A Controversial Success

While reading my latest University of Chicago alumni magazine one article surprised me and made me ponder. The university and its student body have always been very progressive, effectively a midwestern version of Berkeley. It has labored mightily to help its neighborhood, which at one time was mostly a black ghetto. Some of this might be self-interest of course and neighbors have often been upset as the university expanded by buying up adjacent residential areas. From what I can see on Google Maps, it has at least doubled in size since my time, with a very eclectic architecture quite different from these Hogwarts-like buildings I fondly remember.

Campus1 For example, this is one of new student libraries:230_6105

Anyway, so much for reminiscing and back to the article, which describes two projects created in 2008, the Chicago Crime Lab and the Urban Education Lab. These have been very successful in improving high school performance and in reducing arrests by black high-schoolers. In fact these programs are now being emulated elsewhere, funded by charitable institutions.

So what about a successful social improvement program made it seem unusual to me? Similar but mostly ineffective efforts concentrate on improving the school and home environment, providing role models and mentors, and ensuring good nutrition. These university programs are quite different. They focus specifically on social pathology, with training in impulse control, personal responsibility, cooperative behavior and other social-cognitive skills. In the past this would likely have been viewed as demeaning at best and racially biased at worst. In essence they are teaching these children, and through them their parents, that the black community life style they are familiar and comfortable with is personally damaging. In the ghetto vernacular, they are being taught to “act like whitey”, although to be fair some white children exhibit similar pathologies. The article doesn’t say so but I wouldn’t be surprised if they are also being told to “speak like whitey” too.

Perhaps this is being done sensitively, but I can’t believe that this undercurrent has gone unnoticed and unchallenged by the proud and touchy community spokespeople. I must add that I have long thought this was needed but I could see no way to do it without major resistance. Blacks have just as much potential as whites but as long as they cling to a social milieu that holds them apart from mainstream society they will never achieve that potential. Anyway, that’s my opinion.