A Failure to Educate?

Our students get an impressive education in our Criminology program at VIU, but we’re failing in one critical component.

We’re not preparing our students for political engagement. We teach them about the political process but not how to engage it for worthwhile ends.

Imagine that some of our students, during their field placement in the last semester, learn that there are too few treatment beds for people who are addicted to illicit drugs and alcohol. They also learn that the provincial government has made deep cutbacks in services for this and other vulnerable groups in society.

Students also learn, perhaps by reading Million Dollar Murray, that it is more humanitarian and fiscally responsible to provide the homeless and addicted with a range of social services, including access to publicly-funded housing, and drug and alcohol treatment programs which are based on research showing "what works" rather than draconian policies focused on total abstinence.

Suppose our students want to change the state of affairs in British Columbia by working collectively to lobby the government for increased funding of anti-poverty policies. What have we taught them that might help their struggle for this and other disadvantaged groups? I don’t know about my colleagues, but I haven’t got much to offer except for a handful of anecdotes.

As a discipline which often sells itself as a pre-training program for entry-level criminal justice positions, Criminology is vulnerable to the hard edge of social control to solve systemic problems. We do well to remind ourselves and students that Criminology is not exclusively about individual criminality and the machinations of law and the criminal justice system. It is also a critique of power and an emancipatory project within the modernist tradition.

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