A while ago two of my students said they were going to 'turn over' a large house in a wealthy area near them. I asked why? They said they had it tough, they wanted a new TV, and it was something to do.I listened, and then explained that just because they were poor they didn't need to rob a house. I told them that I didn't even have a TV, which amazed them. I explained to them how my Grandparents grew up in the East End during the great depression. There were few jobs, no money and no welfare. They went without food on occasion, suffered discrimination and had to deal with fascism, yet they emerged from poverty. I explained how they did it: They worked hard, sacrificed for the future, educated themselves, showed respect for the law and other people, had strong families and never gave up. The two boys looked thoughtful for a while and then one said: 'Yes, but I never had a father to tell me that'.
I founded the Boxing Academy in 2006. It is now an award winning charity that gives a second chance in life to teenagers in danger of exclusion. We are based in Hackney and Tottenham. These areas were getting better in so many ways, but there was always a nagging doubt that 30 or 40 years of misguided social policies had broken the ties that bind us. Once the money went - and it was always going to - the sticking plasters would fall off our broken society. The wave of stabbings that came to public attention in 2008 never went away.
There remains in many areas of London a 'postcode' civil war between teenagers, with a more complex network of drugs gangs operating above them, sometimes recruiting the kids that get enough 'stripes'. Many of the teenage stabbings go unreported as they are inter-gang, or the victim is simply too scared. So the problem is left alone. Why would the powers that be look for all that extra hassle to ruin their statistics?
I asked a student if it was an option to apologize or grovel to a knife gang, say sorry for looking at them, give them your money and just walk away? I hasten to add that when I was at school I avoided a few punches using this technique. He said now they would just stab you anyway for being a pussy.
Outside our Tottenham branch, drug dealers operate openly as if they were selling fruit, while PCSOs hand out parking tickets a few hundred yards away. We used to sit in the café opposite their strip and watch them. They would get up late, usually after lunch and trade would begin. Sometimes you would be in a random café and one of the dealers would come in and hand over a wad of money to his mum behind the till.
Our police partners, who give us a huge amount of support, arrest them or move them on but they always come back. No one is really punished. Prison sentences are short and get cut shorter. No one I have spoken to likes prison, they don’t want to go back, but it doesn’t deter if the price is right. The Community Service team in the Sports Centre next door are exempt from wearing fluorescent jackets that mark them as offenders because it might embarrass them if they are seen from the High Road. They sit smoking joints most of the day. This is the punishment that awaits many of the rioters; no real punishment at all.
The parents of many our students try hard, but the pull of the street is often too much for their children; after all, once they leave the house even the best parents can’t take a knife or a bullet for you. They must form their own allegiances and adapt their behavior to stay safe. That is why over 250,000 teenagers carry weapons every year. If a student lives in the wrong area or too far away we taxi them to and from the Academy for their safety. When I first saw what went on in the streets around the Academy I couldn’t help but think of the line from Luke 23:26: “ For if men do these things when the forest is green, what will happen when it is dry”
We are a strange lot, the human race. We learn in funny ways. Once you break a taboo it is gone, once you break a boundary it is gone, if you get away with something and you enjoy it, you do it again. When kids attack teachers, (and it happens thousands of times a year) being sent to the cooling off room is pretty much a reward, a fixed term exclusion often makes no odds either. If a social worker tells a teenage mum the word ‘no’ emotionally damages a child, a message goes out. If an adult admonishes a gang of children for littering and gets a police caution a message goes out. If a father is reported to the police for smacking a child a message goes out. If an adult is arrested for grabbing a child who is stealing, or assaulting another child, a message goes out. If knife criminals receive community sentences, a message goes out. If people tell you about your rights as a child, and never about your responsibilities, a message goes out. If teenage girls are given flats for having babies a message goes out. If the police arrest you fifty times and nothing happens a message goes out.
How did it come to this? It is all about the power of ideas. The left wing sales pitch of grievance, victim, blame and excuse has done immense damage to society, as has the rights culture and the sense of entitlement many young people now have. If we look there is clear chain of causality that goes through the decades as other poisonous ideas took hold and turned society on its head: The family is outmoded, children don't need fathers, they should be treated the same as adults, they don't need discipline or boundaries, authority is oppression, everything is society's fault, right and wrong are relative concepts, as is morality, ethics are contextual and no one view is worth more than another. Well-meaning this may be, but no society in the history of the world has taught its children this and survived. must be turning in his grave.
People blame the police, but how about all the attacks on ambulance drivers, nurses and firemen every week? Even the park keeper where I go running has been stabbed and beaten up. Walk a mile in a policeman’s shoes and then criticize. People blame poverty, housing, unemployment, but millions are suffering in these hard times and they don’t riot or loot or mug or kill. And they rely on the police and do not see them as enemies, like so many of their self-appointed community leaders.
In a political world obsessed with sending out messages we have sent out some bloody stupid ones in the last few decades, and haven't listened to the ones that have come back. But they have come back, whether in studies that show we have the most miserable children in the world or the anarchy of the last few days. Our fatherless, ghettoized children have told us: I have no love and no hope, so I can say what I like and do what I like. I know adults are scared of me and are scared of doing what is right. I am entitled to what I want, to take what is not mine and I will not be punished. If you defy me I will fall on you with an insane fury you cannot imagine or understand. The work is nearly complete; the British child as manufactured psychopath.
Children need love, but tough love. The Boxing Academy is based on this principle and it works. Our mentors are all amateur boxers or martial artists and our staff cannot be bullied. The kids respect them. Our staff take calculated risks to get through to our students, some of whom don’t want to leave at the end of the day. We teach GCSEs, life skills and a full sports curriculum, but boxing is the key. Opposite to what many well-meaning liberals say, it does not teach you to be more violent but helps you to calm down and control your anger. Children see the discipline, the work ethic, the authority of a coach, the much needed father figure, the sense of achievement, the decision making, the control of aggression and the self-respect inherent in Boxing and learn that the use of force has a place, comes with responsibility and is not for the street.
Respect for all is vital at the Academy, we work through persuasion and rational discussion. We explain why basic things like going to lessons must be done and sometimes have to go through a cost/benefit analysis for the student. We are introducing these kids to reason, to process, to decision making, to responsibility and to happiness; to love of self. But at the end of the day we will say no to them. Some kids have never heard this before. But this word in the right context is a vital act of authority and love. It says I care enough to argue with you, to take this shit, to feel this stress. I have seen young gang members reduced to tears when this was explained to them.
However every individual or society needs a deterrent that works when reason fails, and the Boxing Academy is no exception. Many parents can’t or won’t provide a deterrent and some just don’t care. So who decides the punishments? At the Boxing Academy the students are consulted and set their own disciplinary code, in consultation with the staff. Originally I was against this idea, I didn’t want to pander to the progressives. Then I found out that disruptive teenagers prescribe harsher punishments than adults! Kids understand the nature of bad behaviour, they know the tricks and when someone is pushing it.
A clear example of this was seen on a recent trip that the Boxing Academy took to Somerset for an adventure holiday. The staff packed a super-soaker (a large, high-powered water pistol) and an air horn, and confiscated all phones and mp3 players before departure. On the first night the initial excitement and refusal to go to sleep was dealt with by getting every one up and out into the courtyard to do two hundred tuck jumps in their pyjamas. After, they went straight to sleep and were refreshed and focused for their day’s activities in the morning. The experience of rock-climbing and mountain-biking was a life-changing one for many: We heard students say “I never realised how nice it is to not have a BlackBerry for three days” and they were overwhelmed with the welcome they received from the rural folk in Somerset.
On the second night, a student stole some change from the collection box of the local Church, which resulted in the entire Academy being woken at 2am and interrogated. When the culprit finally owned up at 8am the next day, he was sent back to London in disgrace. His punishment was decided by the student body, who took three things into account: the disruption to their trip, the shame that he brought on the Academy in Somerset where everyone had been so kind to them, and the fact that he lied for 6 hours to cover his tracks. The punishment? The ‘Tyson Workout” as completed daily by before he turned pro. This includes a 3 mile run; 10 rounds of sparring (with the staff, who did not hold back); 2000 sit-ups; 500 dips; 500 press-ups; 500 shrugs with a 30kg barbell. After the week it took to complete, the student stood up in front of the whole Academy and apologised to everyone for letting them down.
It is a real effort to take this sense of right and wrong away from children, but there are still too many liberal academics trying to deconstruct society at the expense of our children. Our secret recipe of old world wisdom, mixed with cutting edge psychology, cognitive techniques, a simple sense of achievement and reward - stick and carrot - turns lives around. This is the key; with proper adult authority, some basic knowledge and common sense children learn right from wrong, and make good choices. Their power to redeem themselves is inspiring. I am privileged to have seen this. It humbles me. In our simple model lie the answers, we have the evidence, the success stories, and we are ready to help.
Yet the self-righteous commissars will not relent and children without loving authority, discipline and boundaries remain all at sea. Lonely, miserable and terrified. They remain at the mercy of a tiny minority of gang leaders, charismatic wasters and bullies that fill the vacuum left by the abolition of adult authority, many of who are the core of these riots. Our strange, hybrid liberal establishment has placed us in this position. Some of them read ‘ ’ and thought it was a guide-book. We have set up a bureaucratic, unfair, unjust, target and equality driven centralizing system or ‘poverty industry’, that perpetuates itself, has no incentive to achieve its aims, bullies and paralyses decent people trying to help and now allows anarchy to flourish.
A lost generation of children have returned, and they are mad with rage. There were not enough decent fathers to protect them from the gangs, the drugs, the internet porn, film and game violence as ‘art’ and bling culture, and their poor mums lost control when their sons outgrew them. The system certainly wouldn’t protect them; it needs them to stay where they are. We have allowed insane adults to create psychopathic children.
The soft tyranny that has brought us to this point must be broken. Punishments must be handed out, respect for authority restored, and childhood returned to our children. Our future as a nation depends on it. If this involves scrapping more quangoes, teaching schools to use the powers they have to discipline pupils, and laying off bureaucrats, then so be it. These decisions must not be taken now, when the blood is up, but they must be taken. Our children are showing us all we need to know. We have betrayed them, they are in agony, the liberal experiment is over. We need a moral counter-revolution. Our children have told us and we were old enough to know better.