Youth

The Conversation: Joshua Steckel and Andrew Delbanco

AP Images/Mel Evans
I n the fall of 2006, Joshua Steckel left his job as a college counselor at an elite private school in Manhattan for a public high school in Brooklyn. His new work, guiding low-income students, put him on the front lines in the effort to bring more socioeconomic diversity to the nation’s selective four-year campuses. Far from assuming that college was a choice, many of the students who entered Steckel’s cubicle had internalized the message that higher education was a world from which they were excluded. Steckel’s book, Hold Fast to Dreams ( New Press, March 25), folds his students’ stories into a larger social perspective on the barriers that exclude low-income teenagers from the nation’s colleges. The book, a collaboration between Steckel and his wife, the writer Beth Zasloff, follows ten of Steckel’s students as they apply to and then enter college. The students’ challenges are vast and varied. Mike lives in a homeless shelter, caring for his younger brothers while his mother,...

When Death Comes to the Festival

AP Images/Austin American-Statesman/Jay Janner
AP Images/Austin American-Statesman/Jay Janner O n Monday, 26 year-old Sandy Le died in the hospital, the third fatality of last week's crash at the SXSW music festival. Another person, 18 year-old DeAndre Tatum, is in critical condition, and seven others remain in the hospital. The incident occurred shortly before 1 a.m. on March 13, when a drunk driver, chased by police, sped into a crowd outside Austin’s Mohawk Bar, on a closed-off section of road, injuring a total of 23 people, and leaving two dead at the scene. Hours before the crash, I stood at the Parish, a downtown music venue, waiting for the Kooks to play. First up, however, was Claire, an electronica band from Munich. They seemed to personify every idea I had about what going to a music club in Munich would be like. Lead singer Josie-Claire Bürkle came out in a black, witchy outfit, with her midriff exposed, with her long blond hair in a slicked back ponytail. She sang overly mysterious lyrics in a low sonorous croon while...

Stress, Poverty, and the Childhood Reading Gap

AP Images/LYNN HERMOSA Most Americans think education is the key to upward mobility, that all we need to do to break the cycle is to help the next generation do well in school and rise into the middle class. A growing body of research, however, is showing that poverty and hunger can harm children’s cognitive development. The challenges of poverty, and the often-violent neighborhoods poor children live in, are impeding their progress in school. Late last month, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that works to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children in the United States, released a report that added evidence to that idea. It showed only a fifth of low-income fourth-graders were reading at a proficient level, compared to more than half of high-income children. What’s alarming for researchers is the fact that every subject in every class after third grade requires a textbook and critical-reading skills for full engagement in the classroom. Children already need...

Falling Down the Rabbit Hole of NYC’s Lena Dunham Obsession

Vogue Magazine
Flickr J ust as twentysomethings aren’t the ones writing about millennials ( that would be Ross Douthat ), Lena Dunham’s contemporaries aren’t the demographic that considers Girls its television muse. No, that would be over-twentysomething men, who make up over 20 percent of the show’s viewership and a perhaps even healthier percentage of the bylines featuring name drops of Dunham in the New York media ( this would also be Ross Douthat). Everyone who’s been having heart palpitations over Hannah Horvath’s desire to be a voice of a generation seems to have missed the New York old guard’s intention of making her the voice of the whole damn city. Since 2001, The New York Times has published over 300 articles mentioning Dunham, about 99 percent of which have been written in the past four years. And, except for the early days, right when Tiny Furniture became a thing and Girls screeners became zeitgeist incarnate, she’s hardly ever the subject matter. Any story with a wisp of beard, a hint...

Over-Interpreting Mundane Poll Results

So disillusioned he's just going to lie here until dinner. (Flickr/Corey Thrace)
Have the young turned on Barack Obama? That's the assertion coming out of a poll from Harvard's Institute of Politics, reported in the National Journal with the breathless headline, "Millenials Abandon Obama and Obamacare." "The results blow a gaping hole in the belief among many Democrats that Obama's two elections signaled a durable grip on the youth vote," writes Ron Fournier. In the poll, approval of the President among those 18-29 has fallen to 41 percent. Sounds terrible. But wait—what's his approval among all voters these days? About 41 percent . So is it possible we don't need a special, youth-oriented explanation of the latest movement in the polls? When there's a change in public opinion, it's tempting to pick out different demographic groups and impose on each of them some unique interpretation of what's happening. Here's what the poll's director told Garance Franke-Ruta: "People are disappointed because they are passionate," Della Volpe said. "They're passionate about...

Reversing Broward County's School-to-Prison Pipeline

AP Images/Phil Sears
AP Images/Phil Sears W hen, after a nationwide search, he was hired two years ago to serve as superintendent of Florida’s Broward County Public Schools, Robert Runcie began brainstorming ways to close the racial achievement gap. At the time, black students in the sixth-largest district in the country had a graduation rate of only 61 percent compared to 81 percent for white students. To find out why, Runcie, who once headed a management-consulting firm, went to the data. “One of the first things I saw was a huge differential in minority students, black male students in particular, in terms of suspensions and arrests,” he says. Black students made up two-thirds of all suspensions during the 2011-2012 school year despite comprising only 40 percent of the student body. And while there were 15,000 serious incidents like assaults and drug possession reported that year, 85 percent of all 82,000 suspensions were for minor incidents—use of profanity, disruptions of class—and 71 percent of all...

A Church Basement Revival without the God Part

Even if you can start a religion that prominently features Bon Jovi songs, should you?

AP Images/REX/IBL
AP Images/REX/IBL Wednesday night, the charismatic leader of the world’s newest religious movement was bouncing manically around a rehearsal room in the basement of the Woolly Mammoth Theater in Washington, D.C., herding his flock into chairs. Freddie Mercury’s dulcet tones thumped out of the speakers. The congregation—a motley crew of four dozen 20-somethings wearing tie clips and middle-aged hippies in patterned fleeces—shambled to the front of the room as Sanderson Jones, the man of the hour, warned us that he was going to make us sing. “When they killed Richard III, a group of people did it so they didn’t have to take responsibility for what happened,” said Jones, a tall man sporting enormous black-rimmed glasses with a wraparound band—the kind you give toddlers or athletes to keep their glasses from falling off. “It’s the same with singing.” Jones is an apostle for the Sunday Assembly, a congregation of nonbelievers that was founded in England in January. (Tagline: “A global...

A New York State of Self-Esteem

NYC Girls Project
O ver the years, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has gotten plenty of flak for his public-health campaigns. Efforts to curb soda drinking, reduce teen pregnancy, and shrink daily caloric intake all fed into an image of Bloomberg as a nagging pest who used the weight of the city government to scare New Yorkers into submission. But in the last few months of his tenure, the Bloomberg administration is offering a more uplifting message. The latest campaign from the mayor’s office isn’t about frightening city residents into kicking a bad habit; targeted at preteen girls, it’s designed to thwart body-image problems before they begin. NYC Girls Project The New York City Girls Project , an initiative piloted by Bloomberg’s deputy press secretary, Samantha Levine, is the first major city public-health campaign to tackle girls’ self-esteem. The program, which has a budget of $330,000, works to amp up girls’ body image in a number of ways. Posters depicting a wide array of 7- to 12-year-...

A Twerk Too Far

AP Images/Charles Sykes
AP Images/Charles Sykes A t last week’s MTV Video Music Awards, Miley Cyrus continued her journey to adulthood, aided by proximity to popping black female asses. The former Hannah Montana star sparked a national dialogue about rich white girls borrowing empowerment from "low" black culture. The conversation we need to have about cultural appropriation is thorny and complicated—and necessary. But in the heat of a pop-culture moment, the significance is trivialized, reduced to the mere shock of a wiggling, latex-clad derriere pressed against Robin Thicke’s manhood. And ideas that support useful dialogue get lost in the scrum. It is impossible to have a meaningful discussion about cultural appropriation without first understanding the difference between inspiration and minstrelsy, the diversity of American racial experiences, and what we have a right to expect from white artists influenced by other cultures. One thing glaringly absent from last week’s breast-beating was recognition of...

The Six Months That Made the Sixties

The March on Washington marked the beginning of a tumultuous half-year whose events would shape the decade's legacy. 

AP Images/Anonymous
AP Images/Anonymous U nless you’re tyrannized by the laws of calendars and clocks, the “Sixties” (as opposed to the 1960s) were born not on a day or at a given hour. Rather they emerged from the six months between August 28, 1963, and February 23, 1964, the midway locus falling on November 22—three dates marking episodes as irrevocable as they were momentous. The March on Washington (“for Jobs and Freedom,” to give the event its precise title) on August 28 was at once the start of something and the culmination of what unfolded the preceding decade. This included a Supreme Court ruling on racial segregation, a woman who refused to change seats on a bus, federal troops enforcing the integration of Southern schools, a minister imprisoned during a close presidential campaign, the savage murders of black and white civil rights workers, and the proposal of landmark legislation only two months before by the president of the United States. The march was most notable for the appearance by the...

Freedom Fighters—the Next Generation

AP Images/Phil Sears
AP Images/Phil Sears The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington is synonymous with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. As a leader of mass movements, King was surpassed by few, and in high school textbooks he is treated as the personification of the civil-rights movement. King and other movement leaders, however, made up only one strand of the 1960s civil-rights struggle. Grassroots organizers—many now forgotten—helping African Americans in the South register to vote even as King spoke in front of the Lincoln Memorial, made up the other. The spirit of those people and the groups they belonged to, such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or SNCC (pronounced “snick”), can be found today in the dozens of grassroots groups across the country, that work to protect voting rights or expand access to a quality public education. Phillip Agnew, the 28-year-old executive director of the Florida civil-rights group the Dream Defenders, is, at the moment, probably...

God Was My Freshman Roommate

flickr/Illinois Springfield
flickr/bamaboy1941 L ater this week, Troy University, located 50 miles south of Montgomery, Alabama, will open the first ever faith-based dormitory at a public university. The brand-new building, which cost $11.8 million and will house nearly 400 students, has set off a debate about whether faith-based dorms represent a violation of the separation of church and state. To live in the dorm, students must maintain “an active spiritual lifestyle and maintain an active engagement in a campus faith based organization.” Maintaining a GPA of at least 2.5, refraining from drug and alcohol use, and participating in community service projects are also requirements for living in the cushy new quarters. The building includes a Catholic ministry—which is being leased to the nearby Catholic archdiocese of Mobile by the university—a chapel, and an office for a local priest. Three Catholic and three Baptist residential assistants will live in the dormitory with the students. Faith-based dorms are a...

Fighting Florida's School-to-Prison Pipeline

Protesters occupying the Florida Capitol in memory of Trayvon Martin want to change school policies that disproportionately suspend black students and often end in arrest.

AP Images/Phil Sears
AP Images/Phil Sears Last week, Donnell Regusters heard from a co-worker that dozens of young people were occupying the Florida Capitol, rallying around the Trayvon Martin verdict, calling for the repeal of the state’s stand-your-ground law, and demanding an end to what reformers call the “school-to-prison pipeline,” so he decided to head South. “It wasn’t even up for debate,” he says. Regusters, an organizer working to reduce suspensions and school-based arrests in Philadelphia, got together a group of young Philly residents, hopped on a bus, and went down the East Coast, picking up students in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., along the way. The night after Regusters’s crew joined the protest, then going into its tenth day, national news coverage heated up : Singer and civil-rights activist Harry Belafonte, a funder of civil-rights actions in the 1960s, made an appearance in Tallahassee. Seeing Belafonte speak in person, Regusters says, “was insanely powerful.” That Friday evening,...

Coming Home for the Recession

AP Photo/Bob Leverone
AP Photo/Bob Leverone This is the third installment of a four-part series on Millennials and the new economy, based on the author’s monthlong road trip with stops in the Rust Belt, Omaha, and Texas. Read the first and second . O ne mosquito-heavy evening in May, I met 30-year-old Pat Valdez near San Antonio’s old Lone Star brewery. Valdez makes $15 an hour working in the human-resources department of Wells Fargo. She takes classes part-time at an online university, where she hopes to earn a degree in journalism. With $30,000 in student-loan debt, she’s living paycheck to paycheck. But unlike other Millennials struggling to make ends meet on their own, she’s not in dire straits. After a short, “way too expensive” stint in California living with her older brother, she’s back at home with her parents. She suspects that some people from her South Side neighborhood think she is following the example of many other women in more traditional Hispanic families: staying home until she marries...

Vacant Beauty, Boredom, and The Bling Ring

With her latest film, Sophia Coppola emerges as successor to Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni, master of disaffection and alienation. 

AP Images/Matt Sayles
AP Images/Matt Sayles Next month my 15-year-old son, Miles, starts Calabasas High, which lies wedged between the palaces of the community for which the school is named and Topanga Canyon where we live, with its erstwhile bohemians and aging hippies of whom I would probably be regarded as one or both. My niece went to the same high school and I remember some years ago driving her to the fiefdom of an 11 th -grade classmate who had to himself the guest house which adjoined his parents’ mansion and was bigger than any home I’ve lived in. One of the Menendez Brothers went to Calabasas High. Sometimes I worry Miles will wonder what the hell he’s doing at this school and other times I dread he’ll fit right in. Calabasas was where the true-life blingleaders of Sofia Coppola’s new The Bling Ring went to school before they were expelled. This exile appears to have sealed the kids’ view of themselves as outsiders while further igniting their hunger for an insider’s privilege, wealth, and any...

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