It has become an article of faith among many that inner-city youth (read: black youth) in cities like Baltimore are unmotivated, shiftless, and dangerIt has become an article of faith among many that inner-city youth (read: black youth) in cities like Baltimore are unmotivated, shiftless, and dangerous. In "Coming of Age," Stefanie DeLuca, Susan Clampet-Lundquist and Kathryn Edin (hereinafter "DCE") demolish that stereotype by relating the experiences and perspectives of Baltimore youth who were the subject of intensive interviews and case histories in 2010 and 2012.
The most important takeaway from DCE's work is that these impoverished young people already have many of the values that their middle-class and upper-class counterparts have: a desire to make money legitimately, a willingness to work hard, a desire to improve their skills through education, and aspirations of having a real career. Less than 20% of the youth surveyed ever engaged in serious delinquency, and only about 13% were "in the street" for a lengthy period of time. The youth were three times as likely to graduate high school as their parents, and four times as likely to attempt some sort of post-secondary education. In fact, half of the youth had entered college or a trade school at some point.
The problems these young people face, however, are legion. They must deal with bad schools, impoverished neighborhoods (DCE find that prolonged exposure to very poor neighborhoods is a very good predictor of which kids will end up "in the street"), dead-end jobs that fail to pay a living wage, and for-profit trade schools which overpromise and underdeliver on career credentials while saddling their students with significant amounts of debt. The youth lack critical social connections that could help them obtain better information about educational options and find better jobs (connections that many middle-class Americans take for granted). Over time, even the brightest and most promising young people end up "downshifting" their goals because of financial and personal pressures.
This book focuses more on the stories of the youth and certain thematic themes instead of policy solutions. One of the other reviewers has criticized that choice, but this book has already done a tremendous service in 200 pages by giving voice to a group of people who have been relentlessly stereotyped and dismissed. Furthermore, DCE do point to the importance of things like housing reform and integration (to prevent kids from being trapped in high-poverty neighborhoods), better educational counseling about post-secondary opportunities, better regulation of for-profit colleges and trade schools, and support for personal "identity projects" that can give young kids a sense of meaning and purpose to guide them through the transition into adulthood. These solutions are not tremendously detailed or exhaustive, but they provide an important starting point for a conversation about future investment or reform.
Our underprivileged youth are far tougher, more resilient, and more eager to be productive citizens than most American believe. They deserve far more support than they currently receive, and DCE have done those youth a great service by publishing their life stories for a larger audience. If you have any sort of opinion on education, housing policy, or underprivileged youth, you should read this book....more
In this timely look at a very important topic, Katherine Newman and Hella Winston challenge prevailing views about the form and value of vocational edIn this timely look at a very important topic, Katherine Newman and Hella Winston challenge prevailing views about the form and value of vocational education in the United States. Whereas vocational education has become the red-headed stepchild of American education policy, the authors argue that the mantra of "college for all" has failed to deliver real benefits to many students while facilitating a lack of workers for middle-skill professions like manufacturing, welding, HVAC, and plumbing. The authors trace this bias to American concerns about pigeonholing students at an early age and a broader lack of respect for the blue-collar professions, even as those professions require greater familiarity with advanced technology.
A good portion of this slim, accessible book is devoted to a look at various vocational programs that have managed to survive in the inhospitable American educational climate. The authors introduce readers to a number of vocationally oriented high schools, community colleges, and technical colleges, offering a window into the opportunities they provide for students and the challenges they face in fundraising and coping with the demands of a one-size-fits-all standardized test regime.
The book then moves on to Germany, where the authors provide an overview of the "dual system" of vocational schools and apprenticeships that have helped Germany maintain its prominence as a center of manufacturing. Although the German system is not perfect (the authors acknowledge some issues with parochialism), it's abundantly clear that Germany has found a way to provide secure middle-class jobs in sectors that Americans have basically written off. To the uninitiated American, the idea of a fully unionized employer succeeding in a global market while undertaking the time and expense to train young workers sounds like a fantasy. But this is merely par for the course in Germany, where the only real threat to the system seems to be a rising cultural bias against blue-collar jobs and a diminishing pipelines of young apprentices.
Finally, the authors return to the United States and explore the various state and local programs that are trying to provide better vocational training and apprenticeship programs. In many cases, these initiatives are either spearheaded or inspired by German employers that have set up operations in the United States. While these initiatives are a bit of a patchwork and limited by the American cultural biases discussed above, the authors find "green shoots" of innovation in such unlikely places as rural South Carolina.
This book isn't a partisan screed or a promise for a silver bullet in education policy - just a sharply observed and thoughtfully argued case for reassessing our national educational priorities and creating new policies that can give underserved students an opportunity to make it into the middle class. ...more