The unrest in Baltimore has been on most of our minds this week. As a kid, I lived–and, now with my own three kids, live–not far from the city, so I’ve been following events closely.
Image from Baltimore Four Seasons
Over the last few days, there’ve been some moving pieces written about the schools of Charm City. NPR followed a principal the day after schools reopened and captured the pained (and painful) voices of 8th-grade boys. The Baltimore Sun covered a group of Baltimore Ravens visiting schools, including a high school named for famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass (watch the two embedded videos of Ray Lewis).
My favorite, though, has been the piece written by my friend, the inspirational Derrell Bradford, a Baltimore native. He offered a personal reflection of his journey–figurative and literal–from a troubled neighborhood through challenged and elite schools to his current role as a school reform advocate. This CNN piece, about Baltimore’s lost men, is similarly moving and even harder to read.
I’m incapable of adding new insight to the issues of race involved here. I did my best to contribute a small bit on that score in the wake of Ferguson last fall.
But since then, I’ve spent a good bit of time looking into a wide range of issues associated with the tough conditions faced by millions of city kids and what we might do to offer these boys and girls better opportunities. I’m under no illusions that I’ll end up with The Answer, but I am hoping to grow smarter and more thoughtful about some of the issues influencing and influenced by urban schools.
I haven’t yet integrated all of this into a cogent vision or argument. But here are some of the most relevant and most interesting recent items I’ve come across. Maybe you’ll find one or more of them thought-provoking.
Understanding and Empathy: New research suggests that strangers cause us stress and that stress inhibits our ability to appreciate the suffering of others. If we can move people from the “stranger zone” to the “friend zone,” we can grow our empathy for those in need. So how do we do this? One unexpected answer appears to have a range of other social and cognitive benefits as well. Unfortunately, there are powerful cultural forces that seem to pull people of different groups apart from one another–see this book by Mark Pagel or his talk on how language can be a factor. An excellent Aspen Ideas presentation by Kwame Anthony Appiah, however, offers some hope. His take on cross-cultural conversations argues that there’s far more to gain by talking than we might expect. Continue reading