Racial injustice?

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof sees “racial injustice” in the harsh sentence given to a 13-year-old black boy who shot a white woman in the face as part of a gang initiation and robbery.

Ian Manuel

Ian Manuel

Twenty-four years later, after years of painful surgeries to rebuild her mouth, the victim is advocating for her attacker’s release.

A white 13-year-old probably wouldn’t have been given such a long sentence, Kristof believes.

Would a white 13-year-old be seen as troubled, a candidate for rehabilitation, rather than dangerous? Maybe. I think many people would care about the crime rather than the skin color.

Ian Manuel was raised — badly — by a single mother addicted to drugs. Arrested 16 times, “he desperately needed help, but instead the authorities kept returning him to a dysfunctional home,” writes Kristof.

“We as a society failed Manuel early on, and he, in turn, failed us,” argues Kristof. “When you can predict that an infant boy of color in a particular ZIP code is more likely to go to prison than to college, it’s our fault more than his.”

Most black boys born in bad neighborhoods don’t commit brutal, senseless crimes. And most kids removed from their dysfunctional homes — typically placed with relatives or in foster care — do very, very poorly as adults. “Society” doesn’t know how to save boys like Manuel.

Modern family: Fatherless kids do worse

The children of unmarried mothers do much worse in school and in life, just as Daniel Patrick Moynihan predicted in his 1965 report on the black family, conclude Sarah McLanahn and Christopher Jencks in Education Next. Many more children — especially those with less-educated mothers — are growing up in single-parent families.
Forty percent of families with children headed by an unmarried mother live in poverty, they write in Education Next. That compares to 8 percent of families with children headed by a married couple. “Among blacks, the rates were 46 percent in single-mother families and 12 percent in married-parent families. Among Hispanics, the figures were 47 percent and 18 percent, and among whites the rates were 32 percent and 4 percent, respectively.”

In 1960, 95 percent of single mothers had been married; by 2013, only half of all single mothers had ever been married. “The shift to never-married motherhood has probably weakened the economic and emotional ties between children and their absent fathers.”

Growing up with only one biological parent reduces a child’s chances of graduating from high school by about 40 percent, though it doesn’t appear to affect test scores.

. . . a father’s absence increases antisocial behavior, such as aggression, rule breaking, delinquency, and illegal drug use. . . . Thus it appears that a father’s absence lowers children’s educational attainment not by altering their scores on cognitive tests but by disrupting their social and emotional adjustment and reducing their ability or willingness to exercise self-control. The effects of growing up without both parents on aggression, rule breaking, and delinquency are also larger for boys than for girls.

Unmarried mothers often have “problems that marriage cannot solve” and mates with serious problems of their own, McLanahan and Jencks write. Persuading women to delay motherhood — and improving “the economic prospects of their prospective husbands” — would give more children “the benefits that flow from a stable home,” they write. But how?

Moynihan was shocked by the fact that nearly a quarter of black families were headed by a single mother. Since 1965, the percentage of children living with an unmarried parent has gone up from 24 to 50 percent for blacks and from 3 to 19 percent for whites.

Thankgiving with the family

From Politico:

Saving ‘Dre

As part of Hechinger’s excellent Promise to Renew series on a Newark turnaround school, Sara Neufeld looks at a 12-year-old boy who’s doing well in school. D’Andre has lived with his paternal grandmother and her husband since the age of three.Grandma Jean is very involved with his school, Quitman Street Renew School. Will it be enough?

Click to read the entire seriesDre’s mother — who was 19 when she had her second child — gave up custody because of her depression and drug addiction. The boy’s half-sister, who lives with the maternal grandmother, is doing poorly in school.

“From the nights Grandma Jean dried his tears as a little boy missing his mom to her constant presence at school events, D’Andre has seen the extent of her devotion time and again, and he couldn’t bear to let her down,” writes Neufeld. “At the same time, he has never stopped longing for his mother, and he’s held out hope that if he is successful enough, she will want a bigger role in his life.”

Dre works hard in schools, reads goes to the library and created his own home science projects over the summer.

As Quitman strives to reverse years of low academic performance and produce more students like D’Andre, he is a testament to the power of a highly involved caregiver, even with minimal financial resources. Jean, 68, is more protective of her grandson than she was raising her own three boys: No violent games on his Xbox, no Facebook whatsoever, and when he plays outside, she’s there watching from the living room window, with lace curtains inside and protective bars outside. . . . D’Andre stays indoors, watching “How It’s Made” on the Science Channel or building an elaborate dragon or tank out of Legos.

Dre’s mother is thinking of taking her son and daughter to Texas, where her boyfriend has moved. His father may take the boy to Pennsylvania to live near his girlfriend’s family.

Meanwhile, Grandma Jean has persuaded Dre to apply for a foundation-funded program that prepares top students to apply to elite boarding schools throughout the Northeast. If selected in the spring, the seventh grader “would spend a year attending local classes to build his academic, social and emotional capacity and then receive ongoing support once away.”

Teens are busy, stressed, exhausted

Too much schoolwork leaves teenagers stressed and exhausted writes Vicki Abeles in USA Today.

Since school started this month, my 15-year-old son, Zak, has been having trouble sleeping. He’s been waking up in the middle of the night, worrying if he’s finished everything on his to-do list.

Compared to many students in our San Francisco neighborhood, Zak has a “light” schedule. He goes to school, participates in jazz band and does his homework. By design, he’s not the classically overscheduled child.

And yet, Zak’s daily routine of school-band-homework still manages to eat up most of his day. When Saturday finally rolls around, he’s not the carefree teen I wish he could be. Instead, he’s anxious, calculating whether he has enough time to get together with friends in between weekend assignments.

Her anti-stress documentary, Race to Nowhere, which debuted five years ago, is airing on public television this week. Abeles is launching a social media campaign called Ban Busy.

Some high school students work very hard to get into selective colleges, which now require lots of AP courses and extracurriculars. What percentage of teens are on the high-stress track?

Latino students make progress

Young Latinos are doing better in school and are more likely to complete high school,  reports America’s Hispanic Children — Gaining Ground Looking Forward by Child Trends Hispanic Institute.

The percentage of Hispanic eighth graders achieving at or above the “proficient” level in math (an important predictor of high school completion) has increased from 8 percent in 2000 to 21 percent in 2014.

Dropout rates have fallen sharply, but only 73 percent of Hispanic youths complete high school in four years, compared to 86 percent of non-Hispanic whites.


Only a quarter of young Hispanic adults have earned a two- or four-year college degree compared to half of non-Hispanic whites.


The report also looks at health, economics, family and other issues. I noticed that young Hispanics are much more likely than blacks to be growing up in a two-parent family.

Why Minecraft is really cool

What’s so cool about Minecraft? On The Verge, Ben Popper explains why parents and kids are hooked on the game.

In Minecraft, users move around a virtual world, harvesting resources like wood, gold, and iron ore that they can use to build whatever they like. Everything is made of textured 3D cubes. The graphics are extremely low-fi. There are bad guys to watch out for and defeat, and technically a dragon you can slay to beat the game, but what has captivated millions is the total freedom Minecraft offers to wander around and build, often collaboratively, a huge world of you own.

Steven Sorka, a 36-year-old software developer from Toronto, plays with his 20-year-old stepson and 11-year-old daughter. “Minecraft seems to be a perfect storm of Lego and adventure,” Sorka says.

Parents see Minecraft as a teaching tool. Players learn about architecture and use “redstone circuits” to create “simple mechanical devices, even entire computers.”

. . .  the incredible variety of worlds to explore and items you can build comes from “mods”, modified software created by the community that can be installed on a server to reshape that world or the rules that govern it. For many young players, mods become a gateway to the world of computer programming . . .

Minecraft is “more than a game,” writes Abby Ohlheiser in the Washington Post.  “Minecraft is also an ecosystem of dedicated fans who play, create and share within and beyond the game’s open world.”

Last week, Microsoft paid $2.5 billion for Mojang, which crafted Minecraft.

The family that dines together . . .

The family that dines together gets along fine together, reports The Week.

As Bruce Feiler writes in his book, The Secrets of Happy Families:

A recent wave of research shows that children who eat dinner with their families are less likely to drink, smoke, do drugs, get pregnant, commit suicide, and develop eating disorders. Additional research found that children who enjoy family meals have larger vocabularies, better manners, healthier diets, and higher self-esteem.

. . . a University of Michigan report . . . discovered that the amount of time children spent eating meals at home was the single biggest predictor of better academic achievement and fewer behavioral problems. Mealtime was more influential than time spent in school, studying, attending religious services, or playing sports.

Knowing family history predicts a child’s emotional well-being, according to an Emory study. Children who know the family stories — including “natural ups and downs” —  are more confident and more convinced they can “control their world,” says Feiler.

Boys to brothers to men

The Rule shows how Benedictine monks in Newark are preparing black and Latino boys to succeed in college and life.

The documentary opens in (selected) theaters today.

St. Benedict Prep creates a stable, supportive community for boys from chaotic neighborhoods, writes City Journal‘s Steven Malanga, who went to the school when it was “white working man’s prep.”

Some come to the school angry at the world, haunted by memories of living in motels or moving from relative to relative, lacking fathers, and surrounded by violence. Sometimes they don’t know what’s expected of them because no one has ever told them.

. . . Students refer to one another as brothers and chant, as they make their way through the halls, “What hurts my brother hurts me.” They spend 11 months a year in school and hike the Appalachian Trail together. Freshmen complete a five-day orientation, in which they bunk in sleeping bags on the gym floor.

“The monks are serious about building men,” writes Malanga. Though all graduates get into college and 85 percent earn a degree, that’s not how a counselor defines success.  “You’re able to graduate St. Benedict’s, have a mortgage, deal with your marriage, deal with your family, stick it out. How do I measure success? I got a father working with his son, in his son’s life.”

Poverty casts a long shadow

Poor kids usually grow up to be poor adults, concludes The Long Shadow. Johns Hopkins researchers followed 790 Baltimore first-graders until their late twenties. Nearly half had the same income status as their parents; only a third of the poorest moved out of poverty.

Four percent of those from low-income families had a college degree at 28, compared to 45 percent of their higher-income peers.

Baltimore’s low-income blacks do worse than low-income whites, writes Michelle Gininger.

Forty percent of blacks who dropped out of high school were now working, compared to 89 percent of white high school dropouts, the study found.

Black and white women both earned less than their male counterparts, but white women tended to be better off financially with the benefit of marriage or a live-in partner. Black women earned less than white women and were less likely to be in stable relationships.

Growing up poor affects adults’ sense of control, concludes a new study. Even those who’ve reached the middle class may be more likely to make impulsive decisions and “quickly give up on challenging tasks in uncertain situations,” according to lead author Chiraag Mittal, MS, a doctoral student at the University of Minnesota.

Showing participants a photo or news story about economic uncertainty decreased persistence for those who’d grown up poor. So did asking them to recall feeling uncertain about their own finances.

Participants were more likely to persist — even if they’d grown up poor –when asked to recall a time when they were in control of a situation.

“Persistence is directly tied to myriad important outcomes, including self-control, academic achievement, substance abuse, criminal behavior, healthy eating and overspending,” said study co-author Vladas Griskevicius, PhD, also of the University of Minnesota.

However, persistence at an impossible task isn’t necessarily a good thing, the researchers concede. “Time and energy are limited resources, and sometimes it is adaptive to stop expending effort on an endeavor one cannot control in order to pursue more promising opportunities.”