When solving problems, is it better to dig at the roots, or trim back the leaves? I ask, because it’s the roots that secure plants in the ground, and the stronger the storms, the deeper the roots delve. Leaves can be trimmed and whole branches hacked or pruned, but the roots will just continue to get stronger. And so it is with problems.
A report this week from the Early Intervention Foundation shows that some £17bn is spent each year addressing acute social problems of children and young people, including mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse, going into care, unemployment and youth crime. The bill is shared between Local Authorities, schools, the NHS, the police and the criminal justice system. Wouldn’t it make sense, the charity suggests, to deal with the root causes of the problems through early intervention strategies? It would transform young lives before they were blighted, and would certainly make more effective use of public money.
The same is true of bullying, which Ofsted now inspects as a safeguarding issue, with particular reference to transphobic and homophobic bullying. This gives inspectors the power to go into schools and question children about gender identity and same-sex relationships, regardless of the school’s SRE policy or parental consent. But sending teachers to the naughty step by putting a school into special measures does nothing to address the root causes of bullying – it’s an endemic social problem. Race, disability and religious belief are also protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, but laws can’t deal with the attitudes of prejudice, hatred, bigotry, anger, and the wilful abuse of power that are the root cause of bullying.
And it’s true of wider society, as well. Bashing bankers is a favourite media sport; blaming banks for every form of economic woe. But what about the people and businesses who borrowed money they couldn’t possibly ever pay back? Regulation provides control, but it does nothing to address the root cause of irresponsible lending and borrowing – human greed.
The PSHE Bill and SRE (Curriculum) Bill are currently awaiting a second reading in Parliament. Their aims, among others, are to educate on ending violence against women and girls, develop resilience against bullying, and educating about child sexual exploitation. Trimming the leaves, instead of dealing with the roots? Society needs to address the root problem, not educate its children in the hope of reforming society.
According to the Bible, the root cause lies in the heart – the ancient prophet Jeremiah describes it as ‘hopelessly dark and deceitful’. He went on to say that God gets to the heart of the human and to the root of things. In his gospel, Mark also makes it clear that all that is bad comes from inside an individual, from the heart. The Christian gospel offers each of us not only forgiveness for what is in our hearts, but also the power to transform our hearts and minds.
So, is it better to trim the leaves, or go to the roots? Schools are reflections of the society they serve. Legislation and education programme can’t transform hearts and minds – only individual people can do that.