Letters — 26 September 2014
Dwight Tillett: “Shutting off the Valve!”

Dear Editor,

My interest was aroused by the article entitled “Saving the next generation of ‘killers”’ in the Amandala of September 21st. I do not discount the research and opinions of Mr. Castillo and what I offer is not to be construed as criticism of what the author of the piece attributed to him. However, I hold the view that the “preventative” interventions on behalf of “angry” youth, whether of Southside origins or not, must be embarked upon much earlier than age 11! I am in support of what Brig. Gen. Jones is doing because it makes sense for coming to terms with these “angry” young men.

However, I feel strongly that if we are going to win the war against gang warfare, we are going to have to capture the attention of these young men BEFORE they become “angry young men”. Let me explain how I think we should go about this:

In late 2008, while serving as CEO for Youth, I was seriously searching for something that could be implemented by the then Youth for the Future that would have a meaningful, long-term positive impact on the gang warfare situation. I did a brief study of prisoners between the ages of 15 and 30 who were on remand for murder or were already convicted of murder. The sole purpose of the study was to see which primary schools these fellows had attended and, where possible, to find out the level of formal education they had attained.

On the basis of the information I garnered and some long-held opinions based on personal observations, I wrote a paper entitled “Shut off the Valve.” The paper was premised on the simple but deeply meaningful concept that: LEARNING IS ITS OWN REWARD! In other words, if a child is learning, he will receive “good strokes” and will be happy to go to school and do those other things that keep the good strokes coming! The opposite is also true, and this is where the idea of “Shutting off the Valve” comes in.

You see, the distaste of the school environment often sets in by the time a child is in Standard 1, sometimes even Infant 2 – ask the teachers! That is because that’s about the time when some children begin to experience failure in the school environment; he gets teased and laughed at because he gets a “duck egg” on a Math assignment, and amazingly, sometimes this punishment is perpetrated by the teacher! I have seen this firsthand – this is not something I am theorizing about!

And I have also seen the amazing turnaround when a child who used to fight his parents in the morning so as NOT to go to school, begins to experience academic success. The change is nothing short of miraculous! Shutting off the Valve, therefore, simply means finding ways and means to ensure that kids who begin to experience academic failure get the help they need immediately to get back on track!

Yes, it’s costly; yes, it lacks the televised drama of shock troops invading a neighbourhood, and yes, it would take five to eight years for its true effect to be seen! But it does not need to supplant the other initiatives and, for sure, it appears that we need to try some other means.

If we shut off the supply of “illiterate” boys who drop out of school at Standard 3 and Standard 4, the gangs will have a very small field from which to recruit! But we need to implement our interventions at the age, whatever that is, when failure begins to be the experience of a boy child and school becomes the last place he wants to be! It can be done!!

Dwight W Tillett

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