Youth Today Columns
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:
By Karen Pittman, July 1998
“Youth development is what you’d do for your own kid on a good day. We don’t need a fancy definition to know what to do.” This practical advice was offered recently by Hugh Price, president of the National Urban League. He’s right. We don’t need a fancy definition. We need a functional equation.
By Karen Pittman, September 1998
Certainty, not cost, is what undergirds public support for measures that lock teens away for life. And certainty, not cost, is the key to any effort to build sustainable community resources to support youth development.
Cost-effectiveness research is certainly important: Showing the short-term and long-term benefits of investment, the benefits of investing in one strategy over another, the benefits of doing something versus nothing. But in the end it is certainty that is needed.