Youth Today Columns
By Karen Pittman, May 1997
Something big has happened that, if sustained, could change the way this country thinks about, learns about and engages its young people. For three days, the Summit focused the country on its youth and on the collective responsibility individuals, neighborhoods, organizations, corporations and, yes, government has to honor its youth. The event was unprecedented — national in its reach and loud in its voice. And to be successful, the multi-year campaign, America’s Promise-the Alliance for Youth, has to be equally unique. The details are far from being worked out. But several key ideas have taken root over the past few months that, if pushed, could keep America’s Promise from becoming what many fear — a do-nothing commission, a fund-sucking intermediary, a diversion from permanent solutions. How can it become what people hope — a powerful force for change?
By Karen Pittman, July 1997
The President's Summit for America's Future unleashed an unprecedented wave of national commitments, local mobilization, media coverage and individual good will. The question at hand is obvious. Will America's Promise be able to ride that wave to shore? As one who was there before, during and immediately after the Summit, I have this answer: It has to.
By Karen Pittman, September 1997
What is best practice? This was the question put to us by a group of South African programs recently convened to discuss the topic. It turned out to be difficult to answer.
To many abroad, the United States is known as the land of programs. “Best practice”, as exported from the United States, is often seen as synonymous with “best programs.” Defined this narrowly, the idea of promoting best practice has a right-wrong quality that sounds less about building on what works than about replacing what exists. Understandably, grass-roots programs, in the U.S. and abroad, see themselves being assessed or franchised out of business.
By Karen Pittman, November 1997
Concrete towers rising like ugly dominoes out of hard-packed dirt. Lots of kids, little else. On the edge of the row, a low-rise building with landscaping, playgrounds, basketball courts. Inside, fresh paint, plants, skylights — intact equipment, matching furniture, art on the walls. Further inside, 200-plus young people playing ping-pong, working out, doing projects, chatting — enjoying the security, space and support of the center.
By Karen Pittman, January 1998
What is it with not-for-profit youth-serving organizations? Is it we think that because we are doing sainted work we don’t need to prove, approve or improve ourselves? Are budgets so tight that we can’t afford to know if we’re spending wisely? Staff so overworked that we can’t take the time to plan and prioritize? Lessons so obvious that they are not worth sharing?
By Karen Pittman, March 1998
I used to find it comforting to say that the youth development system is a decade behind early childhood. I don’t anymore. We seem to be losing the urge to explain, expand, prove and improve what we do. There are individual efforts — single organizations, subfields — that are pushing forward. There are grand efforts like America’s Promise, The Alliance for Youth. But interest in building public understanding and public will for the goal (youth development), the profession (youth work) and the field (youth services) seems to have waned.
By Karen Pittman, May 1998
Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria? This question was the theme of a paper I wrote 25 years ago for a psych class at Oberlin College — the first white college to admit blacks. It was a question I was asked frequently, as one who was not always, or even often at the “black” table. It was one of my daughter’s key queries when she came home on her first break from Oberlin three years ago, and the theme of a talk I just gave to the prospective students of color being courted by my alma mater. It is also the title of a recent book, written by a Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, a black female psychologist, teacher, trainer and advocate who happens to be my cousin. Clearly this is a longstanding question in my family. But it is not just my family.
By Karen Pittman, June 1998
Seventy-eight: That will be the number of Beacon Schools in New York City once the third and largest class of Beacons opens this year. The number is impressive, suggesting a level of scale in publicly funded youth programs rarely reached in U.S. cities. The Beacons are one of the field’s success stories of the 90s.
But the real story is in the strategy that led to this success, a strategy that opted to promote the goals and principles of youth development, and the organizations and individuals that believe in them. Why has it worked? Ten reasons: