Sunio: What do our kids think about the death penalty?

A STORY I’ve been reading said that teenagers usually have a strong sense of justice. But to what extent or degree do they want it enforced?

In a school debate competition I was invited to adjudicate, one motion was about returning capital punishment in the Philippines. Of course, the expected arguments to forward the motion came out: the eye for an eye doctrine, deterrence against future crimes, retribution. Some would also argue that by trimming down the number of inmates through execution, correctional facilities would be able to save funds from the costs of housing and feeding convicts.

In my previous debate and public speaking classes, most of my students would pull out these arguments as well, even if I do not assign them to the affirmative side. As a matter of fact, most would still vouch for bringing capital punishment back.

It’s sad that opposing teams were not able to refute that felons are humans who can be reformed, if given a healthy space to do so. That the justice system is entirely about retribution and vengeance, but is also about other humane ways to apprehend and prevent crimes.

These kids are sold out to the idea that criminals are simply wicked beings that should be locked up – or worst, should be executed to put an end to their "evil doings" for good.

By this, they failed to understand how irreplaceable and important a life is, that once it is lost – or at worst, is wrongfully taken away through unjust trials, it can never return to life.

Another story I read also said: An eye for an eye will eventually make the whole world blind.

Aside from their idealistic, often naïve, point-of-view, this kind of outlook might have also been influenced from the lack of interaction with real people of different backgrounds; of how life often takes unexpected turns that force people to make choices or commit mistakes that would cost dearly.

Some may have only had television series as their only access to know how life really goes about. Sadly, most characters in these stories are portrayed to be evil incarnate – as if they were naturally born evil to be the devil in the protagonist’s life. However, I don’t dismiss shows that were successful in elaborating the build-up of circumstances and events that led to the formation of the antagonist’s obscured personality.

Bits of childhood egocentrism is also left in them wherein as long as things do not concern them, they are yet to care over them. They still subconsciously enjoy a sense of exclusivity in their lives and have subconscious self-righteousness.

Nonetheless, most kids forget the humanity of crime offenders: the propensity of people to commit mistakes or be wrongfully accused, the ability of humans to feel fear, anger, and anxiety, or other people that rely or care for them, or the vulnerability of some to abuse, neglect, or deprivation.

The factors I mentioned may have led kids and adolescence to be apathetic over things that concern life and freedom. Empathy should be cultivated in the classroom – aside from knowledge about laws, ethics, manners, survival, and matters about language, history, and sciences. With this, apathetic tendencies should also be countered through the same instruction.

The classroom should live a purpose of not only educating humans but teach learners to be real humans – those who feel, empathize, and understand.


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