Victor Hugo, a renowned French poet, novelist, and dramatist once said ‘he who opens a school door, closes a prison’; his wise sayings, well-founded in the roots of contemporary social studies focused on the study of crime and criminality. Hugo, being a Romanticist, was focused on the conservative cultures and norms that advocate for harmonious social coexistence through the development, preservation, and continuation of effective and functional social systems and institutions such as education and family contrasted to contemporary views that promote individualism.
The real meaning of his words in only to be found in the exploration and the understanding of contemporary crime and criminality. The Chicago School, a pioneer in Social studies posited that high crime rates in certain neighborhoods can only be rationally attributed to the failure of systems of Social control to exercise effective regulatory authority over its subjects. The study was named ‘the social disorganization theory’. This theory postulates that the high crime rates witnessed today in our societies are a consequence of the failure of systems of social control such as the family, education, and religion to exercise control over their subjects. Thus, social norms and social checks deteriorate or become completely dysfunctional and ineffective leaving members of the society to do as they so wish in complete disregard of the implications of such actions to self and/or others.
To open a school door is to usher members of the society into a world that is tamed, a world where rules and norms that promote upright living and conforming conduct that submits to the law is taught and practiced; conduct that promotes positive and healthy human living while suppressing criminality on the other hand. Learned individuals are aware of their rights and similarly, the laws that govern them. They have the capacity to comprehend their actions and anticipate consequences, thus, only a truly irrational educated fellow will dare to misbehave when he/she is fully aware of the repercussions. Hugo’s argument is correct to believe that crime is substantially a result of the lack of necessary knowledge and skills. Thus, to educate people is to some extent, to cure the crime befalling our societies today.
The life an individual lead is the greatest social determinant of who they become and how they behave. Substantial history of non-conformity will likely to produce a non-conforming fellow. People living in poverty, day after another are no less human than the rest of us, we all have similar basic needs but only differing ways of gratifying them. Basic needs demand satisfaction, and when not satisfied, breaking the law is a way more appealing option than to suffer. People steal food, what if they had food? The reasoning would be, if they had food, they wouldn’t steal. Therefore, if it is possible to provide them a meal without having them steal then we will surely have one less thief roaming the streets.
The whole logic behind education is empowerment, offering people the means to justified ends, at the core of it is satisfying basic human needs. If we educate our people, we will surely empower them and this way they will have the means and capabilities to fend for themselves and those under their care in ways and means that do not contravene the law; send more people to school, empower more people, and you will surely expect is to have less desperate fellows inhabiting our societies and neighborhoods.
A very common belief known to many is that positive preoccupation is therapy to swift irrational decisions. An empty mind is the devil’s empire but preoccupying the mind with positivity can intentionally make an individual truly positive or inadvertently deter them from doing what would have otherwise been catastrophic. High prison rates have been closely attributed to lack of education and employment. Factually, there are men and women serving jail terms today because of actions they were provoked to attempt due to overt idleness and absence of purpose. School-going teens, for example, will have less idle time to misbehave and interact with negative influence at home while attaining more controlled and supervised presence at school under the supervision of their teachers. Simply being in school is by itself a strategy, it means less time hanging around negative peers and more time hanging around supervised environments.
Hugo’s words that whoever opens a school door closes a prison were true at his time, but even today long after he is gone; the wisdom in his words has withstood time to make even better sense based on the detailed explanation of scholars and researchers who have furthered his perspective. His view concludes that the more the schools the less the crime, a phenomenon that is not only logically correct but also empirically verifiable through the study and assessment of the statistics of some of the world’s best education system juxtaposed to their crime index (the Netherlands being a good case study). If we educate more people, we will surely have more knowledgeable and rational individuals capable of comprehending the law and its consequences- we will have more empowered people who do not have to gratify their needs by suppressing the rights of others, rather they will be individuals motivated to even respect and protect the rights of others better. We will have a world of rational individuals, connected by positive reasoning and desire for goodness, committed to the fight against crime and violation of human rights. This way we will close prison doors and one day, hopefully, we might have to demolish them instead of just closing them.