May 26, 2003
After dozens of U.S. teenagers ran away from an academy to which they had been sent in Costa Rica, authorities there moved to shut down the school. The school was owned and run by an American company called the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools (Wwasps).
The owner of Wwasps, Narvin Lichfield, was then arrested by Mexican authorities. He was charged with holding children against their will and physically abusing them.
Child welfare investigators in Costa Rica said the Wwasps academy used beatings, physical restraints, emotional abuse and isolation.
Although Wwasps claims to help troubled teens, the one in Costa Rica turned out to have no classes, no teachers, not even staff who spoke English – despite the fact that the students all came from the U.S. The academy, housed in an old hotel, was so overcrowded that nine girls were living in one small room.
Such private schools are supposed to offer an alternative in education for youth in difficulty. In reality, Lichfield and others running such schools make money off the idea that what children lack in the schools is discipline. The "tuition" is $30,000 a year –whether paid by parents or by a juvenile court which sends children to such places.
This scam is based on the claim that a child's difficulties can be turned around if the schools act with what is called "tough love." "Tough love" by beating and depriving a child of education? That's child abuse.
But such attitudes lie behind much of what is called the juvenile justice system. In several states, teen "boot camps" have been set up for young people showing what the courts call "behavior problems" in or outside the school system. Like the Wwasps academies, these boot camps offer no real education. They are simply a form of imprisonment practicing physical, mental and emotional abuse.
Lichfield may have opened schools outside the U.S. thinking that he could get away with more in other countries. The Costa Rican and Mexican authorities investigated and acted, while U.S. authorities in four states where Wwasps academies exist have been unwilling to do so. They don't wish to interfere with "private enterprise."
American capitalist society is more and more willing to imprison and beat children than to give them an education they won't want to rebel against. It's turning the clock back a century or more.