To understand the possible connections and correlations between education and crime, one must first have an understanding of the essential parts of this discussion. These essential parts are actually definitions of several basic terms that people often use without giving much thought to their proper connotation. These terms may seem universally understood, but, as with many seemingly basic concepts, they have many different interpretations. In the sections that follow, definitions are provided for several key terms: education, educational attainment, intelligence, street smarts, and crime.
The word education encompasses both the teaching and instruction and the learning of knowledge and information. This could involve the learning of proper social conduct and/or the absorption of technical competency. Simply put, education is one’s ability to know something and his or her ability to then do something with this information. It very often focuses on the development of one’s skills to work effectively in various trades or professions. It also involves the development of one’s mental capacity, moral development, and global understanding.
Formal education consists of methodical instruction, teaching, and training by professional teachers, instructors, trainers, and professors, whereas informal education generally consists of instruction from parents, families, peers, or social interactions. The former consists of the application of pedagogy (i.e., strategies and/or styles of instruction) and the development of curricula (i.e., a set of instructional activities to offer instruction), whereas the latter consists of the social learning that a person gains from interactions with his or her intimate peer groups.
In evaluations of the topic of education and crime, education is most often viewed as something that one is given, has, or accepts, that influences his or her future behavior; that is, education is something that changes how a person views himself or herself and his or her environment. Education is generally viewed as a positive influence on one’s behavior and life. It is widely accepted that the more education a person has, the more social that person’s behavior will be, and the more opportunities he or she will have; he or she ultimately will have a better quality of life. A basic assumption in the field of criminology is that the higher a quality of life one experiences, the less likely he or she will be motivated to be involved in criminal or antisocial behavior.
B. Educational Attainment
Educational attainment is generally viewed as a measure of the amount of education a person has completed at any given point in his or her life. This usually involves a listing of the highest level of education a person has successfully completed (e.g., high school diploma, college degree). The term also can refer to any other type of technical learning that one may have, such as a technical certification or professional license.
In discussions of education and crime, educational attainment often is seen as an accomplishment that is believed to have a positive immediate or long-term impact on a person’s prosocial behavior and success in life. The general view is that higher levels of educational attainment allow people more options for higher levels of employment. In turn, higher levels of employment generally lead to more income. The logic in this line of thinking is that the more income one has, the less likely he or she will be to seek criminal behavior or be interested in antisocial behavior.
Intelligence (also often referred to as intellect) is an all encompassing term used to describe the capacity of one’s mind and its associated abilities, including such human capabilities as the ability to reason, to plan, to solve problems, to think abstractly, to comprehend ideas, to use language, and to learn.
There are, of course, many ways to define intelligence. This is especially true when one is applying this trait to animal behavior, or even to plants. Some scholars argue that the concept of intelligence also includes such traits as creativity, personality, character, knowledge, and/or wisdom. Some have also argued that traditional measures of intelligence such as IQ tests, for example, are inadequate, because people can demonstrate intelligence in many ways. Some arguments claim that people can demonstrate their intelligence in eight different ways: (1) linguistic intelligence (“word smart”), (2) logical–mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”), (3) spatial intelligence (“picture smart”), (4) bodily– kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”), (5) musical intelligence (“music smart”), (6) interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”), (7) intrapersonal intelligence (“self smart”), and (8) naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”).
In examinations of education and crime, intelligence often takes on several interesting perspectives. Some people argue that extremely high and extremely low levels of intelligence often lead to criminal and antisocial behavior. Individuals with very high levels of intelligence can use their intellect to mastermind large criminal efforts, and those with very low levels of intelligence are victimized and often the pawns of these more highly educated individuals. Higher levels of intellect are often found in people who are involved in organized and white-collar crime (e.g., embezzlement), whereas lower levels of intellect are often found in disorganized and blue-collar crime (e.g., street crime).
D. Street Smarts
Although street smarts is not a very technical or academic term (some people consider it to be a slang term), many use it to describe the unique abilities possessed by many individuals. It often is used to describe a person who does not have much formal education (i.e., educational attainment), or a great deal of mental capacity or ability (i.e., intelligence), but who has a great or cunning ability to survive in almost any environment (especially in dangerous ones). The skills and abilities often demonstrated by people who have street smarts are things such as a unique ability to read others’ body language and behavior. Such individuals also have the ability to understand the complexities of human behavior, drives, and motivations.Very often, these abilities are developed by people who need to survive in impoverished and dangerous neighborhoods that provide very little assistance or support to their inhabitants. Some people also call these skills common sense, that is, the ability to figure out what works and what does not work in any given situation without any formal instruction or study.
In examinations of education and crime, street smarts often are viewed as behaviors or abilities that lead a person toward criminal or antisocial behavior. Much of this view originates from the belief that most crime is street-level, or blue-collar crime; thus, it is activity most often engaged in by people living on the street who are either unemployed or employed in blue-collar positions. Many people would argue that common sense is something possessed by most law-abiding citizens but that street smarts are possessed only by the so-called criminal element.
Crime is most often defined as any breach of an established rule, regulation, or law committed by someone for whom a punishment may ultimately be prescribed by some governing authority or law enforcement body. Crime is also often defined as any deviant behavior that violates prevailing norms, specifically, cultural standards prescribing how humans ought to behave normally.
Academics often approach this topic through efforts to identify the complex realities surrounding the concept of crime. They seek to understand how changing social, political, psychological, and economic conditions may affect the current definitions of crime. Criminologists understand that this will affect the form of the legal, law enforcement, and penal responses made by any given state.
There are many different ways to classify crimes. A very basic method is to separate them into two types: (1) mala prohibita and (2) mala in se. Mala prohibita (“evil prohibited”) crimes are those that are illegal because legislatures label and identify them as such. These are crimes such as seat belt laws, helmet laws, or gambling laws. The other type of crime is labeled mala in se (“evil in itself ”). These acts, such as murder and sexual assault, are almost universally deemed harmful and negative.
In examinations of education and crime, crime often is viewed as acts committed by people who lack education; lack any educational attainment; and, most often, lack any higher level of intelligence. However, crime is a much more complex human experience and behavior than this view represents.