His teacher remains calm and tells him to take a walk and then come back to the classroom.
Later that day, Naemond's mother drives him to a corner where drugs are sold.
"This is where you gonna earn us an income," she tells him. "You the man of the family."
Naemond, 14 years old, is silent. A stark contrast to the boy in the classroom.
This horrific scene from Season 4, Episode 7 of The Wire, set in Baltimore, is wisely analysed by Bodie, the drug dealer Naemond will work for.
"After I seen your mother, I know why you is like you is."
The Wire uses no poetic license.
The Daily Telegraph (25/1/10) reports on the age of children committing crime getting younger.
"NSW Police youth command Superintendent Allan Harding said although most youths first broke the law about 14 years of age, police were coming across more and more seven year olds who were finding themselves on the wrong side of the law."
Though poverty, lack of education, bad housing, lack of access to medicare and a system that discriminates against children, minorities and women, make its mark on an individual, by far the greatest cause for Naemond's 'conduct disorder', or seven year olds 'on the wrong side of the law' rests on the type of parenting a child receives.
Good parenting policies are the foundation to better outcomes for other policies. Parenting comes first, not the other way round.
I'm not alone in this view. Dr John Irvine, a leading child psychologist in Australia quotes Dr Jack Westman, author of Licensing Parents: Can We Prevent Child Abuse And Neglect? (Insight Press)
"if we want to reduce violence, crime and welfare dependency then the most important cause is parental abuse and neglect. Incompetent parenting is a much bigger factor in damaged personalities than anything else including poverty, education and bad neighbourhoods." (emphasis mine)
This is well illustrated by the highly acclaimed Harlem Children's Zone in New York. Started by Geoffrey Canada, it offers parents and parent's to be, an eight week course that educates them on how to parent well. HCZ recognised that despite the levels of poverty that exist, when parents are given enough knowledge they turn their child's life around.
Part of this training included learning that physical punishment harms a child and working with alternative forms of discipline, to understanding the importance of reading even just a few books a week to their youngsters. The HCZ now works with 10 000 children from birth to college. The numbers speak for themselves. One hundred percent of children in third grade at their charter school received an average grade point or higher.
Is our work as parents political? Hell yeah. The current political emphasis is on getting parents back to work as soon as possible after a child's birth so that the country's productivity remains high. A short term solution which is creating long term problems. Putting money into creating more prison space, more hospital beds, better weapons, more programs for dysfunctional children and youth is only a solution if an even greater amount of money and a total societal approach is given to making parenting the highest priority.
Again, Dr Jack Westman says:
"... childrearing homes are the keys to reducing our social, educational, health, and mental health problems. For each child they raise to become a productive citizen, families contribute over $1.2 million to the economy. In contrast, each neglected and abused child who becomes a burden for our nation costs the economy over $2.4 million. Struggling families contribute to 26% of state and 45% of county expenditures."
How should our approach be? The Baha'i Writings puts it beautifully:
"Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom."
We are not just talking about formal academic education here. The Baha'i Writings specifically state that parents are the child's first educators. If we paid more attention to giving children the parenting they need, many of the aforementioned issues would need less attention.
Parents need better and more support:
1 - More and better knowledge on best practice parenting, given free to all;
2 - More resources such as childhood centres that are part of every community. These centres would provide specific parenting initiatives and give access to midwives, counsellors, doctors, and childhood educators;
3 - Intellectual stimulation in the way of a university of the third age where parents could attend interesting courses during the daytime, an hour or two a week, on for example architecture or philosophy, with short, casual childminding available for the attendant;
4 - More emotional support for the parents, for the work they do in the present with children, as well as work on old patterns of parenting they were given;
5 - Better parental leave for both mother and father during the child's first three years (0-3 years).
So what does this have to do with putting more zest into our lives for heaven's sake? Acknowledgement. Our work is unpaid and there are no holidays. And when we feel, deep in our bones, that the work we do is not recognised for what it truly is, part of our life force is sapped.
To all of you parents goes my complete gratitude to you for caring so much for your children and for doing the best you can under the circumstances.
This is the most important work we will do. For ourselves, for our children, for our world.
"Compare the nation of the world to the members of a family. A family is a nation in miniature. Simply enlarge the circle of the household and you have the nation. Enlarge the circle of nations and you have all humanity." Baha'i Writings