I was told by an intelligent, gifted teacher who is passionate about her work, about a boy who she had once taught. The boy had had all the help in the world at school because of his learning problems, fell into the wrong company after leaving school and ended up in prison. In prison the boy was helped again and it was thought that he had been thoroughly rehabilitated - and he was for many years - but in the end he went back to his old friends, his old ways, his old activities involving drug dealing and was killed in tragic circumstances.
The question posed was - "Are we wasting our time investing in all this interventionist education in schools, all this rehabilitation of prisoners when so many of them fail themselves, their families and society - is there a genetic disposition that predetermines their recidivism?
The story that made me think of all of the above is called "One At A Time" and it goes like this:
"A friend of ours was walking down a deserted Mexican beach at sunset. As he walked along, he began to see another man in the distance. As he grew nearer, he noticed that a local man kept leaning down, picking something up and throwing it out into the water. Time and again he kept hurling things out into the ocean.
As our friend approached even closer, he noticed that the man was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and, one at a time, he was throwing them back into the water.
Our friend was puzzled. He approached the man and said. "Good evening friend. I was wondering what you are doing."
"I'm throwing these starfish back into the ocean. You see. it's low tide right now and all of these starfish have been washed up onto the shore. If I don't throw them back into the sea, they'll die up here from lack of oxygen."
"I understand", my friend replied. " but there must be thousands of starfish on this beach. You can't possibly get to all of them. There are simply too many. And don't you realise this is probably happening on hundreds of beaches all up and down this coast. Can't you see that you can't possibly make a difference?"
The man smiled, bent down and picked up yet another starfish. and as he threw it back into the sea, he replied. "Made a difference to that one! "
CODA: Now, the difference between starfish and the eddies and currents that influence their destiny and troubled children who become prison inmates is the possibility of making a choice, of swimming against the prevailing current - 'Exercising Free Will' - This possibility of having some control over our destiny is what separates us from the animal kingdom. Despite the legacy of genetics, our upbringing and other social determinates, we still have the possibility of making choices. And there are some inspiring stories of many who beat these odds and don't fall into recidivism. Recidivism rates are often high but they would be even higher without trying to implement the ideal of rehabilitation and giving targeted help where required.
The thing we must not do as teachers (I have been teaching and helping children for over 35 years) is to think that what we do, we do in vain. We must intervene, teach, help, coach and keep the faith - and always remember that those that we help are always better off and further along the road than if we hadn't lent a helping hand ----- As to whether after all of that help the people in question choose to cast themselves back like dark stars on a criminal shore is something we cannot control, and within limits is their choice. It is a bitter pill to swallow if you have been personally involved with one of these failures, but complete identification with, or feelings of responsibility for, would be a great mistake.
As a teacher myself, as I look back over the years, and taking into account the total number of children taught, I am sure that both for myself and for my colleague who posed this question in the first place there are many for whom we can claim that we, "Made a difference to that one"