Crime Doesn’t Say

April 25th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 33 comments

On news broadcasts and interviews I have noticed something scary.  Boys involved in violent crime are largely illiterate.  This chilling correlation has been confirmed to me by friends in criminal justice and law enforcement.  You’d think that just by the laws of probability, at least some assailants and murderers when caught would have more to say than just meaningless gesticulations and obscenities.  I have been looking for just one carjacker who, upon being apprehended, told the policeman, “It’s challenging to understand, officer, I know, but while taking my afternoon constitutional, I was seized by an irresistible desire to inflict physical harm on an innocent citizen and to transfer his motor vehicle to my possession.”

Ancient Jewish wisdom suggests that the desire to communicate is present from birth and that parents who neglect this most crucial of their responsibilities may be complicit in their children’s later lack of socialization skills.

A really interesting phase in raising a child occurs just before he begins to speak.  Many observant parents notice a period of apparent anger and frustration.  The child is ready to communicate with speech, desperately desires to communicate and cannot quite put the words together yet.  Some parents try to avoid this difficult time by teaching their infants baby sign language.  It fascinates me to watch pre-verbal toddlers moving their little fingers in purposeful and meaningful ways.

Clearly, we are created to communicate.  That toddler, not yet possessing even crude motor skills like catching a ball, can already recognize the complex distinctions between nouns and verbs.  Teaching the child the names of things, chatting with and reading to a child are indispensable steps in educating for communication.  There is a vast difference in the number of words to which small children are exposed in diligent homes and indifferent ones.  Studies at the University of Kansas and other institutions show that there is a direct correlation between the number of words a toddler hears and learns and her subsequent academic achievement.  By the age of three, children of diligent  parents hear  millions of words more than children of indifferent parents.   In America there is a disturbing correlation between rise in juvenile crime and the deterioration in English language education in the nation’s public schools.

Fluency in speech is closely connected to an ability to write. Employers, military induction officers and social workers confirm that increasing numbers of young adults are incapable of writing down their thoughts coherently.  Most of these also fail to comprehend simple written instructions.  This is obviously a huge social problem.  Whether creating a business plan, solving a family crisis or constructing an international treaty to avoid war, the first thing always is to express in words the problem you’re trying to solve.  It is almost impossible to find the solution if you haven’t transformed the problem from feelings to words.

Furthermore, communication and conversation lead to collaboration and cooperation which lead to creativity.  In other words, almost no major challenges are successfully overcome by any one person acting entirely alone.  Talk and conversation are the tools of this cooperation.  Depriving our children of the tools of communication is to sentence them to needlessly underachieving lives at best and perhaps to criminality and worse.

This is why ancient Jewish wisdom regularly refers to God having achieved all of Creation by means of statements, the first of which was, “Let there be light.”

King David elaborates on this when he says:

By the word of the Lord, the heavens were made, and with the breath of His mouth, all their host. 
(Psalms 33:6)

The Bible does not record, “And God made light”.  It reports that God used words to create.  In the same way today, a budding entrepreneur doesn’t tell people, “I feel like creating a business.”  Instead he shows a written business plan in which words specify the story.

When a goal or ambition gets written down it starts coming to life.  Attaching times and deadlines then transforms a mere dream into a plan.  Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that God gave man the power of words and speech in the seventh verse of chapter two in Genesis because He wants us to connect, communicate, collaborate, and create.  A few verses later, God creates another human with whom Adam could communicate and ultimately create.

People who have been handicapped by inadequate instruction in words very understandably feel frustration.  Maybe even you are not fulfilling your ultimate potential of communication and collaboration.  Once we are adults, it is our own responsibility to correct any deficiencies from our upbringing. Each of us can improve our ability to use words to connect and communicate by making a deliberate effort to improve fluency and vocabulary.

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Clarence says:

Bernie Madoff could write a New York times Best Seller, then go and swindle some of the Smartest people in America out of $20 Millions Dollars.

The Biggest Crooks in America are College Educated, and well Spoken…

Susan Lapin says:

I was talking about criminal violence. I agree that words are incredibly powerful and those that use them for crime have a powerful weapon that often yields large amounts of money. But that needs to be dealt with in a different way than the – way too many – criminals who physically attack people, even if they end up getting only $75.

Derrick Main says:

In “The Underground History of American Education,” John Taylor Gatto said that as the literacy rate dropped after WWII, the prison population increased. He thought that one was the cause of the other.

Guy Conrad says:

A chilling essay by Harlan Ellison on attempting to pass out books at a juvenile detention center in L.A. confirms this. When handed a book, the young males reacted with consternation as if they had never seen one, and didn’t know what it was for. After tiring of the subject of books, they launched into a spirited discussion of the violence in the Friday the 13th movies.

Kevin Nilson says:

Today’s GIC’s would have us believe that speaking English correctly is racist, and expecting others to use correct grammar is the act of a monster. The most “compassionate” among us cause or at least propagate so many of society’s troubles.

Derrick Main says:

I am so sick and tired of the misuse and abuse of the term racist.

In fact, it has deepened my understanding that when people are not able to air their views correctly or effectively, frustrations can set in.
Thank you very much, Rabbi.

Nancy Denis says:

Dear Susan ,
Although It is indisputable that children exposed at an early age ( even in the womb) to vast array of words, music, etc.
develop a richer vocabulary, I think it’s also important to recognize the impact that systemic racism , poverty and oppression has had on the mis education of Black and Brown children in the United States.
This is by no means an accident!
Please take the time to walk into a school in an impoverished area near your city and talk to the students, parents and teachers to learn and see the horrendous conditions in which these students have to live and learn.
Also ,please take the time to read (an activity in which I know you enjoy) books that address these issues. I would be happy to provide some titles if you’re interested.

What you will

Susan Lapin says:

Hi Nancy, this is actually a Thought Tool by my husband, not a piece I wrote. But I know that he didn’t mean to absolve the school system at all by focusing on what parents can do. We’ve done quite a lot of reading on this topic. One question that economist Thomas Sowell asks is why Black children (like him in the 60s) got a better education in many cases before the Civil Rights movement. The children are victims, but there are tough questions to ask about who is doing the oppressing.

Matt says:

Those boys are probably illiterate because their single parent mom is illiterate or nearly so.

21% of girls with below average reading skills had a child in their early teens, compared to 5% of girls who rated above average.

Studies suggest that two-thirds of students who struggle with reading by fourth grade will run into trouble with the law at some point.

Approximately 85% of youth who come into contact with the juvenile court are considered to be functionally illiterate.

As many as 75% of welfare recipients struggle to read even the simplest texts.

Here’s the book I used to teach my son how to read:

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons –

I taught my son how to read in 100 days using that book. He has Asperger’s syndrome and ADHD. By the beginning of 1st grade he was reading English at the 3rd grade level. All thanks to that book. The experience was a little like entering combat each day. We would even pause for 15 minutes of war during our sessions. That’s what happens when your child doesn’t want to learn how to read and won’t cooperate.

Susan Lapin says:

Matt, we used the same book with many of our children. It is amazing how effective that book can be.

Yay, Rabbi (and Susan, of course); you’re playing my song! Some children won’t learn to read out of fear that they will no longer be read to. Great methods are available for bypassing “dyslexia”. A Hungarian-born historian and concert pianist in his book lists four vital principles from our Founders, the fourth being a common identity, the nub of which is a common language: English. It doesn’t require a towering intellect to read a good book aloud to a child or converse with him/her over grocery selection, but oh, what a difference it can make! It does require love and attention.

Susan Lapin says:

Deb, our children are fluent readers and we kept up reading aloud until they left home. We often had a book we read around the Shabbat table week after week, with guests very upset if they weren’t invited every week and they missed out. Some of my fondest memories are reading aloud with my then sixteen year old son. We might take turns reading, but we shared great books like A Tale of Two Cities. It’s a shame to stop reading together just because kids can read independently.

Allan katz says:

yes, the question is not if kids can read and how well they read , but do they want to read , do they love to read and the testing mania is responsible for this as one teacher said , now that there are so many tests we don’t have time to read in class. A lot of teenage inappropriate behavior has to do with lagging skills , especially the ability to present one’s perspective , articulate one’s concerns and at the same time take into account the perspective of others. A working with parenting and educational approach which gives kids a voice promotes these skills and other collaborative problem solving skills – a focus on compliance and discipline not only promotes the most primitive form of morality but certainly does not teach basic life skills

Wow, how wonderful is that idea…it is going to start tonight.

H- says:

I have a grievance to share. If I see one more comment saying ‘why do you sell books instead of providing all of your teachings for free’ I will slap somebody. These lessons are obviously profound and exhibit the accumulation of wisdom acquires by years of learning and practicing The Laws of God. This man is making an honest living and making our lives better! You hypocritical parasites should maybe also remember this scripture: do not muzzle the ox while he treads grain.

I bet you people would accuse Levites of freeloading for eating the tithes, what a disgrace of a human being some people are.

Susan Lapin says:

Thank you for coming to our defense, but we do hope you don’t slap anyone!

Tom says:

Hello Rabbi Daniel Lapin,
The last thing people that are in depression want to do is communicate. How can we help them or help ourselves when depressed?

Susan Lapin says:

That’s a good observation and question, Tom. If someone is clinically depressed (not just temporarily unhappy or struggling) most of us are probably not equipped to help other than beaming out love and encouraging professional help.

David P. says:

Thank you for this very thoughtful article. I love the knowledge and wisdom that both you and your husband share with the world.

-From one of your Christian students

Susan Lapin says:

You’re the third person to call this my article. It’s my husband and on my computer it is showing him as the author. If anyone is seeing anything different, please let me know where to look. Thanks.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thanks David
We do work together and each article is as much the work of both of us as are our children.

Timothy Mauch says:

Due to disability, I am largely confined to my house. I enjoy unstructured writing and have started a answering non-political questions on Quora. It’s not, in itself, financially productive, but it does home my skills at answering questions unemotionally. By the way, my parents and older sister read to me every day, long before I could read or write. Another funny note, in junior high school, I spent three hours every day on the bus, and had a stack of library books I hauled around.

Susan Lapin says:

Wow, a real live Quora answerer! The library was (and is) such a blessing in my life and that of our children as well.

Tom says:

Great article. I always look forward to your information. As a matter of fact, I just went to your website and ordered two of your books.
Have a good day.

Susan Lapin says:

Hope you enjoy your books, Tom.

Jean says:

The past two generations of parents have used television as their primary babysitter. The linguistic level of the average prime time program is around that of a 6th grader; daytime TV is much lower. And the libraries in many neighborhoods filled with at-risk kids now favors DVDs over books. Of course, those of us who find value in reading the classics such as Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway et al are described with adjectives that generally end in “ist” or “phobic.”

Susan Lapin says:

Jean, you hit one of my pet peeves. I love the library and cringe when I see great books missing from the shelves replaced by poorly written books of questionable morality along with more DVDs.

My wife is a literacy specialist in an inner city school. The situation some of these little ones live in make us cry. There are so many layers to this problem and more coming to light or created everyday.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Louis–
For the first few years after its invention in 1844 the government ran the telegraph. Failed dismally and walked away. Private enterprise took over and the world was connected. What would make us think that the same people who run the Post Offfice, Amtrak, and the Veterans Administration would make a success of education?

Kendall Rodgers says:

Maybe Torah gets people talking. There are limitations to writing and there are limitations to speaking. Reading is great, but sometimes we need to talk about what we read. Would you say we need to talk more? So read and then talk, talk and then read. When should we do that? When we sit at home? When we walk along the way? When we lie down? When we rise up? I really like you all. I think you to good. Some of those Thought Tools are Power Tools. Toda again and again.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thanks Kendall–

Why would there need to be a solution for this at all? I understand the loss of cognitive function, but at the core aren’t they still consenting adults? The disease might be affecting their judgement, but how can anyone make a definitive call as to what’s allowed?

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