Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities

October 18, 2013 at 10:45 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“[We found that] if we created the right wraparound programs, the right preschool programs that were strong enough and rigorous enough, that fed into a rigorous pre-K through 3 program that fed into a middle school and a high school that actually works and inspired as well as prepared the child, you could have marvelous things happening . . . It all starts in the first 720 days—pre-K, K, 1, and 2. If you don’t get those right, the last 720 days—grades 9, 10, 11, 12—won’t be right.”

–Dr. Jerry Weast

In 2011, Dr. Jerry Weast retired after serving for twelve years as Superintendent of the Montgomery County Public Schools, a district just outside Washington, D.C. that was the largest and most diverse school system in Maryland and the 16th largest district in the nation. During Dr. Weast’s time as Superintendent the county underwent a large demographic change, with growing numbers of students of color and students living in poverty. The district adapted by doubling down on strategies for helping all of its children succeed. Narrowing the achievement gap for the district’s nearly 145,000 students during his tenure was a key priority for Dr. Weast, and during the same time Montgomery County also earned national recognition for achieving the highest student graduation rate among the nation’s 50 largest school systems. Several of its high schools consistently rank among the best in the country. As Dr. Weast recently explained in an interview with the Children’s Defense Fund, Montgomery County achieved many of its successful outcomes for its graduating seniors by deciding from the beginning where they wanted their students to end up as they entered adulthood, and working backwards to build the right path from their earliest years to get them there.

Dr. Weast said he sees children’s education as a chain that begins at birth, includes quality preschool, continues with a quality K-12 school experience, and is then connected to college and career training. The county wanted a clearer understanding of what links they needed to build at the start so children would have the most success at the end, so they did careful research. They worked closely with the business community both to determine what kind of education would prepare students for the jobs the county’s business leaders wanted to create in the future, and to see what the school system could learn from best practices in business about successful problem-solving. They obtained data from the Department of Labor and the National Student Clearinghouse and cross-matched their graduates against it to identify the children who had gone on to become the most successful adults, and then studied the paths those students had followed during school. “And what we found is that there were actually milestones that those children all hit, regardless of race or ethnicity or poverty. For example, we found that they needed to be able to read at some level in kindergarten. Well, that demanded that we have an early childhood program.”

When the county began setting goals for kindergarten readiness, only about 30 percent of kindergarteners met the standards. The schools shared their new standards for school readiness with everyone in the county from Head Start programs to private preschools and child care providers and offered early care providers curriculum materials and training. A decade into their efforts, even with large increases in the number of children living in poverty and children who didn’t speak English at home, 90 percent of incoming students were ready for kindergarten and 90 percent were leaving kindergarten with the right reading skills—“and then bingo. They were on a track for success.”

The district also developed new ways to engage parents and serve families, creating “parent academies” to teach parents how to access school services, arranging for local doctors and counselors to volunteer services at trailers stationed at schools, and providing summer feeding programs—“anything we could do to make the school the hub.” Eventually parents, educators, business leaders, and even students themselves were all on the same page about where they wanted the county’s children to be: “We all worked together as a team, kind of like the old game of Tug the Rope. We all got on the same rope, and we all pulled . . . The success that Montgomery had was due in a major part to listening to the Montgomery County employees, the Montgomery County parents, and putting it in a particular perspective [so] people could see that we weren’t doing this just to be do-gooders, but it was an economic imperative. It was an imperative to bring jobs into the community. It was an imperative to help those who are here and who are about to come.”

It’s a strategy for getting it right right from the start that has had great results for Montgomery County’s children. And as Dr. Weast emphasized, what Montgomery County has done could and should be happening all across the nation: “Everything that we did could actually easily be replicated anywhere in the country. All you have to do is learn to work together. All you have to do is ask under what conditions can we get these outcomes. All you have to do is to quit talking about it and start doing it, because if you start doing it, you will learn from your mistakes . . . We have to do this, and it’s going to take every one of us pulling together.”

Advertisements

I WONDER:

October 18, 2013 at 2:47 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In 20 words or less, if you were designing a longitudinal program for poverty / minority / disadvantaged / academically and socially fragile, rising 8th grade MALES, what would your MUST BE PART OF THE INITIATIVE cornerstones be?

Looking forward to responses!

Charter Schools: Cure or Curse? Frank Islam and Ed Crego

October 9, 2013 at 11:37 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In our last blog titled “Education: Making the Connections,” we introduced the concept of a triangle with the student at the center and with the family at the top and the school and the community at either tip. We see the tips of the triangle as the pivotal points at which we need to make the proper connections in order to improve the quality of education.

In this blog, we focus on schools and in the next two we will address the community and family connections. And, given the current momentum and closing of so many public schools in urban areas, it is essential to begin by examining the impact of the accelerating trend toward charter schools.

The charter school movement is definitely changing the educational terrain. Is this a change for the better or the worse? The answer appears to be it all depends where and when you look and to whom you are talking.

On February 23, 2013, The New York Times published an editorial talking about the “better charter schools in New York” but referred to the national movement as “disappointing.” Nina Rees, President and Chief Executive, of the National Alliance for Public Schools responded to the editorial taking exception and highlighting a number of facts including: the movement has added 1,700 schools and a million students over the past five years with 610,000 on a waiting list; 500 charter schools have closed since the Stanford study of 2009 which gave the movement mixed reviews; and in New Orleans over 75 percent of the students are in charter schools with the number of students attending a failing school down threefold since Hurricane Katrina.

There was a similar point counterpoint to a March 1, 2013 Washington Posteditorial focused on the successes of KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program), a fast growing national charter school network. In its editorial, the Post cited a study by the independent firm Mathematica Policy Research (Mathematica) for 43 KIPP middle schools which found that students in these charter schools: showed significantly greater learning gains in math, science, reading and social studies than their peers in traditional public schools; that KIPP was not “creaming” to get the best students and not shedding its lower income students; and that three to four years experience in a KIPP program translated into an 11 month gain in math and science, eight months in reading, and 14 months in science. One of the biggest differences that the Mathematica research discovered between the KIPP program and public schools is that it is an average of nine hours a day for 192 days a year versus 6.6 hours per day for the traditional program.

In a web posting for School Finance 1010 on March 1, Bruce D. Baker provided a rejoinder. He had some quarrels with the Mathematica “analyses and data presentation” but he focused his attention on the “big picture” lessons. They included: This is not about doing “things better” but doing the same things more and longer; the per student cost difference is huge – the average KIPP school depending on where it is located spends about $4,800 to $5,000 more per student than its peers; and the scaling up costs to apply a KIPP approach across an entire city would be substantial: $688 million ($4,300 per student x 160,000 pupils) in New York City and $72 million ($2,000 per student x 36,000 pupils) in Houston.

Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) should be the tiebreaker on the assessment of the performance of charter schools. It has done the definitive research on them. When it presented its original findings in 2009, CREDO stunned the educational community and its observers by reporting that charter school performance varied widely with some schools performing better than public schools, some the same, and some worse.

In January of 2013, CREDO released a new report, Charter School Growth and Replication, which found that charter schools that start strongly are likely to continue to perform strongly and those that start off as low performing schools usually continue that way. CREDO broke the schools into quintiles from high performing to low performing. It reported that, “80 percent of schools in the bottom quintile of performance remain low performers through their fifth year.”

CREDO’s research presents a wealth of data and insights that can be mined to improve the performance of both charter and public schools. A primary focus of this new research was on charter management organizations (CMOs), a network of three or more schools built by a single operator.

Selected nuggets from the Executive Summary to the new report follow:

On average CMOs are pretty average. There was a slight statistically different level in student learning compared to independent charter schools but nothing to brag or write home about.

CMOs post superior results with historically disadvantaged student subgroups.

The real story of CMOs is in their range of quality. Across 167 CMOs, 43 percent outpace the learning gains of the local TPS (traditional public school) in reading, 37 percent of CMOs do the same in math. This is better for charter schools as a whole, where 17 percent posted better results than the TPS.

CMO new schools on average deliver larger learning gains than independent charter schools but both lag the learning gains in the average TPS. These effects were consistent for reading and math.

There appears to be no structural “new school” phenomenon for several years. Poor first year performance simply cannot be overlooked or excused.

In June of 2013, CREDO released its National Charter School Study 2013 as the official follow-up to its 2009 study. The press release accompanying the study was titled “Charter Schools Make Gains, According to a 26-State Study.”

The best analysis of those “gains” that we have seen was provided by Tom Loveless in an Brown Center Chalkboard July 3 posting for Brookings titled “Charter School Study: Much Ado About Tiny Differences.”

In his posting, Mr. Loveless observes at the beginning “The new study showed charters doing better, out-performing TPS by .01 standard deviations in reading and scoring abut the same as TPS in math.” He asserts that the main finding of the CREDO studies is that “achievement between charters and TPS are extremely small, so tiny, in fact, that they lack real world significance.”

Loveless follows that with an examination of standard deviations and statistical significance which we won’t go into here. But, his conclusions are worth noting. There are “negligible charter-TPS sector differences uncovered by the 2009 and 2013 CREDO studies. The two sectors perform about the same.”

The message in the bottle here is a simple one. Charter schools are not a cure-all. In general, their highly variable performance tends to mirror, and in some instance lags, that of public schools. In our opinion, what is needed then is not a conversion of the public school system to a charter school system, but rather a collaborative system that produces the best outcomes for students — especially those who are “disadvantaged” in socio-economic terms.

In December 2012, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Gates Foundation) gave $25 million in grants to seven cities to back public-charter cooperation in constructing approaches to benefit the students. In New York, four district schools and four charter schools will work together to develop a literacy program focused on the common core standards. In Denver, high performing charter and public schools can apply for grants to serve as demonstration sites for teachers and administrators from struggling schools to visit and be paired with as mentors.

The Gates Foundation is to be commended for funding this educational program which puts the kids’ interest first. It promotes solving problem solving rather than turf protecting. It shows that what is new is not necessarily good and what is old is not necessarily bad. It shifts the discussion from yours or mine to ours.

6 Truths About Depression and How to Overcome It by Lisa Firestone

October 9, 2013 at 11:33 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

October is National Depression Screening Month. One in 10 Americans struggles with depression. A common misconception about depression is that it is something people can just “snap out of.” Unfortunately, for those people who experience major depression disorder, it’s not that simple. While depression can be serious, it is far from hopeless. There are effective treatments and actions people can take to overcome this disorder. There are certain truths about depression that are important to understand, as we target this debilitating disorder that often spans generations.

1) Depression is a more than just a bad mood. As I’ve mentioned above, it’s important for friends and relatives of those struggling to understand that people who suffer from depression can’t just feel better. People experiencing a major depression really need professional treatment. Depression is a mind/body issue and should be treated with the same self-compassion and treatment-seeking with which we would treat any major illness. Different forms of therapy and/or medications work for different people. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), psychotherapy can benefit depressed individuals by helping them uncover the life problems that contribute to their depression, identify the destructive thinking that makes them feel hopeless, explore the behaviors that exacerbate their depression and regain a sense of pleasure in their lives.

2) Depression is affecting younger people. In what’s been referred to in the field of psychology as “the greening of depression,” younger people are reporting increased levels of stress and depression. According to the Federal Center for Mental Health Services, “depression affects as many as one in every 33 children and one in eight adolescents.” The APA has additionally reported that higher numbers of college students are seeking treatment for depression and anxiety, with the number of students on psychiatric medications increasing by 10 percent in 10 years.

As I highlighted in my recent blog “Depression in Mothers,” babies born to women who struggled with depression while pregnant have “higher levels of stress hormones … as well as other neurological and behavioral differences.” Thus, whether it’s based on biological factors or new social and academic demands, the vulnerability among younger people makes it all the more essential that we target depression earlier and more effectively. Studies have shown promising results to early intervention among school-age children who showcased symptoms of depression.

3) Mindfulness can help with recurrent depression. There are a lot of great treatments out there that have proven effective for dealing with depression. Research by psychologist Mark Williams, co-author of The Mindful Way Through Depression, has shown that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) can have a positive effect on preventing relapse in recovered depressed patients. His research indicates that if you teach people with recurrent depression mindfulness skills, such as meditation and breathing exercises, it reduces their chances of having another depressive episode.

Mindfulness practices don’t change our feelings or thoughts, but they do change our relationship to our feelings and thoughts. This enables a person who has a tendency toward depression to not get swept up in the thoughts and feelings that contribute to his or her depression. Another way mindfulness skills can benefit people struggling with depression is by helping them to be better able to regulate and tolerate emotion.

4) Anger often underlies depression. Often, one strong emotion behind depression is anger. Anger can be a hard emotion to deal with, but it is actually a natural human reaction to frustration. Getting angry may seem like it would only make you feel worse, but when you don’t deal with anger directly, you tend to turn it on yourself. It is important to allow yourself the freedom to fully feel your feelings, but at the same time, to control yourself from acting them out in any way that is harmful. You can recognize and accept your anger in a healthy way that releases the emotion without allowing it to fester or be turned into an attack on yourself.

5) Depression is fueled by an inner critic. We all have an inner critic, what my father, psychologist Dr. Robert Firestone, refers to as your “critical inner voice.” For people who are depressed, this critical inner voice can have a powerful and destructive influence on their state of mind. It may be feeding them a distorted commentary on their lives: You are too fat to leave the house. You are so stupid. No one will ever love you. You aren’t capable of being happy. You will never succeed at anything. The critical inner voice may then persuade you to act in destructive ways: Just be by yourself; no one wants to see you. Have another piece of cake; it will make you feel better. You shouldn’t even try for that job; you’ll never get it. Finally, once you’ve listened to its directives, the critical inner voice will attack you for your actions: You are such a loser, staying home alone on a Saturday. You messed up your diet again. What is wrong with you? You’ll never get a decent job. You’re so lazy.

To combat depression means taking on this internal enemy. This may involve looking into your past to help determine where these critical thoughts came from. How do these thoughts affect the actions you take in your life? How can you challenge these “voices” on an action level?

6) There are active steps you can take to alleviate depression. One of the worst symptoms of depression is a feeling of hopelessness. This very feeling can inhibit someone suffering from taking the steps that would help them combat their depression. In my blog “Eight Ways to Actively Fight Depression,” I outline a series of actions people can take to fight depression. These include:

• Recognizing and challenging your critical inner voice
• Identifying and feeling your anger
• Engaging in aerobic activity
• Putting yourself in social or non-isolated situations
• Doing activities you once enjoyed, even when you don’t feel like it
• Watching a funny movie or show
• Refusing to punish yourself for feeling bad
• Seeing a therapist

For people struggling with depression, it’s important to have compassion for yourself and to take actions to overcome this state, including seeking help. Remember that no matter what your critical inner voice may be telling you, the situation is far from hopeless. There is good help available and many active ways to treat your condition. For more help or information visit the National Institute of Mental Health.

A reviewof Josh’s newest album

October 9, 2013 at 1:12 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?

October 8, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I have spent a considerable portion of the last few years trying to determine what I did that was wrong. Was it wrong to give my best effort? Was it wrong to clearly speak for the children that have no voice? Was it wrong to think that – as a community – we have an obligation to level the opportunity playing field?

While I do not think it was wrong, I – over time – trapped myself into thinking that I did something wrong. Why else would there be no opportunity forthcoming? Why do I see friends networking effectively, being embraced by the community, facing new challenges and, yes, being rewarded for their efforts?

Martin Luther King, Jr said “It’s always the right time to do the right thing” and that is my guiding tenet. So, damn it, I was not wrong. I will continue to be guided by MLK’s words and -if there is not personal reward, if no one wants me, if I cannot be part of a team doing good things – so be it…I will continue to do my best to level the playing field.

I wonder

October 7, 2013 at 3:11 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I wonder why citizen are supportive of Affordable Health Care but are resistant to Obamacare?

I wonder why citizens are resistant to consistent standards for educational success but are angry when it appears [fact or fiction] that American students lag behind other industrialized countries in academic accomplishment.

I wonder why it is the government’s fault that we have untold violence in our communities when parenting seems to be an art rather than a responsibility

The Daily Beast The Apostate: An Interview With Diane Ravitch

October 7, 2013 at 2:24 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

After leading education reform for many years as a public official, education historian and blogger Diane Ravitch has emerged as one of the leading opponents of the movement. Ravitch, author of the new book ‘Reign of Error’, talks to Lauren Streib about how reform has become a cover for privatization.
by Lauren Streib | October 7, 2013 5:45 AM EDT

In 1991, Diane Ravitch was appointed an assistant secretary of education by president George H. W. Bush, becoming a leader in the education reform movement for the next decade, when she championed the No Child Left Behind Act that was signed into law by George W. Bush in 2002. But when N.C.L.B. failed to produce the results she had hoped for, and assessment tests began dominating policy, Ravitch made a 180-degree turn, and has spent the last half-decade fighting an apostate’s battle. She has become one of the most vocal supporters of public education, thanks to her many books on education history and her influential blog, where she crusades against the rise of charter schools, vouchers, privatization in education, and standardized testing. Her latest book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools, argues that the American school system is not broken, and that the reform movement will destroy our schools. She also outlines a plan for improvement, including prenatal care for mothers, early education that stresses creativity, balanced curriculums, and more resources for schools. We spoke to the leading opponent of reform about the role of charter schools, which cities are doing things right, and her Twitter proficiency.
Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch in her home office in New York on Feb. 3, 2010. (Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times, via Redux)

In Reign of Error, you call the education of the poor and minority students a scandal. Do you think more Americans should be scandalized by the discrepancy in American educational system?

I think that people should be scandalized by the amount of poverty in this nation. I think they should be scandalized that we have the highest percentage of children living in poverty of any advanced nation in the world. And I think that they should be scandalized that there’s such a difference between the suburban schools where children have such wonderful advantages and the urban schools like Philadelphia where they are closing libraries, letting go of guidance counselors.

I’ve come to think that a lot of the conversation about school reform today is what I think of as The Great Distraction. It’s a way of not talking about the core issues, the causes, If you’re not talking about the causes of poor performance in schools then you really are distracting people from genuine solutions.

There’s no other country in the world that tests every child every year.
reign-of-error-ravitch-cover

‘Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools’ by Diane Ravitch. 416 pp. Knopf. $28.

What would you say to critics that say you too easily dismiss the success of some charter schools, or that 65 percent of charter schools are single schools run by non-profits?

I think that [charter schools] have a role to play. Charter schools should do what public schools do badly. They shouldn’t aim to take the best students. Take the dropouts. Public schools have three times as many kids with disabilities. Charter schools don’t want the kids with disabilities. They have very high suspension rates. There are charter schools in Connecticut that suspend kindergarteners. Schools with no excuse policies don’t train leaders. People who are leaders are people who know how to cooperate, build teams and think differently.

Korea and Finland have no charter schools. What example are we following? Successful nations have built a strong and equitable public school system. Pasi Sahlberg [a former director general at the ministry of education in Finland] said, “we strived for equity and we got excellence.”

There are several prominent personalities in the reform cause. Michelle Rhee. Wendy Kopp. Rahm Emanuel. Who are the heroes on the anti-corporate reform side? Are they less visible?

I think there are a lot of people. Most of them are in classrooms. They’re not on the public stage. Wendy Kopp never taught. Rhee taught for three years. Bill Gates never taught. These are people making public policy. I think that’s one of the problems. We should have an education system controlled by educators. I don’t believe in mayoral control.

All we have to do is look at high performing educators of the world. They don’t bring in businessmen to rule the schools.

“There’s no other country in the world that tests every child every year.”

What school districts or cities are doing it right?

I think right now there’s a difficulty in finding models. There are two that I’ve seen. One is San Diego and the other is Cincinnati. Cincinnati looks at far more than test scores. And San Diego has a collaborative approach where the school board worked with the principals and superintendents. And they actually have experienced administrators. Testing has not been there emphasis.

You were quoted in David Denby’s New Yorker profile last year saying you can only do this for a couple of years more. What do you think your legacy will be?

I’m trying to put everything I know into my books. I’m telling people to make videos, because why not? I’m on a lecture tour now, I don’t have anybody with me, and I don’t have a staff. I can tell you there is a movement out there. This whole effort is like a great house of cards. There is an immense amount of money coming from big sources, like the Walton family, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates. The story that I’m seeing all over the country is pushing privatization to defeat the unions. But what I’ve tried to do is to encourage people and see that they’re not alone. In a democracy, numbers are more important than money.

You’re an avid tweeter. Do you follow anyone surprising on Twitter?

I don’t have a whole lot of time for Twitter because I spend so much time blogging. I rally the troops to know that the day of reckoning will come and the house of cards will fall … I think that the next president will run on a platform that says we need a different approach to education, one that makes learning joyful and encourages innovation and not obedience.

NewYork Times: The Great Divide October 5, 2013, Rich People Just Care Less By DANIEL GOLEMAN

October 7, 2013 at 10:53 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Turning a blind eye. Giving someone the cold shoulder. Looking down on people. Seeing right through them.

These metaphors for condescending or dismissive behavior are more than just descriptive. They suggest, to a surprisingly accurate extent, the social distance between those with greater power and those with less — a distance that goes beyond the realm of interpersonal interactions and may exacerbate the soaring inequality in the United States.

A growing body of recent research shows that people with the most social power pay scant attention to those with little such power. This tuning out has been observed, for instance, with strangers in a mere five-minute get-acquainted session, where the more powerful person shows fewer signals of paying attention, like nodding or laughing. Higher-status people are also more likely to express disregard, through facial expressions, and are more likely to take over the conversation and interrupt or look past the other speaker.

Bringing the micropolitics of interpersonal attention to the understanding of social power, researchers are suggesting, has implications for public policy.

Of course, in any society, social power is relative; any of us may be higher or lower in a given interaction, and the research shows the effect still prevails. Though the more powerful pay less attention to us than we do to them, in other situations we are relatively higher on the totem pole of status — and we, too, tend to pay less attention to those a rung or two down.

A prerequisite to empathy is simply paying attention to the person in pain. In 2008, social psychologists from the University of Amsterdam and the University of California, Berkeley, studied pairs of strangers telling one another about difficulties they had been through, like a divorce or death of a loved one. The researchers found that the differential expressed itself in the playing down of suffering. The more powerful were less compassionate toward the hardships described by the less powerful.

Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at Berkeley, and Michael W. Kraus, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, have done much of the research on social power and the attention deficit.

Mr. Keltner suggests that, in general, we focus the most on those we value most. While the wealthy can hire help, those with few material assets are more likely to value their social assets: like the neighbor who will keep an eye on your child from the time she gets home from school until the time you get home from work. The financial difference ends up creating a behavioral difference. Poor people are better attuned to interpersonal relations — with those of the same strata, and the more powerful — than the rich are, because they have to be.

While Mr. Keltner’s research finds that the poor, compared with the wealthy, have keenly attuned interpersonal attention in all directions, in general, those with the most power in society seem to pay particularly little attention to those with the least power. To be sure, high-status people do attend to those of equal rank — but not as well as those low of status do.

This has profound implications for societal behavior and government policy. Tuning in to the needs and feelings of another person is a prerequisite to empathy, which in turn can lead to understanding, concern and, if the circumstances are right, compassionate action.

In politics, readily dismissing inconvenient people can easily extend to dismissing inconvenient truths about them. The insistence by some House Republicans in Congress on cutting financing for food stamps and impeding the implementation of Obamacare, which would allow patients, including those with pre-existing health conditions, to obtain and pay for insurance coverage, may stem in part from the empathy gap. As political scientists have noted, redistricting and gerrymandering have led to the creation of more and more safe districts, in which elected officials don’t even have to encounter many voters from the rival party, much less empathize with them.

Social distance makes it all the easier to focus on small differences between groups and to put a negative spin on the ways of others and a positive spin on our own.

Freud called this “the narcissism of minor differences,” a theme repeated by Vamik D. Volkan, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at the University of Virginia, who was born in Cyprus to Turkish parents. Dr. Volkan remembers hearing as a small boy awful things about the hated Greek Cypriots — who, he points out, actually share many similarities with Turkish Cypriots. Yet for decades their modest-size island has been politically divided, which exacerbates the problem by letting prejudicial myths flourish.

In contrast, extensive interpersonal contact counteracts biases by letting people from hostile groups get to know one another as individuals and even friends. Thomas F. Pettigrew, a research professor of social psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, analyzed more than 500 studies on intergroup contact. Mr. Pettigrew, who was born in Virginia in 1931 and lived there until going to Harvard for graduate school, told me in an e-mail that it was the “the rampant racism in the Virginia of my childhood” that led him to study prejudice.

In his research, he found that even in areas where ethnic groups were in conflict and viewed one another through lenses of negative stereotypes, individuals who had close friends within the other group exhibited little or no such prejudice. They seemed to realize the many ways those demonized “others” were “just like me.” Whether such friendly social contact would overcome the divide between those with more and less social and economic power was not studied, but I suspect it would help.

Since the 1970s, the gap between the rich and everyone else has skyrocketed. Income inequality is at its highest level in a century. This widening gulf between the haves and have-less troubles me, but not for the obvious reasons. Apart from the financial inequities, I fear the expansion of an entirely different gap, caused by the inability to see oneself in a less advantaged person’s shoes. Reducing the economic gap may be impossible without also addressing the gap in empathy.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.