Monday, April 07, 2008

The Reckless bad boys of Columbus

The project was intended to construct a model program to divert young boys from crime by developing their inner controls with a positive self-image. Walter C. Reckless was a well-known, frequently published criminologist who published in the 1950s and 1960s on self-concept as an insulator against deviant behavior. In 1972 he published, with Simon Dinitz, "The prevention of juvenile delinquency; an experiment (Ohio State University Press), on the role of self concept in preventing juvenile delinquency.

The authors theorized that if a youngster had a good self-concept, he would be less likely to slip into delinquency, so they studied over 1700 pre-adolescent boys in a blue-collar, deprived, working class neighborhood and school system of Columbus, Ohio for four years. They already knew that most of the children in this neighborhood, despite sharing similar lives, would NOT grow up to be criminals, but what made the difference? They divided the boys into three groups, all selected by their teachers and principals--The Experimental Group (bad boys), The Control Group (bad boys) and The Comparison Group (good boys). The first two groups, the teachers decided, were prime candidates based on their early years in school to become delinquents. The third group was considered to be well-adjusted, ordinary kids, rarely in trouble.

The Experimental Group received the same academic curriculum, but were put in special classes where they received additional attention and the teachers had had special training. They had a special "role model" interpersonal component which included relationships at work, school, government, family and getting along with others. They also had a different outcome for discipline, with strong emphasis on the rights of others, and their peers helping to bring them back into the group when they misbehaved. The other group of bad boys received nothing extra.

All the boys were evaluated at the end of their 10th grade (4 years later), and much to the disappointment of the researchers (I'm guessing) there was no difference in police contacts, seriousness of behavior problems, the drop out rate, attendance, grades or achievement level between the enriched role model group and the control group. The good boys had continued on their way, causing no problems and doing well.

If I'd spent 15 years of my life invested in this self-worth concept to reduce crime, I think I would have been distraught. But as far as I know, the researchers just decided their model program wasn't tweaked right, and I think Dr. Reckless is still being cited in the literature for his self constraint theories of criminal behavior.

What I found most interesting was that when the researchers interviewed both the students and the teachers after 4 years, they thought the program was a success! The teachers rated the bad boys in the experimental group as much improved in behavior, even though there was no evidence, and the boys themselves were enthusiastic and recommended it for their friends! But it didn't translate into better grades or less contact with the police and courts.

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