Monthly Archives: April 2008

Service learning to keep at-risk youth in school

John Bridgeland, of Civic Enterprises, discussed their recent report Engaged for Success which highlights the importance of “service learning” in preventing at-risk youth from dropping out of school.

(I must disclose my biases: I was the Senate policy point person on the enactment of the National Service Trust Act of 1993 that created AmeriCorps, and worked for Senator Kennedy. Senator Kennedy, understandably was an ardent advocate of service learning, which as the name implies combines service and learning and can be used for students from kindergarten through college. For example, youth can monitor pollution in a local stream, thereby learning about scientific measurement or interview elderly shut-ins about their youth and learn about American history in the process. Findings show that youth learn far more when there is an educational “pull”, in other words when the learning is required for a task they want to do, than the traditional educational “push” model that tells youth to learn some skill under the expectation that they’ll need it down the road for an important task.)

Civic Enterprises’ research shows a mismatch between interest in service learning and availability of programs. Notably: “Eighty-two percent of all service-learning students said their view of school improved because of their service-learning classes, and 77 percent said that service learning had a big effect on motivating them to work hard. Furthermore, 64 percent of service-learning students claimed that service learning would have a fairly or very big effect on keeping them from dropping out of school.” But, “[a]lthough high-quality service-learning programs are cropping up across the nation, such programs are still unjustifiably rare. Eighty-three percent of students said that if their school offered it, they would enroll in a service-learning program. Yet only 16 percent of all students, and only 8 percent of students at low- performing schools, reported that their school offered service learning. All too often students do not have access to, or do not even know about, such programs offered by their schools.”

Civic Enterprises’ findings are also summarized in John Bridgeland’s Op-ed “The key to keeping teens in school” (Christian Science Monitor, 4/15/08) and his PowerPoint presentation of their findings.

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Randy Pausch notable quotes, excerpts from Last Lecture

In Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture at Carnegie Mellon University in the Fall of 2007, facing pancreatic cancer and the likelihood that he would only live a month or two, Randy summed up his life’s wisdom for his kids (then 1,2, and 5). He gave his lecture to several hundred in a CMU auditorium, but it has now been viewed on YouTube by millions of Americans.  It’s enormously inspiring, tear-rendering and well worth your time if you haven’t seen it.

His Last Lecture is now fleshed out in a book of the same name (co-written with Jeff Zaslow, the WSJ reporter that brought his lecture to widespread prominence) and he recently filmed an ABC News Special with Diane Sawyer. His comments are immensely wise for a 47 year old.

Randy Pausch alas died in his home last night (July 25, 2008) as reported by Diane Sawyer on GMA. Randy Pausch’s home page is here.

He lived a vibrant life to the end, giving a charge to the graduating seniors at his beloved Carnegie Mellon University just in June 2008

and providing moving testimony to Congress on supporting pancreatic cancer research to help future innocent victims (3/13/08).

Notable quotes:

  • When there’s an elephant in the room introduce him
  • Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want something badly enough. They are there to keep out the other people.
  • If there’s anything I want to do so badly, I should have already done it.
  • We can’t change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand. If I’m not as depressed as you think I should be, I’m sorry to disappoint you.
  • Work and play well together.
    – Tell The Truth. All The Time. No one is pure evil.
    – Be willing to apologize. Proper apologies have three parts: 1) What I did was wrong. 2) I’m sorry that I hurt you. 3) How do I make it better? It’s the third part that people tend to forget…. Apologize when you screw up and focus on other people, not on yourself.
    – Show gratitude. Gratitude is a simple but powerful thing.
    – Find the best in everybody…. Wait long enough, and people will surprise and impress you. It might even take years, but people will show you their good side. Just keep waiting.
    – If you want to achieve your dreams, you better learn to work and play well with others…[you have] to live with integrity.
  • Collaboration, treating others with respect.
    – Never found anger a way to make things better.
    – How do you get people to help you? You can’t get there alone. People have to help you and I do believe in karma. I believe in paybacks. You get people to help you by telling the truth. Being earnest. I’ll take an earnest person over a hip person any day, because hip is short term. Earnest is long term.
    – Loyalty is a two-way street.
    – Get a feedback loop and listen to it. Your feedback loop can be this dorky spreadsheet thing I did, or it can just be one great man who tells you what you need to hear. The hard part is the listening to it.
  • Persistence and hard work.
    – When you are doing something badly and no one’s bothering to tell you anymore, that’s a very bad place to be. Your critics are the ones still telling you they love you and care.
    – Don’t bail: the best gold is at the bottom of barrels of crap
    – Don’t complain, Just work harder. [showing picture on screen] That’s a picture of Jackie Robinson. It was in his contract not to complain, even when the fans spit on him. You can spend it complaining or playing the game hard. The latter is likely to be more effective.
    – Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted…. I probably got more from that dream [of playing professional football] and not accomplishing it than I got from any of the ones that I did accomplish.
  • Fun, wonder, living your dream.
    – Decide if you’re a Tigger or an Eyeore. I’m a Tigger.
    – It is not about achieving your dreams but living your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself, the dreams will come to you.
    – Never underestimate the importance of having fun. I’m dying and I’m having fun. And I’m going to keep having fun every day, because there’s no other way to play it….Having fun for me is like a fish talking about the importance of water. I don’t know how it is like not to have fun…
    – Never lose the child-like wonder. It’s just too important. It’s what drives us. Help others.
  • Risk-taking.
    – You can tell the pioneers by the arrows in their backs. But at the end of the day, a whole lot of people will have a whole lot of fun.
    – Better to fail spectacularly than do something mediocre. [Randy Pausch gave out a First Penguin award each year when he was teaching to the biggest failure in trying something big and new because he thought this should be celebrated. First Penguins are the ones that risk that the water might be too cold.]
  • Parenting and kids.
    – The best piece of parenting advice I’ve ever heard is from flight attendants. If things get really tough, grab your own oxygen mask first.
    About his pancreatic cancer: It’s unlucky, but it not unfair. We all stand on a dartboard and some of us randomly get hit by pancreatic cancer. But my children won’t have me for them and that’s not fair.
    – Someone’s going to push my family off a cliff pretty soon and I won’t be there to catch them and that breaks my heart. But I have some time to sew some nets to cushion the fall so that seems like the best and highest use of my time and I better get to work.
    – I’m sorry I won’t be around to raise my kids. It makes me very sad but I can’t change that fact, so I did everything I could with the time I have and the time I had to help other people.
    – Importance of people instead of things. Told story of buying new convertible that he was so proud of and taking niece and nephew for a ride. Randy’s sister, the kid’s mother was telling them how important it was to keep car pristine and kids were laughing because at the same time he was pouring a can of orange soda on the back seats. His sister asked what are you doing and he said “it’s just a thing.” And nephew Chris wound up being really grateful because he had flu and wound up throwing up on way home. “And I don’t care how much joy you get out of owning a shiny new thing; it’s not as good I felt from making sure that an 8 year old didn’t have to feel guilty for having the flu.”
    – [not a direct quote] but Randy implores parents to always indulge your children’s wild ideas (he talks about how important it was that his parents let him decorate his walls with math formulas, despite the negative impact on their house’s resale value) He says: “If you’re going to have childhood dreams you should have great parents who let you pursue them and express your creativity.”
    – It is Important to have specific childhood dreams. (For example, Randy wanted to play football in the NFL, write an article for the World Book Encyclopedia, experience the Weightlessness of Zero Gravity, be Captain Kirk from Star Trek, work for the Disney Company.)
  • Be good at something; it makes you valuable…. Have something to bring to the table, because that will make you more welcome.
  • I’ve never understood pity and self-pity as an emotion. We have a finite amount of time. Whether short or long, it doesn’t matter. Life is to be lived.
  • To be cliché, death is a part of life and it’s going to happen to all of us. I have the blessing of getting a little bit of advance notice and I am able to optimize my use of time down the home stretch.

How technology affects friendships

The Economist has an interesting set of stories this week on the relationship of technology to social capital.

They note that these smaller mini-connections with friends and family throughout the day using cellphones, texting, IM, etc. keep us more connected to kith and kin, at the cost of our connections with strangers — the latter potentially a cohesive glue that holds society together. There is also some question whether the continuing ties of adolescents to their parents through cellphones is retarding adolescence. The article discusses how new technology is changing dating rituals in Japan.

There is also an interesting conversation about how it is changing etiquette. They note a huge gradient in the US by age about whether using cellphones in public is a major irritation with 74% of those over age 60 saying yes, and only 32% of those ages 18-27 agreeing.

Excerpt: “Trickier etiquette problems arise when the issue is not so much noise as context. One example that will enter the history books occurred last September when Rudy Giuliani, a former mayor of New York, was still waging a vigorous campaign for the presidency. As he was up on his podium and in mid-sentence addressing the National Rifle Association (NRA), a crucial constituency for a Republican candidate, his mobile rang and, to gasps in the huge audience, he decided to answer it. What followed, captured on microphone, is worth repeating in its banality: “Hello, dear. I’m talking, I’m talking to the members of the NRA right now. Would you like to say hello? I love you, and I’ll give you a call as soon as I’m finished. OK? OK, have a safe trip. Bye-bye. Talk to you later, dear. I love you.” When he hung up, the audience had turned to stone.

“Usually the situation is subtler and the incongruence has more to do with attention. This can be true even during silent mobile communications. It is now routine for university students to text, e-mail and instant-message during lectures. Mr Ling, whose job includes loitering in public places for observation, watched a woman at an Oslo underground station who texted as she walked. She was wholly focused on her text message but had to look up occasionally to weave through the crowds on the platform. Other people were doing the same. It was an “atomised and individualised” scene, says Mr Ling: a new form of the proverbial lonely crowd.

“But at least this particular Norwegian woman was signalling through her body language to all around her that she wanted to be left alone. The spread of “hands-free” Bluetooth devices, with hidden earplugs seemingly attached to nothing, is removing even those clues. Steve Love, a psychologist, was travelling on a train from Edinburgh to Glasgow once when a girl standing next to him started talking to him. She asked him how he was and how his day had been, and Mr Love, though a bit shy, politely told her how much he was looking forward to watching Scotland play football that evening. As he spoke, the girl looked at him in horror, then turned away. Only then did Mr Love hear her say “OK, I’ll call you later.” Not a word or gesture was exchanged for the remainder of the (suddenly uncomfortable) journey.

“Probably the single most common etiquette conflict occurs, as Mr Ling puts it, when mediated communication interrupts co-present communication, as when two or more people are sitting at a table in conversation or negotiation and one of them gets, and answers, a call. The other co-present people must now keep themselves busy while seeming nonchalant. What is more, they must pretend not to be eavesdropping even though they are only a few feet away from the mediated conversation, ideally by assuming a pose of concentration on some other object, such as their fingernails or their own phone. As soon as the intervening call ends, everybody must try to re-enter the co-present context as gracefully as possible.

“So there is evidence that nomadism is good for in-groups, but at the expense of strangers. If that is true, Mr Granovetter would consider it bad for society. Fortunately, however, the last chapter has not yet been written. Since the outburst of pessimism about the internet among sociologists in the 1990s, the web has recently become an intensely social medium, thanks in large part to proliferating online social networks such as Facebook and MySpace. Young people have been using these websites on their PCs to keep in touch with much larger groups of people than has ever been feasible before. It is not uncommon for adolescents to add several “friends” a day to their “social graph” on Facebook or to the “buddy list” of their instant-messaging service.”

See Family Ties: Kith and Kin Get Closer with Consequences for Strangers (4/10/08 special report in Economist) and A Wireless Word: Our Nomadic Future (4/10/08 issue of Economist).

Using community to fight drugs

Flickr photo by funkandjazz

I went to an interesting lunchtime talk of the Overt Drug Market Strategy used in the City of High Point, North Carolina. Presenting were: Jim Summey – Pastor, English Road Baptist Church; Jim Fealy – Chief, High Point Police Department; and Marty Sumner – Assistant Chief, High Point Police Department.

The background to the story is a classic inner city crime-ridden neighborhood where police can’t effectively prosecute drug markets since it looks like community norms sanction them and the community thinks that police are in cahoots with drug dealers because calls to police are relatively ineffectual. Police Chief Fealy called open meetings with the community in 2003 to admit bravely that the police had been ineffective and often caused more harm than good. That led to lots of useful dialogue. The Police Department got community residents to understand both that their walking away from drug dealers let the drug trade continue and that they had a lot of moral outrage about what was happening. The Chief emphasized that by partnering with police they could both dry up the drug markets and all the associated crime.

The police identified the key players in the drug market and then surreptitiously filmed them selling drugs to undercover cops (ideally twice). They made 4 key arrests and then summonsed the other dozen drug dealers to a meeting at the Police Station May 18, 2004. They told the drug dealers to bring a family member and they would not be arrested. The Police arranged for key community leaders (from churches, social service organizations, elders, etc.) and state and local law enforcement to be there. The drug dealers were openly surprised by the community presence at the meeting. There were 4 empty seats for the dealers who had been arrested (with cut-outs indicating how many years each of them would do) and blow-up pictures of the other drug dealers around the room. They had dossiers (crime files) for each of the dozen drug dealers summonsed and police told them that they had all been filmed doing drug sales and would be prosecuted immediately if they sold drugs in High Point again or other neighborhoods. They were told that their life would change immediately in one of two ways: they could turn around their lives (with help from the churches, social services, etc.) or do time.

They intentionally had these drug dealers bring family members so the family members would witness this as well and be a moral force to convince the drug dealers to change.

Half of those at the call-in immediately asked for help and produced a “need sheet” detailing what they needed to stop doing drugs that the police and community agencies worked to provide.

They said that starting the next day, you could see that the market had been broken. The Police only needed to provide additional Police patrols in that neighborhood for the next six weeks. The Police Chief notes that the strategy intentionally has improved relations with the heavily African-American community of West Point where this was tried.

Since then, violent crime in the High Point area has fallen 38% in the 3.5 years as compared with 3.5 years before the call-in. There has not been dispersion of crime to other neighborhoods; there have actually been city-wide drops. And there are qualitative benefits like people now building homes in the area, residents sitting out on front porches and feeling comfortable with kids walking the neighborhood. And the pastor reported increased attendance at the vacation bible school of English Road Baptist Church which had previously been only sparsely attended by community residents. The police also noted for example that someone who made an anonymous 911 call to report a shooting in the West End prior to the call-in felt comfortable being a witness and publicly fingering the shooter one year later when the case went to trial because she felt supported by the police and community.

Drug dealers realized that they could no longer operate with tacit community support. The Police observed that there are non-linear dynamics in the drug trade so if you convince a core number of key individuals not to do drugs and a core number of community members to oppose it, it spreads through the social networks. The dynamics are similar to that noted by Clay Shirky with the ‘Adios Pizzo’ sticker movement in Palermo, Italy. Pizzo refers to payments to the mafia for protection and as the number of pizzo stickers increased, the chance of the mafia being able to take reprisals dropped remarkably, since the mafia could harm one or two community members who felt isolated and not supported by the neighborhood, but couldn’t take action against many, all the more so when there was greater manifestation of community will against the mafia. The Adios Pizza movement also made it easier for residents to find which busineses had signed on to the campaign to make it easier for residents to channel business their way and hence increase social pressure more.

Back to High Point: The police chief noted that the “call-in” meeting was intentionally held in the police quarters so that the police could control the layout, so it sent a strong deterrent message and so the police could eject participants if they weren’t behaving properly.

They have replicated this in Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and Raleigh, NC; in Providence, RI; and in Rockford, IL. The US Department of Justice is launching a national program to replicate the strategy in ten cities. The strategy is a brainchild of David Kennedy, who was then a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School. The presenters noted that critical to the success of replication is having a true partnership with community institutions and getting enough important voices from the community that people from the community who want to speak out have cover for their actions.

The program which won an Innovations in American Government award from Harvard’s Kennedy School in 2007. The PowerPoint presentation from the lunchtime talk will be put up on the Innovations website.  This project was also reported in the Wall Street Journal in “Novel Police Tactic Puts Drug Markets Out of Business” (9/26/06).

Robert Putnam on corporate volunteering’s impact

My colleague Robert D. Putnam has a piece in the March-April 2008 Conference Board Review called “Way Beyond Volunteerism: Helping society is about more than building houses.”

In it, Putnam notes that corporate volunteering is important, but unlikely to be of the magnitude to really move society. For example, he talks about how a new Families and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) focused on enabling employees to care for their aging parents could have great effect both in keeping those aging parents engaged and healthy and also a huge decrease in the societal costs of Medicare by forestalling the age at which those aging parents need to be put in nursing homes. Putnam points out that left to their own devices, corporations will underinvest in the provision of this flexibility, since most of the benefits are borne by society and most of the costs of more flexibility are borne by corporations. Thus, without a large-scale effort to make employers whole for their costs in providing greater workplace flexibility, a Pareto-optimal solution will be lost.

The full article “Way Beyond Volunteerism” is available here.