Sunday Rant

Heinlein on delinquency, justice, and child development. From “Starship Troopers”. The book not the half baked movie. Remember this was written in 1959.

……………………………….a classroom conversation: (Teacher speaks first)

“What would happen if a puppy were spanked every hour?”

“Uh … probably drive him crazy!”

“Probably. It certainly will not teach him anything. How long has it been since the principal of this school last had to switch a pupil? Never mind. Long enough. It means that such punishment is so unusual as to be significant, to deter, to instruct. Back to these young criminals — They probably were not spanked as babies; they certainly were not flogged for their crimes. The usual sequence was: for a first offense, a warning — a scolding, often without trial. After several offenses a sentence of confinement but with sentence suspended and the youngster placed on probation. A boy might be arrested many times and convicted several times before he was punished — and then it would be merely confinement, with others like him from whom he learned still more criminal habits. If he kept out of major trouble while confined, he could usually evade most of even that mild punishment, be given probation — ‘paroled’ in the jargon of the times.

“This incredible sequence could go on for years while his crimes increased in frequency and viciousness, with no punishment whatever save rare dull-but-comfortable confinements. Then suddenly, usually by law on his eighteenth birthday, this so-called ‘juvenile delinquent’ becomes an adult criminal — and sometimes wound up in only weeks or months in a death cell awaiting execution for murder. You —” He had singled me out again. “Suppose you merely scolded your puppy, never punished him, let him go on making messes in the house … and occasionally locked him up in an outbuilding but soon let him back into the house with a warning not to do it again. Then one day you notice that he is now a grown dog and still not housebroken — whereupon you whip out a gun and shoot him dead. Comment, please?”

“Why … that’s the craziest way to raise a dog I ever heard of!”

“I agree. Or a child. Whose fault would it be?”

“Uh … why, mine, I guess.”

“Again I agree. But I’m not guessing.”

“Mr. Dubois,” a girl blurted out, “but why? Why didn’t they spank little kids when they needed it and use a good dose of the strap on any older ones who deserved it — the sort of lesson they wouldn’t forget! I mean ones who did things really bad. Why not?”

“I don’t know,” he had answered grimly, “except that the time-tested method of instilling social virtue and respect for law in the minds of the young did not appeal to a pre-scientific pseudo-professional class who called themselves ‘social workers’ or sometimes ‘child psychologists.’ It was too simple for them, apparently, since anybody could do it, using only the patience and firmness needed in training a puppy.”

1959. He had a vision, too bad it came true.

The “timeout” generations will need to learn this lesson. It’s too late for the present, I only hope we last long enough to make to course reversal.

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