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by Peter Moskos

April 3, 2010

The Talented Tenth

W.E.B. DuBois (pronounced doo-boyz, by the way, cause he wasn't French) wrote about "The Talented Tenth."

DuBois was, among other things, a great American, a suffragist, a sociologist, and a Harvard grad. Had his groundbreaking The Philadelphia Negro been written today, I can only wonder if it would have been called, DuBois in the Hood.

In contrast to the Talented Tenth, he wrote:
At the bottom, of course, quibbles the mole with his eyes in the earth. Aye! truly at the bottom, at the very bottom; at the bottom of knowledge, down in the very depth of knowledge there where the roots of justice strike into the lowest soil of Truth.
This came to mind after reading that 1 in 10 criminal youths in Illinois are held longer than their sentence because they have no place to go.
Notes in the records tell sad stories. "Youth has no family that will take him," reads the comment in the case of one downstate boy who was sent to prison for aggravated robbery and was still there two months beyond his scheduled release.

"Placement denied 5X w/relatives," reads the status report on another case.
"Aunt denied by parole. Uncle has refused. Working on other (extended) family," one document reads.

In another case, in which a 20-year-old was more than a year past his ARD, the comment reads: "Youth had approved parole site; mother had change of heart, site denied. Mother seeking other resources."
It's sad (though sometimes perfectly understandable) that nobody, not even parents, wants responsibility for some of these kids. I know that no person should be thrown away at such a young age. But I also have no illusions that all people, just because they're younger than eighteen, are angels that can be redeemed. I arrested of few pretty bad youngsters myself.

Sometimes they had no home to go to (in which case I did have some sympathy for the kid... I mean, given the choice between living in a f*cked up "home" like the ones I saw or slinging on the corner, I know what I would choose).

Certainly the problems in part--sometimes a small part and sometimes a large part--rest with the parents (or lack thereof). But placing blame isn't always enough. And some times the family was, if anything, too tough and strict--though who am I to cast doubt? If you raise three good kids and fourth is a f*ck-up... I don't know, maybe you've done a good job. What are the odds we expect in neighborhoods where most boys end up doing time?

DuBois had an answer: education. It's a good one. But in the shorter term, what is the answer?


Anonymous said...

DuBois was of French descent with ancestral roots in Haiti wasn't he?

From Canada

PCM said...

I believe he was.

Anonymous said...

an abolitionist? what do you mean? anyway, interesting link.

PCM said...

I meant suffragist. Thank you. I corrected the post. After the Civil War, I suppose being a abolitionist would either be very easy or very hard.

tim said...

At-risk youth have the educational opportunities now they were denied in DuBois' time (my high school history teacher pronounced "du-BOSE" for what it's worth, but then we pronounce everything wrong in northwest Ohio).

Education is there. Parents are not stepping up to make sure their kids get it. But don't tell Florida legislators that; they're convinced it's all the teachers' fault.

They probably still think what your parents name you has an impact on your academic performance, too. The right-wingers in Tallahassee, when pressed for research or evidence that their "poor schools deserve the worst teachers" plan had any sociological or economic benefit, responded that "statistics have little real-world value."

...then they made 100% of funding linked to standardized test scores.

Anyway, my answer to the problem stated in this post is establishing foster parenting as a profession, with the same education, certification, and licensing process for other public employees like cops, firefighters, and -yes- teachers.

PCM said...

I think better foster care is a great idea. And perhaps the only real answer. Sometimes parents cannot raise their kids. And I don't see large-scale orphanages (aka: juvie homes) as the answer. What else it left but foster parents?

And regard DuBois. Maybe it is pronounced Du-Bose. All I know is that it's not Do-bwah!

I have a pet peeve against the snobby American tenancy to use foreign words, characters (like Scandinavian lines through vowels), and pronunciations while pretending that we're supposed to know what they mean. I have nothing against French. But I don't speak it.

The Brits are better with this. They just read words like it's written in English. So they buy fish fill-its and go see the musical les-mis-er-a-bless.

But what really drives me crazy is when we make non-French things sound French. Take the painter Van Gogh. He was Dutch. There's a G at the end of his name and the Dutch pronounce it (oh, do they!). So why do we say Van Gooooh?