Friday, August 14, 2009
Parenting: First Offensive On The War on Poverty
The Core IssueFor a long time, I've been composing an argument in my head that speaks to the research I've been doing for the past 11 years. I need to keep constantly vigil of how I might provide a better service to those in our disenfranchised communities consisting primarily of African Americans in the inner cities. My entrepreneurship training program is one thing but there is a more fundamental training that needs to be addressed: teaching young people to become responsible, selfless parents who will mode an inquisitive, loving child into an inquisitive, loving adult.
Too often, a child growing up without proper parenting ends up out on the streets looking for connections - to belong - and usually finds it in all the wrong places. Parenting is the most important responsibility a human has once a child is brought into the world. Life's priorities need to change. Partying, staying out all night, spending money until you're in debt, regretting the baby's presence are no longer options. They must now be far down on your list of priorities. Parenting must become one of the top four responsibilities (the other three are passionate life work, personal happiness and financial security).
I'm responding to the constant data in the media, in repetitious research studies, in the neverending amounts spent by foundations to find out why African Americans continue to lag behind in education and professional careers; why there is a disporportionate number of black men in prisons and why such a huge percentage of African Americans are in poverty. It starts with a parent not parenting. It begins as a one-on-0ne home environment and while societal conditions will play a major part, the most influential aspect of any child growing up is the parent. The parent has the most control of how their child will come out as an adult.
Enough Already; Do Something!
Every decade, a dozen or so well-publicized studies are conducted, paid by foundations to showcase their purpose and written quite expertly by well-honed PhD candidates and other for-hire scholars. The study might be localized to a particular city, a specific community or a group of students in a single school, but the results come back the same and usually, the recommendations follow similar patterns. In fact, most studies will reference past studies and cite each other's qualifications to justify their conclusions. So in fact, the paradigm never changes. Who did you say these studies benefitted?
Data is useless without action. What we need is more sweat on the streets with people being well paid to care for our communities with well defined, realistic outcomes. Get over the fact that anything will have a quick solution - that's your local politican talking. Ain't going to happen because we've been mired with a hundred years of "usual" business practices that seem to take resources away from their intended target. (Several years ago, I was told that a $3 million federal grant I had initiated required us to turn over $500,000 to a local government agency for their "endorsement" even though they had little to do with our project.)
We need a new paradigm; a new way of doing business in the social service sector of our society. The status quo usually resides with those in control, and it's there because they're quite satisfied with their positions. So whenever you start acting as if you're entering the status quo, have someone kick you really hard in the head. Complacency is a prime character of the status quo and action merely becomes your butt sitting at a computer and writing glorified, justified mumbo jumbo data for some foundation. Oh, there might actually be lots of things hopping and social servants will tell you how over-worked they are. But if you were to analyze their duties, I'll bet most of it is creating report that no one will seriously look at or data collection that will have minimal usage or writing documents to justify "stuff."
Real Social Change
I believe that entrepreneurship training addresses one major level of real social change when conducted as a five-prong process:
1. civil rights
2. economic justice
3. ethical business practices
4. the science of personal success and
5. engaging in community improvements
And it does so at a fraction of the expense. Like the growing Green Industry which is reducing our dependence on foreign oil, entrepreneurship will reduce our dependence on social service as we know it now.
As I conduct my training, I bear witness to many of my students who continue to have difficulties in keeping up with the work. As much as most of them have the highest intentions of succeeding, their ability to focus and sustain their determination lags behind their desires resulting in broken promises to themselves.
Without a doubt, if you're born poor in America, the odds are you will be at a social and personal disadvantage. The experiences and the environment one gets dealt will weigh heavy in your way of thinking. For instance, many poor babies grow without enough parental love and care because parenting skills are lacking in young mothers, fathers are absent and the lack of money requires the mother to work without adequate childcare.
It's Not Just Environmental
Recent brain research has shown that a lack of nurturing retards the development of that area of the brain responsible for caring of others and social responsiblity. So that a lack of one's responsibilities and a lack of achievements is not just a social conditioning but more importantly, a mental conditioning. The good news is we can dramatically improve those skills.
In his book, "The Talent Code," Daniel Coyle writes about an experiment in an urban school where 700 students were divided into two groups at the beginning of a semester. One group was encouraged to make a good effort. The other group was informed that recent brain research proved that diligence in studying improved intelligence. In other words, intelligence was a learning process, not an inherited trait. The results: the second group had far better grades. (A side note: the number of immigrants who have launched their businesses without so much as a training program - forget for a moment whether these businesses succeed or not. Why are they more determined and with far less fear to launch a business?)
For me, the million dollar question was why my African American students had the most difficulty in starting a business? Yep, the research is there, and I now know the answer - even though incomplete - it still raises my awareness and forges some action, starting with this blog entry.
Is it me or don't other people want to actively pursue a solution for such a fundamental necessity as parenting education? Not that it's not there; it's that we don't fund it the level we need to in order that future kids don't get discarded. We want our futures to thrive with caring people and those who will work towards a global peace and prosperity. Why we haven't done much about this issue is the real question. It would probably cost about one B1 Bomber.
Here's my take on why we've injected little time and money into parenting education: 1. it's not sexy or news-catchy; 2. there's no quick solutions so that politicans and government agencies can benefit from it and 3. we're doing it already, and we don't need to tweak it. It's like the battered woman who can't leave her abuser because at least she knows what's going to happen rather than leaving and entering into the unknown. (I've experienced the reluctance to support my entrepreneurship program by social service organizations because they understand job training not job creation. I've even had one organization call me a threat to their existence!)
Maintaining the Status Quo
For all that's been written, for all the research, for all the political posturing, for the trillion dollars spent; in the end, little has changed over the years in America as it pertains to the poor in the inner cities. Yes, it is a societal issue that affects every one of us. We forge ahead with new social programs every few years with new names and new missions. And we continue to get the same results. Maybe the status quo is saying that in order for the status quo to exist, we must always have poor people. So if you're poor, the status quo is your enemy but the status quo always seems to just sit there on its big fat behind because few people are nudging it. As former Black Panther Huey Newton once said, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."
So the status quo looks like this: politicians boasts of being saviors, social service agencies maintain business as usual and the poor continue to serve as pawns of the federal money game. It's like legalized money laundering because the "clients" are kept quiet with chump change every two weeks while the real deal gets washed, folded and tucked away by the keepers of the laundermat.
In the meantime, the most basic problem - lack of parenting and the lack of a well-funded education around parenting - stays, well, status quo.
If you want to see real change starting with the most fundamental criteria, there's two levels of attack that need to take place simultaneously:
1. fight for parenting education as a requirement starting in middle school so that future parents realize their roles and responsibilities as parents in caring for their children. (Think about the killings that happen in inner city communities now that you understand how little children without proper love and guidance grow into youths without that part of their brain holding human life as precious or of social responsibility.)
2. seek out the brain research that's available now to understand how you can identify your learning ability, how to grow those parts of your brain that are the most important to you and how to achieve success by tapping into the new science of brain optimization. Some popular books to suggest:
"Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell
"Talented Is Overrated" by Geoff Colvin
"The Talent Code" by Daniel Coyle
"How We Decide" by Jonah Lehrer
"Brain Rules" by John Medina.