Then & Now: Corrective debt

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The Independent Online
February, 1843: Amid widespread fears that juvenile lawlessness was a prelude to social revolution, Lord Ashley, Earl of Shaftesbury, urged the House of Commons to introduce elementary schooling for the children of the 'dangerous classes':

'Late events have, I fear, proved that the moral condition of our people is unhealthy and even perilous - all are pretty nearly agreed that something further must be attempted for their welfare . . .'

(He describes the squalor of inner cities).

'Will any man tell me that it is to any purpose to take children for the purposes of education . . . and then turn them back to such scenes of vice, and filth, and misery?

'The country is wearied with pamphlets and speeches on gaol-discipline, model-prisons, and corrective processes; meanwhile crime advances at a rapid pace; many are discharged because they cannot be punished, and many become worse by the very punishment they undergo . . . and all this because we will obstinately . . . believe that we can regenerate the hardened man while we utterly neglect his pliant childhood . . .

'We owe to the poor of our land a weighty debt. We call them improvident and immoral, and so many of them are; but that improvidence and that immorality are the results, in a great measure, of our neglect, and, in not a little, of our example. We owe them, too, the debt of kinder language.'

February 1993: Kenneth Clarke, Home Secretary, proposes 'primary schools in citizenship' for young offenders.

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