups, they play truant less, and they spend less time doing homework – an average of 2.54 evenings a week compared to 3.13 for black African and 3.29 for Indian children.

There is less support for the idea that white working class parents and their children lack aspiration – For a start, 57% of British people identify themselves as working class, while it is only the 12.5% on Free School Meals who are doing very badly at school – so it is more a case of there being pockets of underachievement rather than the whole of the working class underachieving.

There is also evidence that working class children, especially young children, have high ambitions.

Schools (and leadership) Can Make a Difference

There are plenty examples of academies which have been set up in deprived areas which have helped local working class kids get good GCSE results.

In 2003 New Labour launched ‘The London Challenge’ to drive up standards, and invested £80 million in leadership, targeting failing schools – about 80% of schools in London now have ‘outstanding leadership’ according to OFSTED and 50% of children in London on Free School Meals get 5 good GCSEs, irrespective of ethnicity.

The problem is that this initiative might not work outside of London – London has a prosperous economy which makes it easier to attract the best leaders and teachers, and also benefits from the positive impact of immigrant families.

The Geographical Aspect to Underachievement 

In 2013 the chief inspector of schools, Michael Wilshaw, identified a geographical shift in educational underachievement – away from big cities and crowded, densely packed neighbourhoods, to deprived coastal towns and rural, less populous parts of the country.

Such towns suffer from fragile, seasonal economies, an inability to attract good staff, a lack of jobs for young people, and scant opportunities for higher education – all of which contributes to a vicious cycle of underachievement, perpetuated further by the ‘brain drain’ – anyone that does get qualifications leaves because there are no opportunities to use them in the local area.

In such areas, simply building swish new academies don’t seem to be enough to improve results – In 2005, the so-called worst performing school in the country, Ramsgate School, was transformed into the new, £30 million Marlowe Academy. SIx years later, it fell into special measures.

Summarised from ‘The Week’, 2nd August 2014. 

 

 

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Foucault – Surveillance and Crime Control

Michel Foucault is one of the most influential sociological thinkers of the last half century. One of his key contributions to criminology is his focus on how the nature of crime control has shifted from using the threat of violence and the fear of being physically punished to control through surveillance – fear of being seen to be doing something wrong.

Punishment has changed from being a violent public spectacle (such as hanging) to being hidden away, behind closed doors. It has also changed from being swift and physical, done on the body, to being more drawn out and psychological – punishment today is typically about changing the mind and the soul.

This reflects a change in how power is exercised in society – we have moved away from what Foucault called ‘sovereign power’ – which is control through the threat of force, to ‘disciplinary power’ – which is control through the monitoring and surveillance of populations.

Sovereign power was typical of the period before the 18th century when the monarch had power over people and their bodies, and thus inflicting punishment directly on the body was the means of asserting control.

Foucault illustrates the use of sovereign power by describing a particularly gruesome execution which took place in 1757, which forms the introduction to his classic book ‘discipline and punish’ (see appendix below).

Foucault points out that by the end of the 18th century this type of extreme public punishment no longer took place, instead punishment took place in prisons, behind closed doors and there was more of an attempt by authorities to control and reform criminals through the use of timetables and other interventions such as educational programmes.

Foucault argues that disciplinary power evolved significantly in the late 19th century with Jeremy Bentham’s new design of prison known as the panopticon – which consisted of a central observational tower and prison cells arranged around it in such a way that the prisoners could potentially be under observation at any time, but could not see whether they were being observed or not. Because of this, prisoners had to self-monitor their behaviour so that, in effect, they ended up disciplining themselves as a result of being under constant surveillance (or because they were subjected to disciplinary power in strict Foucauldian terms)

The significance of Foucault (the important bit)

Foucault argues that the use of disciplinary power has extend everywhere in society – it is not only in prisons that disciplinary power (surveillance) is used to control people; and it is not only criminals who are subjected to disciplinary power.

Disciplinary power (surveillance) is now everywhere and everyone is subjected to it – the most obvious examples are the use of CCTV in public spaces; but disciplinary power is also at work in schools – through the use of electronic registers and reports; we can see it in workplaces – through the use of performance monitoring; and we can even see it in our personal lives – both pregnancy and childhood are highly monitored by health care professionals and social workers for example, and most of us just accept this as normal.

Most people now obey the rules because they know they are being watched – they regulate their own behaviour for fear of becoming the wrong kind of person – a failing student, an unproductive worker, a bad mother, an obese-person, for example.

NB – This is quintessentially sociological – it is only in very recent human history that we have become so obsessed with monitoring every aspect of our daily-lives, and one of Foucault’s points is that this constant surveillance doesn’t necessarily improve our lives – there are both winners and losers.

Appendix: An extract from the beginning of Michel Foucault’s ‘Discipline and Punish’

On 2 March 1757 Damiens the regicide was condemned “to make the amende honorable before the main door of the Church of Paris”, where he was to be “taken and conveyed in a cart, wearing nothing but a shirt, holding a torch of burning wax weighing two pounds”; then, “in the said cart, to the Place de Grève, where, on a scaffold that will be erected there, the flesh will be torn from his breasts, arms, thighs and calves with red-hot pincers, his right hand, holding the knife with which he committed the said parricide, burnt with sulphur, and, on those places where the flesh will be torn away, poured molten lead, boiling oil, burning resin, wax and sulphur melted together and then his body drawn and quartered by four horses and his limbs and body consumed by fire, reduced to ashes and his ashes thrown to the winds” (Pièces originales…, 372-4).

“Finally, he was quartered,” recounts the Gazette d’Amsterdam of 1 April 1757. “This last operation was very long, because the horses used were not accustomed to drawing; consequently, instead of four, six were needed; and when that did not suffice, they were forced, in order to cut off the wretch’s thighs, to sever the sinews and hack at the joints…
Bouton, an officer of the watch, left us his account: “The sulphur was lit, but the flame was so poor that only the top skin of the hand was burnt, and that only slightly. Then the executioner, his sleeves rolled up, took the steel pincers, which had been especially made for the occasion, and which were about a foot and a half long, and pulled first at the calf of the right leg, then at the thigh, and from there at the two fleshy parts of the right arm; then at the breasts. Though a strong, sturdy fellow, this executioner found it so difficult to tear away the pieces of flesh that he set about the same spot two or three times, twisting the pincers as he did so, and what he took away formed at each part a wound about the size of a six-pound crown piece.

“After these tearings with the pincers, Damiens, who cried out profusely, though without swearing, raised his head and looked at himself; the same executioner dipped an iron spoon in the pot containing the boiling potion, which he poured liberally over each wound. Then the ropes that were to be harnessed to the horses were attached with cords to the patient’s body; the horses were then harnessed and placed alongside the arms and legs, one at each limb.

“The horses tugged hard, each pulling straight on a limb, each horse held by an executioner. After a quarter of an hour, the same ceremony was repeated and finally, after several attempts, the direction of the horses had to be changed, thus: those at the arms were made to pull towards the head, those at the thighs towards the arms, which broke the arms at the joints. This was repeated several times without success. He raised his head and looked at himself. Two more horses had to be added to those harnessed to the thighs, which made six horses in all. Without success.

“After two or three attempts, the executioner Samson and he who had used the pincers each drew out a knife from his pocket and cut the body at the thighs instead of severing the legs at the joints; the four horses gave a tug and carried off the two thighs after them, namely, that of the right side first, the other following; then the same was done to the arms, the shoulders, the arm-pits and the four limbs; the flesh had to be cut almost to the bone, the horses pulling hard carried off the right arm first and the other afterwards.

“When the four limbs had been pulled away, the confessors came to speak to him; but his executioner told them that he was dead, though the truth was that I saw the man move, his lower jaw moving from side to side as if he were talking. One of the executioners even said shortly afterwards that when they had lifted the trunk to throw it on the stake, he was still alive. The four limbs were untied from the ropes and thrown on the stake set up in the enclosure in line with the scaffold, then the trunk and the rest were covered with logs and faggots, and fire was put to the straw mixed with this wood.

“…In accordance with the decree, the whole was reduced to ashes. The last piece to be found in the embers was still burning at half-past ten in the evening. The pieces of flesh and the trunk had taken about four hours to burn. The officers of whom I was one, as also was my son and a detachment of archers remained in the square until nearly eleven o’clock.

 

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Cultural Criminology – Crime as ‘Edgework’

Cultural Criminologists argue the exact opposite of Right Realism who focus on the ordinary motivations and repetitiveness of much crime. Instead, they stress the highly emotional nature of crime – instead of what the criminals will gain, these researchers are interested in how committing the crime actually makes people feel. The focus of cultural criminologists is on the thrill of the act – it can offer a brief escape from an otherwise grey emotional existence. They argue there is an intoxicating mix of fear and pleasure that often accompanies risk taking.

According to these theorists, crime is not a rational mundane activity, where costs and benefits are weighed up. Rather it is a reaction against the mundane. It is a time when those involved momentarily experience status, excitement and even some control over their own lives, which are otherwise characterised by feelings of worthlessness and insecurity.

Two Postmodern thinkers associated with this point of view are Katz and Lyng. Katz (1988) argues that people get drawn into crime because it is seductive, because it is thrilling. Postmodernists interpret this simply as part of a postmodern society which calls on us to enjoy our leisure time – crime is one means whereby some people do just that – this is very much the feeling of many people who took part in the London Riots in 2011.

Lyng (1990) developed the concept of ‘edgework’ – by this he meant that crime was a means whereby people could get a thrill by engaging in risk-taking behaviour – going right to the edge of acceptable behaviour, and challenging the rules of what is acceptable. Again, we can see this very much as an outgrowth of a postmodern society which encourages and rewards risk-taking behaviour.

The risks involved in law breaking act as a challenge, and crime is carried out precisely because the rules are in place. Cultural criminologists argue that most young offenders do not set out on their escapades assessing the chances that they will be arrested, and this is why the steady increase in control in culture over our lives (CCTV, ASBOs, anti-terrorist legislation and creation of new offences) does nothing to deter, but actually creates more law breaking as they are faced with more ‘thrilling’ challenges.

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Food Inc – A Summary

This is a Superb documentary which demonstrates the downsides of the industrialisation of the food system in the USA.

It is relevant to the following areas of Global Development within A level Sociology.

  • Illustrating the downsides of Industrialisation

  • Illustrating unfair trade rules (corn is subsidised in America)

  • Illustrating the downsides of forced neoliberalisation

  • Illustrating the incredible power of Transnational Corporations in America and the negative consequences of them controlling the food chain ‘from seed to supermarket’.

  • There is also one example (the local farmer guy) of People Centred Development

  • Illustrating the limitations of western models of development

Scene One – Food Inc.

The Film starts by outlining the unrealities of the modern American supermarket, where there are no seasons and the meat has no bones. Then a bold statement – there is a deliberate veil drawn over the realities of the food production chain, which is basically a factory system, an industrialised system. The rest of the documentary is devoted to outlining the downsides of this system.

Scene Two – Fast Food for All

It’s suggested that the move towards an industrial food system started with McDonald’s – when the McDonald brothers got rid of their waitresses and invented the drive through to cut costs, it caught on massively and McDonald’s and other fast food outlets expanded, and so did the mass demand for standardised food products.

McDonald’s is now the largest purchaser of Beef in America and one of the largest purchasers of potatoes, tomatoes and even apples, and of course corn-syrup (and hence corn). It was the demand for large volumes of standardised food goods that led to a concentration of food production into massive farms and factories.

Such is the concentration that only four companies now control 80% of the beef packing market, with similar concentrations in other food sectors, so even if you don’t eat in a fast food restaurant you’re probably eating products produced by the same system, by the same food companies. One company name to look out for in particular is Tyson!

Tyson, which is the largest food production company in the world has redesigned the chicken – so it grows in half the time it used to, and has larger breasts. It has also redesigned the chicken farmer and the whole process of chicken farming.

The video now takes the inevitable trip to the battery farm – where hideous abuses take place, most all IMO for the chicken farmers who are kept in debt by Tyson because Tyson keeps demanding they upgrade to new systems. Keeping chickens in abusive conditions is very actually very expensive!

Scene Three – A Cornucopia of Choices

Starts with an interview with the most excellent Michael Pollen – ‘The idea that you need to write a book about where our food comes from shows you the scale of the problem’.

There are only a few companies involved and only a few food products involved, and much of our industrial food turns out to be clever rearrangements of corn… Ketchup, Peanut butter, Coke, and even batteries contain corn derivatives.

So important is corn that even though yields have increased from 20 to 200 bushels of wheat an acre, 30% of the US land base is planted to corn – which is subsidised which in turn leads to over production. Subsidies are in place because the big food TNCs (Tyson and Cargill) want cheap corn, and they have the ears of the government (no pun intended).

There is a transport network which transports corn to CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Farming Operations) where thousands of cattle are kept standing in their own manure until they are slaughtered.

The fact that cattle are now fed corn rather than grass has created the conditions in their stomachs for e.coli to breed, this comes out in manure, and because cattle in CAFOs all live close together shit is transferred between them and it spreads and gets in the food chain and to the consumer

Scene Four – Unintended Consequences

Which ends up with children dying.

In the movie we are persistently shown how food is farmed along factory lines – we go to the inevitable battery chicken factory and processing plants, massive corn fields and CAFO’s – or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations – where thousands of cattle are farmed together, literally standing in their own shit all day, before being slaughtered.

NB this is very different to how food is marketed to Americans – It is marketed in a very misleading way with images of small scale farmers out in the open air with their free range animals. (NB if you’ve never thought of the concept of ‘industrialisation’ as being applicable to food production as well as to the manufacturing of goods then this shows how good a job the food industry has done with its marketing!).

The reason given for this industrialisation/ rationalisation of the food system is the profit motive – It’s cheaper to mass produce things, which is something demanded by the handful of companies who control the entire food chain in the US and require standardised food products for mass distribution.

Costs are further kept low because the American government subsidises corm production so that it can be sold for less than the cost of producing it. Corn is the main constituent of animal feed today, so cheap corn = cheap meat.

This industrialisation of agriculture has several downsides:

  1. EXPLOITATION and ABUSE of animals – we see several images of animals being kept in atrocious conditions and dying.

  2. Exploitation of workers – battery farm owners are paid very little, and the often illegal migrant workers who pack chickens even less.

  3. The spread of diseases and health problems linked to animals being kept in appalling conditions. Includes children dying of E.coli, and the companies responsible being allowed to carry on producing.

  4. Environmental damage – when cattle and pigs are kept in mass enclosures excrement becomes a pollutant rather than a fertiliser (which would be the case if they were kept in open fields with enough room to graze. Also because corn rather than grass has become the main feed for factory ‘farmed’ animals we have a situation where corn is shipped to meat growing houses, then the meat shipped to consumers, with all the attendant petrol costs, which you wouldn’t have with local food production systems.

Scene Five – The Dollar Menu

Starts off with a low income family shopping at Mcdonald’s – they in fact buy lots of junk food over healthy fresh vegetables because the former is cheaper. The biggest predictor of obesity is income level –

The industry claims a ‘crisis of individual responsibility’ for obesity – but the problem is that we are biologically hard-wired to seek out three tastes – salt, sugar and fat, which are very rare in nature, but are everywhere in modern society thanks to the industrial food industry, so this claim is clearly disingenuous.

The father of poor family has diabetes (his pills cost something in the region of $200 month) and 1 out of 3 people born after the year 2000 in the US will develop early onset diabetes.

Scene Six – In The Grass

Featuring Joel Salatin from Polyface Farms – basically a farm where their livestock eat actual grass and they slaughter them by hand– and have much conditions than your average meet factory – the livestock also manure the fields automatically – basically a sensible, truly efficient farm.

As a contrast, we now take a trip to Smithfield Hog Processing Plant, the largest in the world in North Carolina, where over 30K hogs go through every day, where they treat their workers like their hogs – the workers are drawn from the poorest people and work in a conveyor belt system, sometimes getting covered in feces and blood and developing infections to the extent that finger nails separate from hands.

They effectively use up workers – few of the local population work at the plant, workers are now bused in from 100 miles away, and they also employ illegal immigrants from Mexico (ie people desperate for the money) – who have come to America because of NAFTA which led to cheap US corn flooding into Mexico, putting 1.5 million Mexican corn farmers out of business, who now work illegally for giant meat multinationals under appalling conditions. US meat companies actually actively recruited these workers from Mexico, with adverts and buses laid on.

Of course the government response is to crack down on the illegal immigrants rather than the meat companies.

Scene Seven – Hidden Costs

You wouldn’t want to buy the cheapest car – so why do we apply the same principle to food?

In any case, once you add up the environmental, social and health costs of industrial food, it ends up being far more expensive than locally grown, ethical, organic food.

Back to Joel Salatan who says that although some people make a round trip of 500 miles to get to him, he has no desire to upscale and argues that he can’t do so without compromising the integrity of his business.

This is then contrasted to Stonyfield yoghurts, who are the third biggest yoghurt brand in the states, run on ethical principles.

Like many other ethical companies, these are now owned by a massive international corporation and deal with companies like Walmart – who are stocking more ethical products for economic reasons. The argument for this is simply the impact.

Scene Eight – From Seed to the Supermarket

Back at the turn of the century, the average farmer could feed 6-8 people, now it’s 120 people. The change to farming has been profound – I mean, who sees a farmer anymore.

We now take the inevitable trip to Monstanto Land – who developed both Round Up (a pesticide) and then the Round Up Ready Soya Bean.

In 1996 – 2% of Soya beans grown in the US for Monsanto’s

By 2008 – this had risen to 90%.

Since the 1980s its now legal to patent life, there are now prohibitions on saving seed – when the concept first came about farmers were appalled now it’s just accepted and Monsanto effectively control 90% of Soya production in the US.

Monsanto as a team of private investigators (sometimes ex-military) who visit farmers who save their own seed.

We now take a trip to a farmer who didn’t switch to Monsanto’s GM seed, but his fields are contaminated by Monsanto’s seed because of cross-contamination.

We’re also shown the case study of Monstanto suing a certain ‘seed cleaner’ (used by the 10% of farmers who aren’t GM and save their own seed) who is already in debt to the tune of $25 000 and he hasn’t even been in a court room, and friends of 50 years no longer talk to him for fear of coming under Monstano’s wrath.

The end result is that Monsanto effectively own the Soya Been and they control it from seed to the Supermarket – you have to be in bed with Monstano to be a soya farmer

Scene Nine – The Veil

Covers the revolving door between the Justice Department, the development of seed-patenting law and Monsanto’s Corporate executives – its seems that for the past 25 years the US government has been dominated by people who work for food multinationals.

This is a case of centralised power being used against workers, farmers and ultimately consumers.

This has resulted in legislation which prevents the labelling of GMO products and also criticism of the food industry.

There is now an outline of the legal protections the meat industry has – The most famous case being when Oprah said Mad Cow Disease had meant she didn’t want to eat another Burger – the industry sued her for lose of profit and the case spent 6 years in court and a million dollars in fees – sometimes the industry will sue just to send out a message even if it knows it can’t win.

Scene Ten – Shocks to the System

Basically the food system is precarious – fewer food substances, fewer companies and heavy dependence on petroleum.

The cracks are definitely showing, and every time the public get a glimpse of the truth, they tend to turn their backs on this industry.

The battle against the tobacco industry is the perfect model that illustrates the possibility of breaking monopolistic controls over a system by a few powerful corporations.

Credits

You can vote to change this system three times a day.

Buy from ethical companies who treat workers and animals humanely.

Choose foods that are organic and grown locally and in season, shop in Farmers Markets

Tell the government to enforce food safety standards….

‘You can change the world with every bit’.

See the Food Inc documentary for more information…

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