Friday, June 16, 2017

What will future houses of worship look like?

This post originally appeared in  RNS Religion and News Service on June 14, 2017

By Michael J. Crosbie and Julio Bermudez


(RNS) Over the past few decades the concept of a “church” — in fact, of all kinds of religious buildings — has been shifting, some might even say radically transforming, because of big changes in people’s attitudes about religion.

Surveys by groups such as Pew Research and Trinity College have shown a precipitous drop in people who belong to organized religions, particularly in the Christian and Jewish faiths and among those under 35.

Today the largest single segment of the population in the U.S. describes itself as “nones”: affiliated with no organized religious group. People of all ages are turning away from organized religion but they are not necessarily choosing to be atheists. It seems like they are looking for a more genuine, personal experience of the spiritual in their lives. Many call themselves “spiritual but not religious.”

As architects ourselves and as teachers of future architects, we wonder what a house of worship in the future will look like.

Do we even need a building to be religious, to be spiritual, to practice our belief? Is there a future for religious architecture at all?

We put that question to a group of architecture students at the Catholic University of America in Washington. The big transformations in spiritual belief are being led by millennials, people just like our students.

We asked them to reflect upon their own experiences with organized religion, their own beliefs and the “search” for a new kind of church they might be engaged in. We shared demographic info about how religion is changing in America. We then picked a site in Washington for which the students could design a new kind of house of worship.


The students revealed a willingness to greatly broaden the definition of what happens inside a house of worship, and why it was important to them.

Students found new opportunities to define a sacred place in such activities as performing music or making art; in moving their bodies through space in the medium of dance; in digitally connecting with people and events around the globe; in sharing with and caring for other human beings through the concept of “giving and receiving”; in creating a safe place for women who are victims of domestic violence; in landscape and nature serving as a setting for contemplation, reflection and celebration; in providing support to those seeking to strengthen their bodies and spirits through nutrition and exercise.

Conventional ideas about houses of worship were pretty sparse.

The new house of worship’s “design program” (the kind of spaces included) evolved from the students’ ideas about where the sacred might be found. The designs reflect some of the elements of contemporary ideas about spirituality, with a combination of places for the spirit, places to share community, places for outreach, places for creation and performance, places for gathering in worship and ritual, places to share meals and fellowship (like pubs or coffeehouses). The program was flexible in the sense that the students could decide how much space to devote to different functions and activities.

Because this was not a single-use building, but multifaceted in its spaces and functions, it should offer opportunities to design “in cathedral.” The term “in cathedral” was coined by author and educator Elizabeth Drescher and explored by Keith Anderson in his recent book, “The Digital Cathedral” (Morehouse, 2015). Being “in cathedral” recognizes the sacred in everyday life, in everyday places, the network of relationships among neighbors and even strangers, and the witness of believers beyond the confines of an enclosed sacred space. These new designs should be “in cathedral” with the surrounding neighborhood and the people who live there.

The search for the sacred through the design studio assignment resulted in what we think are some provocative, challenging schemes of what the new houses of worship might look like as religion in America continues to change. In fact, we had to admit that we, as design critics (of the boomer generation), might not be ready to accept the new kinds of sacred places and spaces that the students might develop.

When the students presented their projects there were a few debates between students and teachers about what could or should be considered sacred and what wasn’t. It was at that point that we realized that the design project to design a new house of worship had achieved some measure of success: to challenge and confront the idea that a religious building should be static and unchanging; to consider that every generation needs to ask and try to answer what it is, or what it might be. 

(Julio Bermudez is on the architecture faculty of the Catholic University of America and heads the Sacred Space and Cultural Studies concentration. Michael J. Crosbie teaches architecture at the University of Hartford)

Friday, June 2, 2017

How to Help Low-Income Students Succeed

This post originally appeared on The Greater Good Science Center website on June 3, 2016

By Jill Suttie

According to a new book, we tend to blame kids who struggle rather than blaming their environment.

With all of the talk of education reform and what’s needed to revitalize public schools, it’s refreshing to read Paul Tough’s new book, Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why. In this slim volume, Tough pulls together decades of social science research on the impacts of poverty and trauma on kids’ brains and behavior, and makes a cogent, convincing argument for why this research should lie at the center of any discussions about reform.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016, 119 pages.
Researchers have found that the chronic stress of living in chaotic, impoverished environments affects brain centers involved in executive functioning, which controls things like attention, working memory, planning, reasoning, and inhibition. Children who grow up in stressful environments tend to have more emotional and behavioral problems, making the transition to school problematic. Yet, as Tough points out, more than 50 percent of school-aged kids are now coming from low-income families, without the optimal cognitive or emotional development to succeed as students.

Disadvantaged kids with neuro-cognitive problems should not be blamed for having trouble learning to read and write early on, he writes. It’s understandable that, as academic material gets more difficult, they will likely fall behind further, emotionally and relationally. When these kids hit adolescence, though, they often are labeled as unmotivated or as having attitude problems, which just alienates them even more.

Though the picture looks dire, character strengths like perseverance, conscientiousness, self-control, and optimism can help kids succeed in spite of hardship, according to Tough. They are not easily taught, though, at least not directly. Instead, contextual influences in the environment are what nurture them.
If we want to improve a child’s grit or resilience or self-control, it turns out that the place to begin is not with the child himself,” writes Tough. “What we need to change first, it seems, is his environment.
The role of parents

What does Tough mean by environment? The adults in a child’s life, starting at the very beginning with parents.

Research has shown that all young children need certain types of supports from parents to develop in positive directions—starting with consistent, safe, and loving attention. When children come from homes where there is abuse, domestic violence, an incarcerated parent, or a parent with drug or mental health problems, they don’t get that kind of attention and suffer the consequences: higher risks of later-life depression, adolescent pregnancy, alcoholism, drug use, and poor academic performance.

Parents can also shape their children’s life trajectory by how they role-model emotional resilience. If stressed-out parents react to children’s emotions by yelling at or hitting them, or ignoring or neglecting them, they create an unsafe environment that ratchets up the children’s stress and distrust of others. Negative parenting can affect a child’s ability to regulate emotion, which creates problems in interpersonal interactions as well as learning.

“By contrast, parents who are able to help their children handle stressful moments and calm themselves down after a tantrum or scare often have a profoundly positive effect on the children’s long-term ability to manage stress,” writes Tough.

Rather than focusing on heartwarming stories, Tough chooses to spend time detailing the types of interventions that show promise. Programs like FIND, which trains parent coaches to work with low-income, stressed parents, focus less on pointing out what parents do wrong and more on what parents do right, in order to nudge parents toward behaviors that help their kids.

The role of schools

Paul Tough
Tough also describes successful programs aimed at preschool-aged kids—like Educare, All Our Kin, and CSRP, all of which focus on improving the learning environment for young kids (rather than direct skills training). In a randomized trial of CSRP, children who spent a pre-K year in CSRP had better cognitive skills and better self-regulation—the ability to sit still, follow directions, and pay attention—than kids who hadn’t gone through CSRP. The improvements were all credited to the stable, nurturing, predictable learning environment, where good behavior was recognized more than bad behavior punished.

“Changing the environment in the classroom made it easier for [the kids] to learn,” writes Tough.

For older kids, Tough eschews our current tactic of offering students extrinsic rewards, and instead encourages teachers to nurture intrinsic motivation, fueled by the basic human need for competence, autonomy, and relatedness (or connection). Tough suggests teachers assign tasks that are challenging, but not too challenging; minimize coercion and control; and show warmth and respect for students, so they feel part of the learning community.

“These motivational dynamics can play an even greater role in the school experience of low-income students, especially those whose development has been affected by early exposure to toxic stress,” he writes. Punitive policies targeting behavioral problems have been shown to backfire, he adds, putting kids even further behind their peers.

In other words, motivation to learn has little to do with grit and more to do with the learning environment. Tough recounts an experiment by David Yeager and colleagues in which teachers provided feedback to students on their essays and then added a Post-it that said either the comments were given as feedback or the comments reflected the teacher’s high expectations for the student. This relatively small difference had a profound effect, particularly on black students: 72 percent revised their paper if they were told the teacher had high expectations, while only 17 percent revised it otherwise.

“At the very moment when a student might be gearing up to react to the teacher’s comments as a threat, a sign of the teacher’s personal disapproval or bias, the Post-it gave the student an alternative frame through which to view those comments—not as an attack, in other words, but as a vote of confidence,” writes Tough.

It’s also important that teachers provide challenge to students, says Tough. He highlights some of the innovative programs that are working on creating a positive learning environment, both relationally and academically. EL Education is a research-based program that helps schools work with emotionally or behaviorally challenged students in therapeutic ways, then provides curriculum allowing students more autonomy and challenge. Independent evaluators have found that schools embracing EL Education programs significantly advance students’ reading and math abilities in comparison to other schools.

But of course these are only isolated programs, albeit ones that are growing in influence. Though science may inform positive reforms, the reforms may be difficult to scale up, even if they are effective. Education experts have a long history of imposing well-meaning but ineffective policy changes on schools, and the authority to reform schools often lies within each state or even within individual school districts. .

But Tough is hopeful. If we can change our policies and our practices in the classroom, and work with researchers devoted to finding ways to help our children, we can “make a tremendous difference, not only in the lives of individual children and their families, but in our communities and our nation as a whole.”

His book may just help get us there.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Why Escaping Poverty Isn’t Nearly as Easy as People Think

This post originally appeared in Everyday Feminism Magazine on January 29, 2017

By Hanna Brooks Olsen

I’ll never forget the girl in my college sociology class who thought it was the easiest thing in the world.

In a seminar about class, we went around the room to describe which income echelon we thought our families were in.

“Middle class,” said most kids.

“I guess upper-middle class?” asked a girl in Coach sneakers.

“Ah, well… Low-income,” I stated. I was the only one.

Then, our professor asked us each to explain how we thought people end up in the social class they’re in. Coach Sneakers wasn’t hesitant this time: “Because some people work hard, and some people don’t.”

The American Dream is built on the notion that anyone can get ahead – that monetary security, financial comfort, and even the occasional vacation or luxury item are all within reach to any and all citizens.

Holding up this vision is a deeply-rooted belief (which goes back to decades-old ideals of “Social Darwinism” and is often reinforced by our upbringing and education, not to mention the political views of a lot of, um, “leaders”) that the equation for success is quite simple: If we work hard, we will get ahead.

In this framework, the solution to poverty is neatly tied up in a bow made of our own individual bootstraps.

Unfortunately, this is based on one giant, huge, incorrect assumption that the playing field is perfectly leveled – that we live in a society and an economic system that rewards hard work equally.

You probably know that race, gender, sexual orientation, disability status, and any other number of identities may change a person’s starting position in the race toward financial and social stability.

But you may not always be able to see the different ways that economic status does, too.

Basically, socioeconomic status exists on an intersectional continuum like so many social systems – and when talking and thinking about poverty, we need to treat it as such.

This is especially crucial for those of us with an interest and investment in social justice. Like many other systemic forms of oppression, the trials and outcomes of people who experience poverty (particularly during childhood) can be invisible and extremely hard to parse out and understand if you haven’t experienced them first-hand.

There are a variety of emotional, physical, and even neurological disadvantages that come along with childhood poverty. Pointing them out and examining their impacts can help us begin to redraw the starting line and dismantle the narrative that poverty can be escaped by climbing harder.

So here are some facts to help you recognize the challenges of escaping poverty.

1. Poverty Is a Complex Cycle of Factors

One of the most important aspects of conceptualizing how poverty impacts people is to understand that it is more than just not having money.

We often think of poverty as monetary status – someone doesn’t have money right now; thus, they are poor – rather than a cycle.

Put more simply, poor people are just like not-poor people, except they have less money right now. But chronic poverty (the kind that impacts families and entire communities) is not the same as being broke, and it’s not the same as being low on funds before your parents deposit your rent money.

What defines poverty isn’t just the fact that someone’s bank account is overdrawn. Poverty is not a temporary status for most individuals and families.

Instead, it’s a cycle that continues to self-perpetuate and worsen over time.

Not everyone who lives in poverty is born poor. Plenty of people experience injuries, changes in their industry, death, divorce, mental illness, chronic illness, medical bills, and any other number of all-too-common bank-breakers that decrease their earnings significantly.

But once you’ve become poor in the US, you tend to stay there and raise your children there. And if you’re born poor, there’s only a 30% chance that you’ll ascend to the middle class (and this number drops significantly depending on your ethnicity).

In fact, one of the biggest indicators of a child’s success isn’t how hard they work as an adult, but how much money their parents made. And upper- and middle-class kids, regardless of their grades or performance, are more likely to make it out of college with a degree than those from low-income families.

That’s because the trappings of systemic poverty are woven into the fabric of daily life, particularly for individuals and families who live in economically depressed areas, whether starting from a young age or not.

Adults who have recently found themselves living in poverty often struggle with myriad hurdles – like access to transportation and healthcare – which makes it difficult to get on their feet again.

But for those who are born into poor households, the deck is really stacked.

Small (but crucial) pieces of legacy poverty begin impacting a child from day one and create a foundation that is difficult to dismantle as they get older – particularly if they never got the tools to do so.

Here are just a few of the ways that children living in poverty are set back from those in the middle-class when they attempt to better their financial status:
  • Access to good schools and instruction
  • Access to nutrition, both early in life and as an adult
  • Access to future-planning assistance (how do you apply for college if no one in your family has ever done it?)
  • Access to internships and other jobs that require time, but don’t pay enough to pay rent
  • Career opportunities through parental or familial connections (like alumni networks)
  • Access to social safety nets (like parents who can help pay a bill or two)


Lack of access, on multiple fronts, all add up to an uphill battle to increase a person’s lifetime earnings.

There are also very real physical and psychological barriers created or worsened by childhood poverty. Childhood poverty has been found to actually alter brain chemistry and function.

One 2015 study found that up to 20% of the achievement gap between low-income and middle-income children could be attributed to reduced brain surface.

Low-income individuals and families also suffer from interacting with a financial system that penalizes them and profits off of poverty.

Overdraft fees, payday lenders, and student debt all disproportionately impact low-income folks, making it difficult to save money, make necessary purchases without incurring huge penalties, and require the single, biggest action we tell people to take to get ahead: Go to college.

2. Poverty Is an Intersectional Issue

Often, poverty and income inequality (like other topics in the economic sphere) are set aside from “social” issues (like feminism, systemic racism, immigration, criminal justice reform, and the difficulties of the LGBTQIA+ community).

This is a problem because it creates a siloing effect, both in how we view poverty and income inequality and in how to best help those experiencing these issues.

We don’t often look at the ways that poverty intersects with the issues of marginalized groups, and instead, tend to treat it as a separate ailment.

In reality, poverty is caused by much more than just a lack of jobs or expensive housing. For many communities, poverty is a byproduct of other systemic issues.

Mass incarceration is a poverty contributor. Mass deportations are a poverty contributor. And of course, systematic racial and ethnic income gaps in the workplace contribute to poverty.

Everyone has heard the “77 cents to the dollar” figure about the gender wage gap, and perhaps many even know that it’s much larger for Black and Brown folks. But few realize that documented wage gaps also exist for folks who are LGBTQIA+, Native American, new Americans, and disabled, just to name a handful.

Most children will never experience poverty. Approximately one in five children lives below the poverty line, though as many as 40% may be considered “low-income,” based on the cost of living.

However, unsurprisingly, those numbers don’t tell the full story, which is that poverty hits some communities much harder than others.

And though poverty cuts across identities, it demonstrably impacts some identities much more than others.

Black and Latinx kids are more likely to live in poverty than their white peers – and while the number of white children living in poverty has dipped in recent years, the number of children of color has remained steady.

Additionally, Black adults who escape poverty are more likely to backslide at some point in their lives, in large part due to the other oppressions that plague historically Black neighborhoods.

By continuing to divide poverty from other identity intersections, we’re permitted to ignore the very real economic consequences of a legacy of racism, misogyny, ableism, anti-queer and -trans discrimination, and so much more.

3. Stereotypes About How to Get Out of Poverty Have Real Consequences

Unfortunately, despite mountains of evidence (not to mention the lived experience of millions of Americans), you may still have a hard time shaking the idea that the only thing standing between poor people and wealthy people is how hard they’ve worked and how much they wanted to succeed.

And that’s unfortunately very common.

Even more unfortunately, this belief – when held by voters and reinforced by lawmakers eager to please their constituents – has led to troubling and even dangerous policies that perpetuate the cycle of poverty.

For example, a huge portion of the funds from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program – what we typically think of as “welfare” – go toward so-called “welfare to work” programs.

These programs directly tie assistance money to job attainment and retention, and have been demonstrably shown time and again to be ineffective at helping people escape poverty.

Additionally, House Speaker Paul Ryan has doubled down on these programs in his proposal, entitled “A Better Way,” despite numerous reports that the method is ineffective.

These programs are hugely popular policies with lawmakers and voters because they sound like the kind of programs that we have been told works. They appear to make poor people responsible for their choices and force them to get back on their feet.

However, these programs don’t take into account the challenges of economically distressed areas, nor do they tackle systemic wage gaps, skills gaps, or issues like debt, housing costs, and financial literacy.

Instead, they often leave people trapped in a cycle of poverty with no escape – and then blame them for it.

Stereotypes about poverty are also frequently value judgements about poor people, which are also not based in reality.

Many Americans believe that the bulk of assistance dollars goes to poor people who squander them. This is untrue. The majority of welfare dollars go to other programs that have little to no empirical evidence to support their efficacy.

Since the 1996 welfare reform package, though, people are getting less assistance than they used to – despite evidence which shows that direct cash assistance is one of the most effective uses of public dollars.

There’s also a distinct element of racism in how people view those living in poverty and receiving assistance – whether it’s “welfare queens” or “Obama phones,” many white Americans incorrectly assume that people of color make up the bulk of welfare recipients.

That’s also untrue. The majority of food stamp recipients are white.

However, by upholding this racist belief, lawmakers are able to continue to deprive communities of color of what they need while catering to white voters.

By perpetuating these stereotypes and failing to address the real, root problems which contribute to poverty, citizens telegraph to lawmakers that ineffective, harmful policies are what will get them reelected, and that they are not interested in tackling issues of marginalization in their communities or the country at large.

However, plenty of people don’t realize how deeply they hold these beliefs, or how much these beliefs inform their understanding of the economy.

We tend to believe these ideas implicitly and without criticism – often, because it feels safer to do so.

After all, if hard work doesn’t relate directly to success, what does that mean for our own path toward success?

But acknowledging that wealth – or even financial stability – is a privilege doesn’t mean that those with means haven’t also worked hard.

Benefitting from largely invisible forces – like parents with college degrees or attending well-funded public schools – doesn’t mean people don’t have to work as hard or that their work means less.

But it does mean that their work tends to go farther and that they’re permitted to fail or stumble without catastrophic outcomes.

Hard work is an important component for success – but it’s certainly not a guaranteed road out of poverty.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Adrift

By Jon Dunnemann

Adrift
by James McQuaid
If we really are who we say we are then why doesn't it show more? We call our country the United States but by all indications we continue to live in so many divided states of contradiction. It is as if we are afraid to get close enough to be personally touched in a deep and lasting way. Are we just desperately wishing for things to remain as they were yesterday without complications, without heartache, and without any added sacrifice on our part of either our energy or our time? We can't effectively grow like that and neither can this country that we all claim to love. The power of our conviction requires an unending inertia.   

If you and your parents have lived here for a long enough period of time and have gone through the American education system, been exposed to the teachings of the Judeo/Christian Church, and are familiar with their offshoots which include the Boy Scouts or the Girls Scouts, and the YM/YWCA then there is a very good chance that you were taught in all of these settings that we are supposed to all be pulling together in the same direction in an effort to avert and avoid the mire and muck that we are bound to come upon at some juncture both individually and collectively. Yet even now, in these days we are left to ponder, is all this reasoning still true? Did we earnestly mean to advance these important principles?

Permit me to propose to you that the answer to this question is a resounding yes. For this reason, now is the precise time at which I would like to remind you America that we've got company in our nation: 
In 2015, 1.38 million foreign-born individuals moved to the United States, a 2 percent increase from 1.36 million in 2014. India was the leading country of origin for recent immigrants, with 179,800 arriving in 2015, followed by 143,200 from China, 139,400 from Mexico, 47,500 from the Philippines, and 46,800 from Canada. In 2013, India and China overtook Mexico as the top origin countries for recent arrivals.
While most of these new arrivals are immigrants new to the country, some are naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents, and others who might have lived in the United States for some time prior to returning in 2015 (http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/frequently-requested-statistics-immigrants-and-immigration-united-states#CurrentHistoricalNumbers).
Source: Migration Policy Institute (MPI) tabulation of data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2010 and 2015 American Community Surveys (ACS), and 1970-2000 decennial Census.

Like those before them, most of these newcomers to our shores travelled light bringing with them just the clothes on their back, a few photos, and their most precious hopes, dreams, and aspirations. Therefore, let it be clearly understood by all that most immigrants do not leave their native country as a result of having too much freedom, being too well feed, having an over abundance of opportunity or because they are being overly well-treated. No, they were and continue to be more willing to risk their lives at sea to come to our nation where second chances are a real and active possibility than to die from constant abuse, disease, fear, hopelessness, servitude or starvation. This is the case because on the basis of our declaration of independence, our constitution, and our acclaimed hospitality we have historically projected freedom, hope, and a welcoming invitation to people from other nations everywhere in the world: 
“Give me your tired, your poor, 
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: 
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
― Emma Lazarus 

As we have done in the past, we should continue to take stock of how we are counted upon to set aside an open seat at our table where one may join us in a feast of perpetual succor. We must do this because like the newcomer, the majority of us were all once adrift and without a place to call home. Were it not for the goodwill of others, prayer, and faith in God Almighty we might easily have perished.

Behold, that in this very hour someone else stands at the door and knocks. Will you open it or will you persist through a cold and dark spiritual blindness that results in their being ignored and shutout? I wish to appeal to you to always act in the same manner as you would desire for God to act if you were the one who was actually doing the knocking and desiring of comfort, mercy, and safe harbor!!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The New Urban Agenda: Key Commitments

This post first appeared on the UN Website on October 20th, 2016




New Urban Sustainability

It’s official: world leaders have adopted the New Urban Agenda, which sets a new global standard for sustainable urban development, and will help us rethink how we plan, manage and live in cities. The New Urban Agenda is  roadmap for building cities that can serve as engines of prosperity and centres of cultural and social well-being while protecting the environment. The Agenda also provides guidance for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and provides the underpinning for actions to address climate change.

Now it is up to national governments and local authorities to implement the Agenda, with technical and financial partnerships and assistance from the international community.

In the New Urban Agenda, leaders have committed to:

Provide basic services for all citizens
These services include: access to housing, safe drinking water and sanitation, nutritious food, healthcare and family planning, education, culture and access to communication technologies.

Ensure that all citizens have access to equal opportunities and face no discrimination
Everyone has the right to benefit from what their cities offer. The New Urban Agenda calls on city authorities to take into account the needs of women, youth and children, people with disabilities, marginalized groups, older persons, indigenous people, among other groups.

Promote measures that support cleaner cities
Tackling air pollution in cities is good both for people”s health and for the planet. In the Agenda, leaders have committed to increase their use of renewable energy, provide better and greener public transport, and sustainably manage their natural resources.

Strengthen resilience in cities to reduce the risk and the impact of disasters
Many cities have felt the impact of natural disasters and leaders have now committed to implement mitigation and adaptation measures to minimize these impacts. Some of these measures include: better urban planning, quality infrastructure and improving local responses.

Take action to address climate change by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions
Leaders have committed to involve not just the local government but all actors of society to take climate action taking into account the Paris Agreement on climate change which seeks to limit the increase in global temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius. Sustainable cities that reduce emissions from energy  and build resilience can play a lead role.

Fully respect the rights of refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons regardless of their migration status
Leaders have recognized that migration poses challenges but it also brings significant contributions to urban life. Because of this, they have committed to establish measures that help migrants, refugees and IDPs make positive contributions to societies.

Improve connectivity and support innovative and green initiatives
This includes establishing partnerships with businesses and civil society to find sustainable solutions to urban challenges

Promote safe, accessible and green public spaces
Human interaction should be facilitated by urban planning, which is why the Agenda calls for an increase in public spaces such as sidewalks, cycling lanes, gardens, squares and parks. Sustainable urban design plays a key role in ensuring the liveability and prosperity of a city.

How will this be achieved?
The New Urban Agenda will require new urban rules and regulations, improved urban planning and design, and municipal finance, among other things. To find out more about the implementation of the Agenda visit: https://habitat3.org/the-new-urban-agenda/

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Great American Experiment

By Jon Dunnemann




My biggest reason for lending my voice to integration in all its forms is because I have directly experienced the many benefits that it can produce. From my childhood education, my church membership, my community life, my college experience, my involvement in intercollegiate sports, my travels to other countries, my professional career, and my regular reflection I am reminded of the vital ingredients that are required to build compelling value at the individual and group level. In each one of these familiar settings, I was part of a small minority of people filled with common aspirations, self-determination, and spiritual willpower. I too believed as did my grandparents, that when given a chance and backed by the same amount of resources and encouragement as the next person that I could climb any mountain, sail across any sea, and accomplish any specific goal that I set my mind to. 

For the most part, this has proven over an extended period of time to be true for me and others alike. Sure, there were a few things or people that stood in the way. While at other times, the biggest impediment to my forward progress was actually myself. Nevertheless, because of where and how I was positioned, the general company that I was surrounded by, along with the ongoing support that I received, my prospect for achieving a successful life has been much better than that of most kids with only a single parent, being in foster care, and unable to afford a college education without assistance from the federal government. Without a doubt, I am indebted to all who have positively participated in my "becoming" as it equipped me to conduct myself as a responsible husband, father, neighbor and member of society. I am a product of the Great American Experiment here to tell you that it worked.

Consequently, it is my strongly held belief that all of the advantages that were made available to me were not provided just so that I could one day live the "good life" inside of my own little bubble of comfort and safety but rather because the way that this incredible system of caring is supposed to work is that for he or she that has been given much, much will be required. The guiding and unprecedented principle behind this Great American Experiment is meant to remain continuous. Such that in the arduous and ongoing process of being helped by others, learning how better to help oneself, that this all serves as an essential preparation and training ground for the vitally important work of engaging in helping others who are confronting similarly exasperating circumstances so that they too can make steady progress and ultimately become capable themselves of growing out from underneath potentially limiting situations and thereby experience bright new horizons and more promising tomorrows. 

Of course the difficulties and troubles that I faced in my youth will not be the same as those of others that I may have the rare honor and privilege of meeting along life's journey. However, what I do share with many others is having actually tasted the grit and gravel of poverty and I have also been made soiled by the stench of pain, struggle and unpleasantry. Yet with God's grace, and all manner of assistance from numerous people early in my life, I've managed to escape defeat, despair, desperation and repeated disappointment. That my friend, is a great victory for their collective generosity of spirit, inclusion, and loving-kindness.

There is absolutely no question, that without these many gifts that today my life would only amount to small potatoes. Instead, both my heart and my potential has been enabled to reach its fullness and I also have the added blessing of having accumulated plenty of healthy seeds of prosperity to now freely share with others.  

Friday, April 7, 2017

The New Champions of School Integration

By Richard D. Kahlenberg

This post originally appeared in The Atlantic on April 6, 2017


The Department of Education killed a federal program supporting diversity efforts, but the fight to desegregate the nation’s classroom is far from over.

Policies that promote school integration by race and class took a significant hit last week when the U.S. Department of Education announced that it was killing a small but important federal program to support local diversity efforts. The initiative, “Opening Doors, Expanding Opportunities,” was slated to provide $12 million to school districts to boost socioeconomic diversity. The brainchild of President Obama’s Secretary of Education, John B. King Jr., the program had attracted interest from 26 school districts across the country that believed kids would be better off in schools that educate rich and poor, and white and minority students, together rather than separately.

According to the Washington Post, an Education Department spokesperson said the program was nixed because “it was not a wise use of tax dollars, in part because the money was to be used for planning, not implementation.” But supporters of the plan rejected that view.  Representative Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat and the ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said, “Continuing this important program would have been an easy way for the Trump Administration to affirm its commitment to civil rights.  Unfortunately, the Trump administration missed that opportunity.”

By coincidence, as the news of the program’s discontinuation broke, proponents of school diversity, including King, were gathering at the Harvard Graduate School of Education for a strategic-planning conference on school-diversity efforts. The day-long meeting, sponsored by Harvard’s Reimagining Integration program, the National Coalition on School Diversity, and The Century Foundation (where I work), brought together 50 scholars, civil-rights activists, and educators to plot out new strategies for school diversity in the age of Trump.

The decision by Donald Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, to kill Opening Doors was a reminder, if any was needed, that proponents of school diversity need to look beyond the federal government for support during Trump’s administration. The decision on whether to proceed with the Opening Doors program, Philip Tegeler of the Poverty and Race Research Action Council told Patrick Wall in an Atlantic article last month, was “going to be a real test of her commitment to school integration.” And now she had failed.

At the conference, King called the decision a “heartbreaking signal” on an issue of utmost importance. Students of color represent more than 50 percent of public-school students, King noted, and “the fate of the country” will be determined by how well it decides to educate this new majority of students. School integration is also tied to “the fate of our democracy,” he suggested, because segregated schools allow politicians to scapegoat minorities, while integrated schools remind students of what they have in common as Americans. Research finds that school diversity reduces racial prejudice and improves academic attainment, which, in turn, is tied to higher voter participation.

The death of a small federal school-integration initiative is connected to a much larger concern that DeVos’s primary education-reform idea—using public money for private school vouchers—will produce poor academic results for students, and Balkanize students by religion, race, and class. As my Century Foundation colleague Halley Potter noted in a new report, “voucher programs on balance are more likely to increase school segregation than to decrease it or leave it at status quo.”

King reminded participants, however, that this was not a moment “to admire the problem,” but a time to engage in fresh thinking about new approaches. What options do supporters of diversity have? Could progressives capitalize on DeVos’s rhetoric around school choice—particularly, the compelling need to liberate kids from struggling, high-poverty schools—to encourage choice within the public-school system that is designed to bring children of different backgrounds together? Should progressives pivot from Washington to focus on progressive states and localities? What is the role of foundations? What about state courts?

Progressives in blue states appear to have a strong appetite for pushing against Donald Trump’s agenda on issues from immigration to climate change. Could this sentiment provide an important spark for school diversity initiatives? Under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states are required to devote 7 percent of Title I funds to improving the lowest-performing schools. New York state has a program (begun by King when he was its education commissioner) to use federal school-improvement funds to turn around struggling schools by implementing attractive magnet programs. Research suggests that low-income students in mixed-income schools—surrounded by peers who expect to go on to college, parents in the school community who regularly volunteer in class, and strong teachers—perform substantially better than comparable students in high-poverty schools that often lack those ingredients for success.

State charter-school laws, likewise, could set aside a certain proportion of charter-school funds—say, 25 percent—for schools that are diverse by design, using a weighted lottery to ensure that school choice promotes socioeconomic diversity.

Local school districts, as well, can forge ahead with diversity plans, with or without federal support. The day after Trump's election, for example, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina, school board voted 9-0 to adopt a socioeconomic-integration plan for its magnet schools, a reminder that under the United States system of federalism, changes in Washington don’t have to spell the end of education movements. (I worked with the district on this project).

What should be the role of courts in pursuing school-diversity strategies today?

Nationally, the Century Foundation has identified 100 school districts and charter-school chains that voluntarily are pursuing diversity policies that consider student economic status in their student assignment plans. With philanthropic support, these districts could form a community of practice to support one another and expand the number of districts pursuing diversity policies by showing how it can be done in a politically palatable way that is also good for kids.

In growing the movement for integrated schools, participants at the Harvard conference discussed how various constituencies—civil-rights groups, business leaders, people of faith, students, and teachers unions—might support diversity. Sarah Camiscoli, the director of IntegrateNYC4me, a student group that is seeking school integration in New York City, suggested bringing in new constituencies, such as military veterans, firefighters, and police officers who are focused on the public good. A message that “integration is the fair choice that works for the common good and personal achievement” could resonate with people in these professions, she said, adding that veterans also have personal experience working in a diverse institution.

David Hinojosa, who works with the education department to provide school districts the technical support they need to promote civil rights, discussed ways in which low-income communities and communities of color can be reassured that integration does not suggest that they possess deficiencies but rather that they bring strengths that will add to a healthy school environment. Likewise, some participants asked, would framing school integration primarily around socioeconomic status unite the interests of working-class people of color who supported Hillary Clinton and working-class, white Trump supporters, thereby scrambling existing political alliances?

Finally, because the school-integration movement famously gained national attention with the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, it is natural to ask: What should be the role of courts in pursuing school-diversity strategies today?

In recent years, the federal courts have been an impediment, such as when the Supreme Court struck down voluntary racial-integration plans in Louisville, Kentucky, and Seattle in 2007. But socioeconomic-integration plans are perfectly legal. And state courts have an important role to play interpreting state constitutions to foster school integration.

The best example is the Connecticut Supreme Court, which in the 1996 case of Sheff v. O’Neill ruled that segregation between Hartford schools and the surrounding suburbs violated the state constitution, whether or not the segregation was intentional. James Ryan, the dean of Harvard’s Education School, has been writing for decades about the idea of replicating Sheff-type state-level decisions in places where courts have found a constitutional right to a decent education. Given research suggesting that socioeconomic school integration is an even more powerful lever for boosting achievement than funding, he has suggested that state finance litigation be extended to integration. Now, at the conference, he wondered: Could the time be opportune, given that “courts have found their voice” in promoting democratic values in the age of Trump, resisting, for example, the ban on immigration from majority-Muslim nations? Might the courts be newly open to lawsuits that seek to encourage efforts to ensure that children of different backgrounds have the opportunity to learn together and from one another?

It may be the worst of times for school integration at the federal level, but could this be the best time for progressive school boards and state courts, newly energized by the national political scene, to embrace an education reform that will strengthen American democracy?

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Saturday, April 1, 2017

Why I Love Working Class Folks

By Jon Dunnemann

My grandparents William (Kayo) and Elisabeth Greene were working class folks. While a young man, my grandfather became a licensed barber and my grandmother attended finishing school. In the early years of their marriage they decided to leave South Hill, Virginia and come north to Montclair, New Jersey. In time, my grandfather would open Kayo’s Barber Shop located on Bloomfield Avenue in lower Montclair, New Jersey. Grandpa successfully ran his business in that section of town for a good number of years until later moving to the current location at 224 Bloomfield Ave where both he and my Uncle Junie continued to be considered two of the best barbers in town.

Nana and Grandpa would eventually save enough money to purchase a ranch style home on a small parcel of land located at 28 Melrose Place in West Caldwell, New Jersey right down the street from the West Essex First Aid Squad. To furnish their home and provide all the other amenities that come with private home ownership my grandmother became a housekeeper to a very wealthy white family in upper Montclair. My grandfather also made house calls on Sunday afternoons to the homes of older well-to-do gentlemen to cut their hair. 

West Caldwell is a township located in the West Essex area in northwestern Essex County, New Jersey. It is located approximately 16 miles west of Manhattan and 6 miles northwest of Newark. As of the 2010 United States Census, the township's population was reflecting a decline of 474 (-4.2%) from the 11,233 counted in the 2000 Census, which had in turn increased by 811 (+7.8%) from the 10,422 counted in the 1990 Census. (Source: Wikipedia)

In our early youth, my siblings, cousins and I spent many weekends, holidays and summers at my grandparents home where we were always welcome, well-fed, and safe. It is there that I gained my first and most significant 'sense of community'. Melrose Place has always been a dead-end street.That made it even safer for the children that lived on it. The half dozen or so other families on this street were mostly black with a few white families already living there as well. The average household income was low but everyone who was old enough to do so was expected to work and contribute to the unmet needs of one another. At different times over the course of many years a number of the grandchildren lived with our grandparents either to lessen the existing economic burden on our parents or to be afforded an opportunity to have access to a much better school system than the one where we currently lived whether in Newark or elsewhere. 

There were only two maybe four streets where Blacks either privately owned homes or rented in the entire town in the early to late 1960's. Even as kids though we knew that we were not welcomed everywhere. For example, there was a famous ice cream parlor in town called Grunnings Ice Cream Parlor on Bloomfield Avenue that I once went into alone as a kid and where I was told that I didn't belong inside and was asked to leave despite having the money to purchase ice cream. On another occasion, I was sternly scolded by a older man for picking up pears that had fallen to the ground on his unfenced property and unabashedly shown his KKK (Klu Klux Klan) membership card and thereby cautioned to beware should I ever attempt to steal a pear from off of his property. 

Despite these infrequent slights, more commonly doled out by adults than between kids, I gained a fondness for all of the kids in my neighborhood because although unstated it was transparently understood that it is, must, and always will be first and foremost, the safety of all of us against the rest of the world. A big part of growing up was being 'interpersonally vulnerable' and getting emotionally closer to each other. This banner of loyalty that emerged amongst Black, Catholic, Christian, Danish, Female, German, Greek, Irish, Italian, Jewish, Male, Muslim, and Puerto Rican represented something special that can only be hard won on the playing field of accidents, birthdays, breakups, classrooms, disagreements, field trips, fights, forgiveness, hikes through the woods that were directly across the street, loss of loved ones, school yards, sleepovers, and the interdependence and respect that develops through competition in school sports, at local festivals and through other extra-curriculum activities.

In conclusion, my being reared by working class grandparents in a diverse immigrant community taught me not to be cruel, indecent, judgmental, overindulgent, prejudice, selfish or unforgiving. I would certainly not trade the invaluable lessons learned or the positive benefits like the sense of belonging and identification that I gained from ultimately being unconditionally accepted as a full and equal member of the community for anything else in the world. For in the increasingly comfortable space of my local community I had the good fortune of learning what it means and what it takes to be rigorously made into a grateful American.

Kayo's Barber Shop

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