February 23, 2015

These two excellent books have provided perspective on the implicit bias that discloses itself in stereotypes of two kinds – stereotypes we have of others and self-imposed stereotypes we have of ourselves – which have a negative effect on behavior in many cases and, in some (i.e. a positive self-imposed stereotype of ourselves) actually have a positive effect.
In “Blind Spot,” we encounter the telling test where we are asked to associate pleasant words and unpleasant words with African-American and European-American children’s faces.  It discloses in a very uncomfortable way the stereotypes that I have which are more likely to link negative connotations with African-Americans.
What is most encouraging in this book and in “Whistling Vivaldi” is that it is possible to change existing associations.  Data has shown that hidden bias can be weakened by relatively minimal interventions; for example, showing student research subjects pictures of 10 admirable Black Americans and 10 despicable White Americans show weaker White=good association in a subsequent test.  
As Claude Steele writes in “Whistling Vivaldi,” the purpose of his book is not to show that stereotype threat is so powerful and persistent that it can’t be overcome.  Quite the contrary:  it intends to show how, as an unrecognized factor in our lives, it can contribute to some of most vexing personal and societal problems, but doing quite feasible things to reduce this threat can lead to dramatic improvement in these problems.
The book underscores that although we have a strong sense of ourselves as autonomous individuals, “evidence consistently shows that contingencies tied to our social identities do make a difference in shaping our lives, from the way we perform in certain situations to the careers and friends we choose.”
It presents a set of actions we can take as individuals to reduce the impact of these threats in our own lives, as well as what we can do as a society to reduce their impact in schools and work places.
The lack of intimate association, Black versus White, is still with us.
When Black and White students were asked how many close friends of a different race they had, among the six closest friends, neither White nor Black students averaged even one friend from the other racial group.
As just one example of what an established stereotype can do, when a math test was given to women who were first told that the test would disclose gender differences, when in other words women could feel the stigma of doing poorer in a mathematical test, women did worse than equally skilled men.  However, among women participants who were told that the test did not show gender differences, women performed at the same level as men.  The same thing happened in testing with Blacks where there was a difference in establishing the nature of the test up front as to whether it measured intelligence.

The same impact of a stereotype being reinforced before a test held true among older people.
Steele attributes the decline in test performance to “over-efforting” based on the desire to overcome a bias.
The book establishes clear evidence that people will tend to favor their own group.  We see that even in learning a language at the very earliest stage.  “No type of person or a nation of people has shown immunity to this ‘minimal group effect.’”
One must avoid cues that implicate one’s marginality.  For example, “do I belong.”  This takes me back to that unforgettable encounter I had with Lloyd Ward, our first African-American General Manager at P&G, who when I asked him if there was anything I could have done to have kept him with the company, he answered “no.  I didn’t feel in the house.”  
In Steele’s words, there may be “a principle of remedy if enough cues in the setting can lead members of a group to feel ‘identity-safe’”.
Another powerful insight in the book, which I can identify with so well, is the story of a professor who had “faith” in the book’s author as a “worthy partner.”  “Somehow his assumptions about what he was doing as a scientist included me as, at least potentially, a capable colleague.”  That captures precisely the cognitive and emotional reaction I had to the chance encounter I had with John Smale when he was two or three levels above me in the company and asked me in the course of a car ride coming back from a presentation by an agency head, what I had felt about that presentation.  He made me feel like a “worthy partner.”
There is another question raised by the author on how to provide critical feedback to a student, such as an African-American, or a woman, who might feel negatively stereotyped.  His conclusion was that it didn’t work to try to “be neutral” in giving feedback, nor by prefacing the feedback with a “generally assuring positive statement.”  Black students didn’t trust these forms of feedback, the author writes.  The one form of feedback which did work, for both Black and White students, was described as the feedback-giver explaining that he “used high standards” in evaluating the material.  Having read the students’ essays, he believed the students could meet those standards.  His criticism, this form of feedback implies, was offered to help the students meet his high standards.
Another intriguing example that illustrated lessening stereotypes occurred in a racially integrated classroom.  Teachers gave each student an envelope instructing them to write down their two or three most important values and then a brief paragraph about why these values were important to them.  In other words, the value statements were put in the form of a personal narrative.  It took only 15 minutes.  That process resulted in the African-Americans doing better in their tests.
In conclusion, the author sites a “preponderance of evidence” which strongly suggests that “under-performance, when not caused by discrimination is likely caused by stereotype and identity threats and the interfering reactions they cause.”
A final perspective which opened my mind is that while all of us have identities, they are truly multiple identities.  No one or two or three identities will capture or represent a whole person.  And also, identities are fluid, “their influence on us is activated by their situational relevance.”



February 15, 2015


On Thursday and Friday of last week,  I  attended a Childhood Development Summit in Helena, Montana. In attendance were about 250 early childhood providers and funders and other NGO leaders.

As one part of the Summit, I participated in a 4-person panel. One of my fellow panelists was the Sheriff of near-by Cascade County, Bob Edwards. 

The Sheriff brought home the agonizing outcome of poor youth development which we have learned about so often. His prison, with authorized 380 beds, now has 420 inmates. Of them, 80% of the women inmates are high school drop outs and 75% of the male inmates are drop outs.

But that was not the most electrifying part of what he had to say! No, that was when he told us that:

-Prisoners whom he brought in to jail 20 years ago, are coming back again and again, calling him by his first name and  congratulating him as they have seen him being promoted. Recidivism is rampant.

-And it gets worse: he now has prisoners coming in who ask to be put in a particular cell block so they can be with their father who is there in prison at the same time. Or a wife comes in, asking to be near her husband who is already there. 

-It gets even worse: The Sheriff is now seeing incarcerations involving three generations of the same family: grandfather, father and son. At the same time. This horrifying spectacle led me to recall being in a P&G plant years ago and having dinner with a Grandfather, father and son, all working there at the same time. What a contrast!

We talk about breaking the cycle of poverty. I have read  that among children born in 1990 to a family in the bottom income  quintile, only 9% will graduate from college. It is no coincidence this is the same percentage (9%) who moved to the upper income quintile. 

But what Sheriff Edwards brought home in an unforgettable way is that we have to break the cycle of criminality. 

Childhood development is critical to this.

Sheriff Edwards' deeply-felt testimony brought home to me that helping a child achieve what early education and caring development  can provide impacts not only them. It will impact their spouse, their children, their grandchildren.

We know that  the return on investment in the development of a child pays out at better than 2:1, considering only the higher income of the child and his or her lower costs of repeat grades, special education, involvement in the criminal system, etc.

Just think how much that return is expanded as the benefits of a mature, stable income-earning adult are passed down through his or her children and then their children.

We have the opportunity to go a long way in breaking the vicious cycle of poverty and criminal behavior. We must seize it.  

We read about nother dimension of the rippling impact of early childhood development  in a column in today's Enquirer written by Catherine Rampell. It recognizes how good child care and pre-K options allow parents and often single parents* to be more fully employed in better jobs. I have included portions of this column below:

  Opinion writer  February 9  
In  2013’s and  2014’s State of the Union speeches, President Obama proposed universal pre-kindergarten as a means of helping poor children catch up with their richer peers. 
In this year’s speech, he eschewed all mention of universal pre-K. Instead he spoke of “ universal child care,” as a means of helping working parents. 
Catherine Rampell is an opinion columnist at The Washington Post.  View Archive
Today, both proposals seem to have lost any momentum they may have initially had. Which is a shame, because they are actually two sides of the same coin — and, recognized as such, could provide a sort of double dividend for the American economy. 
At this point, you’ve probably already heard all about how public spending on high-quality preschool helps poor kids achieve more later in life and improves the government’s bottom line as a result. As  research from Nobel economics laureate James J. Heckman has showed, early investment in disadvantaged children improves academic achievements, career prospects and, ultimately, their lifetime income, which brings in more tax dollars. It also reduces public spending on criminal justice, remedial education, health care, and safety-net programs that disproportionately get used by people who grew up poor. Heckman’s work suggests that a dollar spent on high-quality early-childhood education programs produces a higher return on investment than does almost any major alternative. 
But that’s looking only at the effect of early-childhood education programs on kids. Improving access to high-quality child care and preschool offers even bigger returns when you also consider their effect on parents. 
That’s because they can help parents who want to work stay attached to the labor force, thereby improving their lifetime earning potential, too. 
Survey data suggest that many stay-at-home mothers want to work outside the home, at least part time. Why is this? The problem  probably isn’t sexist husbands. Rather, families weigh the costs of paid child care against mom’s post-tax take-home pay and decide that it’s just not worth it for her to take a job. If every dollar of mom’s paycheck goes toward child care and other household help, she might as well handle all these responsibilities herself.  
But that’s the wrong calculus: By dropping out of the workforce, these mothers are not just eliminating their current earnings; they are depressing their future earnings, too. Research shows that women who take time off from paid work to raise kids suffer permanently lower wages. Families are considering only the immediate problem of money coming in and going out today, rather than the long-term problem of how a decision to outsource some household production today might affect the family’s collective earnings tomorrow.  
*Over 50% of children under 6 live with families where all available parents work.  
We see here two additional reasons why providing early childhood development support through home visiting of the kind offered by "Every Child Succeeds" and quality pre-K pay out abundantly,  financially and in the social health of  our communities and nation.




Helping Others Who Need Our Help
 in Recognition of Our Common Humanity

More than a decade ago, noted historian Jim Horton was commenting about the meaning of the Underground Railroad, and he said something close to the following:

“If people back then would help others, not even knowing who they were and at risk to their own lives, what excuse do we have for not working together today?”

That powerful statement has motivated me from the day I heard it.  It lies at the heart of my commitment to tell the story of the Underground Railroad and other stories like it which demonstrate man’s humanity and one’s willingness to help another who needs help notwithstanding the personal risk involved.

I was recently reminded of this as I read a remarkable diary of a woman named Iris Origo who lived in the Tuscan countryside during the height of World War II.*  The German Nazi Army was in control of the surrounding land, yet there were allied prisoners of war who had escaped from Nazi internment camps and others who had become detached from their units.

This diary includes many remarkable stories which bring to life the same values of courage and cooperation and perseverance which undergird the story of the Underground Railroad.  They are yet another example of why stories like those of the Underground Railroad can provide inspiration on how we can live at our best today by helping others who need our help no matter where we live.

Iris Origo owned an estate not far from Florence.  She, along with other partisans were risking their lives rescuing escaped allied prisoners of war and other allied soldiers who had been detached from their units.  I love the way she explained the motivation of those who were helping these soldiers at the risk of their own lives.  It reminded me of what motivated the heroes of the Underground Railroad.

“What, it may be asked,” she wrote, “was the motive underlying the generous help given to the hunted Allied prisoners of war by the Italian countryfolk, often at the risk of their own lives?  It would be a mistake, I think, to attribute it to any political – or even patriotic – motive.  There was, it is true, a certain amount of anti-German and anti-Fascist feeling, especially among those peasants whose sons had been in the army against their will.  But the true motive was a far simpler one.  It has been described by an Italian partisan as ‘the simplest of all ties between one man and another; the tie that arises between the man who asks for what he needs, and the man who comes to his aid as best he can.  No unnecessary emotion or pose.’” 

*War in Val D’Orcia – An Italian War Diary – 1943-1944 by Iris Origo

An English officer, himself an escaped prisoner of war, who owed his life to the help given him in this manner, expressed views in almost identical words:  ‘The peasants’ native sympathy with the under-dog and the outcast asserted itself.  Simple Christianity impelled them to befriend those complete strangers, feed them, clothe them, and help them on their way.  All over Italy this miracle was to be seen, the simple dignity of humble people who saw in the escaped prisoners not representatives of a power to be withstood or placated, but individuals in need of their help.’”

This example was repeated many times:

Of the 70,000 Allied p.o.w.s at large in Italy on September 8th, 1943, nearly half escaped, either crossing the frontier to Switzerland or France, or eventually rejoining their own troops in Italy; and each one of these escapes implies the complicity of a long chain of humble, courageous helpers throughout the length of the country. “I can only say,” wrote General O’Connor to Iris Origo, “that the Italian peasants and others behind the line were magnificent.  They could not have done more for us.  They hid us, escorted us, gave us money, clothes and food – all the time taking tremendous risks…We English owe a great debt of gratitude to those Italians whose help alone made it possible for us to live, and finally to escape.”

Iris Origo concluded with these words:

“It will, I think, be obvious that I love Italy and its people.  But I have become chary of generalizations about countries and nations; I believe in individuals, and in the relationship of individuals to one another.  When I look back upon these years of tension and expectation, of destruction and sorrow, it is individual acts of kindness, courage or faith that illuminate them; it is in them that I trust.  I remember a British prisoner of war in the Val d’Orcia helping the peasant’s wife to draw water from the well, with a ragged, beaming small child at his heels.  I remember the peasant’s wife mending his socks, knitting him a sweater, and baking her best cake for him, in tears, on the day of his departure.”

There were other heroes who reached out to save the lives of others.  One of them was the Archbishop of Florence, Cardinal della Costa.  When some of his nuns were arrested because they had given shelter to some Jewish women in their convent, he went straight to the German Command.  “I have come to you,” he said, “because I believe you, as soldiers, to be people who recognize authority and hierarchy – and who do not make subordinates responsible for merely carrying out orders.  The order to give shelter to those unfortunate Jewish women was given by me:  therefore I request you to free the nuns, who have merely carried out orders, and to arrest me in their stead.” 

“The German immediately gave orders for the nuns to be freed,” Ms. Origo writes, “but permitted himself to state his surprise that a man like the Cardinal should take under his protection such people as the Jews, the scum of Europe, responsible for all the evils of the present day.  The Cardinal did not enter upon the controversy.  ‘I look upon them,’ he said, ‘merely as persecuted human beings; as such it is my Christian duty to help and defend them.  One day,’ he gave himself the pleasure of adding, ‘perhaps not far off, you will be persecuted:  and then I shall defend you.’”