Monday, 19 January 2009

Mending broken window theory What's the effect of a disordered physical environment on children's behaviour and exam results? Here's a Guardian article by Jessica Shepherd on recent (apparently qualitative) research suggesting that boarded-up houses and shops, and littered scruffy pathways aren't exactly going to inspire young people to pro-social behaviour. Indeed. So has the death of broken window theory been exaggerated? The Harcourt and Ludwig (2006) research discrediting the original theory may tell us that physical signs of disorder do not predict neighbourhood crime; but what they do predict is more physical disorder. And on what grounds is it deemed acceptable that people should be expected to live in such an environment? Where broken windows are not being repaired and other maintenance is not being carried out, residents (yes, that includes schoolchildren) are being subjected to disrespect on the part of the services established and funded to maintain order. From work I've done on estates in the past I'm sure that local people often sense the danger of a tipping point of disorder, although they might not articulate it in terms of 'broken window theory' or collective efficacy or whatever. And schools are, or should be, an integrated rather than separate part of their localities ('community' if you like). As the researchers point out: 'throughout government policy, schools are presented as though they exist in isolation from the surrounding area.' Too many schools resemble fortresses or prisons, and I guess this research could help begin the reversal of that trend. Previously: A crisis of community presence It's curtains for broken window theory

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