Fighting poverty through community-based human development
Had not Hizbollah attacked Israel, the news might be occupied with G8 follow-ups related to WTO resolutions that can complement the UN Millennium Goals’ and World Bank’s war against poverty in developing regions (and the Gates Foundation’s material solidarity with the WHO’s war against disease).
Meanwhile, “developed” nations have their ongoing war against povertywell, it’s not exactly a war, is it?in terms of underfunded public health services, social services, and education. (A “great” success of terrorism is to keep public attention distracted from valid struggles.)
That’s a macro-level comment. The following is about a micro-level attention to intervention that may seem to beg the question of macro-level complexity of chronic poverty. But, if there could be any one axial intervention (the public policy correlate to seeking essentials in philosophy), then human development might well be the key locale, and intelligent parenting the primordial practice that, long-term, alleviates poverty. O, please get us beyond paternalistic rhetoric about “family values” and the “work ethic,” but all the same truly do more specifically to create community-based human development.
David Kirp, Professor of Public Policy, U. of Calif. at Berkeley, today published an article in the New York Times, “After the Bell Curve,” to which I replied twice: to the Times and to Professor Kirp (without the links below). I’ll let you know if anything comes of this (ha!).
re: “After the Bell Curve”: critical need for comprehensive parenting supports
David Kirp’s “After the Bell Curve” (July 23) is right to focus on the developmental nature of intelligence and the negative importance of poverty, but he doesn’t emphasize the importance of persistent and consistent support for parenting skills, as David Brooks indicated in his discussion (“Both Sides of Inequality,” March 9, 2006) of Annette Laueau’s ethnographic Unequal Childhoods: class, race, and family lifes, which indicates in detail what parents of successful children do.
We need more than weekday universal preschool (though that, too, obviously). We need a pediatric and community health care system that addresses the issues of mornings, evenings, and weekends throughout childhood. We need funded public policy oriented toward pre-parent and parenting education with ongoing home supports; and persistent, consistent home-school partnership throughout childhood.
Indeed, “it takes a village,” and we’re a long way from effective community-based human development for those who most need it. A fundamental rethinking of the interdisciplinary problem of public policy for human development seems critical, involving public health, education, social welfare, public policy, sociology, politics, and even philosophy (my bias).
To: David Kirp Subject: The root of the problem “After the Bell Curve”: parenting education and long-term support
Your engaging NYTimes article showsimplicitly, but, I believe, intentionallyhow the matter is not “the roots of intelligence,” but the roots of good development as indicated by standard IQ measures, i.e., effective intelligence is developmental, not genetic (which has been a keynote of leading intelligence researcher Robert Sternberg’s work for many years). But researchers’ focus on poverty (easy to measure) eludes the vital issue. Your article indeed mentions that poverty is not the heart of the issue, but largely you imply otherwise.
There is an unspecified correlation between socioeconomic status of parents and the vital issue: parenting effectiveness (very difficult to quantify). Obviously, high income level alone doesn’t cause successful development. Something about parents who also produce higher economic qualities of life also educe more successful children. You mention this in passing: As “Turkheimer explains[,] ’Well-off families can provide the mental stimulation needed for genes to build the brain circuitry for intelligence.’” But that kind of issue should become front-and-center. Of course, “A family’s social standing is only a proxy for the time and energy needed to keep a youngster mentally engaged, as well as the social capital that helps steer a child to success.” So, what is the character of that time and energy, that social capital? That should be a key orientation of progressive social policy, as a matter of integrated public health, social services, and education for community-based human development.
Maybe you’re familiar with Annette Laueau’s ethnographic Unequal Childhoods: class, race, and family life, which indicates in detail what parents of successful children do. Let me provide a brief sense of what especially interests me:
.... Unequal childhoods: class, race, and family life, 2003, finds that successful children are far more communicatively engaged by their parents, for the sake of facilitating broad engagement of their children’s lives, than are the parents of unsuccessful children. This might seem unsurprising; but what’s interesting is what the parents of successful children do: They’re enmeshed in a syndrome, so to speak, that educes cognitive development and independence, whereas the parents of unsuccessful children tend to believe that letting their children have “freedom”—that “natural growth” takes care of itself—is good parenting.
The parents of successful children have a sense of “bugging” and tracking their kids, reasoning with them rather than dictating, insisting on their involvement in this-and-that—what Lareau calls “Concerted Cultivation” (CC below). Parents of unsuccessful children tend to have a “Natural Growth” (NG) attitude toward good parenting.
From the table on page 31 of her book (1st edition):
language use: CC involves trying to reason with the kids and justify directives; NG tends to simply issue directives. CC acquiesces to “child contestation” of adult statements; NG doesn’t find questioning acceptable. CC: “extended negotiations between parent and child”; NG: “general acceptance by child of directives”
intervention in institutions: CC: “criticisms and interventions on behalf of child” (caused by non-acceptance of constraints); NG: “dependence on institutions” (caused by acceptance of constraints). CC: “training of child to take on this role”; NG: “sense of powerlessness and frustration” and “conflict between childrearing practices at home” (paternalistic parent-to-child) “and at school” (adult-to-child).
organization of daily life CC: “multiple child leisure activities orchestrated by adults”; NG: “‘hanging out’, particularly with kin, by child”
key elements: CC: “Parent actively fosters and assesses child’s talents, opinions, and skills”; NG: “Parent cares for child and allows child to grow”
consequences: CC: “emerging sense of entitlement on the part of the child”; NG: “ emerging sense of constraint on the part of the child”
This is a developmental class differencenot as such a socioeconomic class difference with different developmental correlates (though this may happen to be the case, too); rather, a differentiation of developmentality that fosters socioeconomic class difference! This is not a chicken-and-egg quibble. It’s within one’s power to learn to change developmental class when it’s not yet in one’s power to change socioeconomic class. The ambitious mentality of the voluntary immigrant who turns out to thrive may be equally available to the native poor who persistently fail. ...
Though early child education programs (after age 3?) ought to be universally available, that won’t address the lesson (for age 3 and less all the time; and for all ages of childhood mornings, evenings, and weekends) that should be taken from the research you mention that “home life is the critical factor for youngsters at the bottom of the economic barrel.” Instead, this is the kind of problem that can best be addressed by a pediatric and community health care system oriented toward pre-parent and parenting education with ongoing home supports; and persistent, consistent home-school partnership all alongan apparently unmanageable problem? Maybe, but this is the “root” of the issue: Home life that fails to engage child development persistently and consistently implies motivational and character factors that require persistent and consistent therapeutic intervention, which ain’t going to happen in a society that can’t decently meet the basic health care access needs of couples prior to their parenting experience and well into their parenting years. Indeed, “it takes a village,” and we’re a long way from effective community-based human development for those couples who most need it. A fundamental rethinking of the interdisciplinary problem of public policy for human development seems critical, involving public health, education, social welfare, public policy, sociology, politics, and even philosophy (my bias).
Berkeley (not affiliated with UCB)
July 24 David Kirp replies:
Many thanks for your thoughtful letter, with which I agree completely. I see the NYT piece as a first step, in moving readers away from the Bell Curve model, which I see as still the dominant paradigm. After that come the questions to which I alluded in the last paragraphs, and which you put front and center in your email. That’s a major part of the book project.
PS I know Annette’s book well; it’s nudged my thinking in helpful ways.