Bloggingheads on Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Chicago’s challenges

Glenn Loury and I cover Newt Gingrich’s janitorial views, Mitt Romney’s misconceptions on social insurance. We also had some serious talk about the challenges facing young people in Chicago. I feel genuinely blessed to have such conversations with an old friend and mentor.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

4 thoughts on “Bloggingheads on Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Chicago’s challenges”

  1. Here’s a hint: Cut to the chase. I couldn’t make it past the first five minutes of mutual masturbation. I certainly don’t have an hour to spend on watching what is probably about 25 minutes worth of content.

  2. Oh, that’s silly Benny. One of the things that makes Bloggingheads unique is that it lends itself to this kind of informal, deeply friendly banter. And I think this actually plays a role in setting a tone of civility and mutual respect that is almost unheard of in similar formats.

    Anyhow, I’m halfway through and finding the conversation wonderful. These are the kids I work with everyday. For instance, I nearly had a student physically assault me last week when I wouldn’t return his ipod. Many of these kids have been through so much – and continue to live through so much – that they are on a hair trigger. Here are just a few factors in the escalation and perpetuation of their poor behavior:
    – cognitively and emotionally “poor” homes: lifetimes spent with little vocabulary, world knowledge, emotional regulation and positive reinforcement modeled at home
    – absent role-models: incarcerated or absent fathers, parents on drugs, or otherwise neglectful; or parents simply struggling to pay the bills working multiple jobs with little time for parenting
    – negative role-models: many people in their families or neighborhoods who actively model poor behavior, both adults and peers who they are often left to be essentially raised by
    – daily stress: this is huge. It could be from poor behaviors around them, but also from the circumstance of poverty, such as demeaning, low-pay occupations, or lack of health care in a population often defined by the advent of major illness or life hardship. My students’ family members seem to frequently be suffering medical problems.
    – mental illness: genetic mental illness often leads to generational poverty, especially when conditions aren’t diagnosed and treated properly – especially without health care.
    – cognitive deficits: learning disabilities and the effects of environmental toxins, or parent substance abuse while in utero lead to cognitive and emotional deficits
    – multiplier effect: ghettos are by proxy filled with a low human/social capital population, leading to a net deficiency in social capital; the group just isn’t heterogeneous and lacks the kids of resources that might have been available were more high human/social capital individuals around.
    – violence: at home and among peers, threat of violence is real and constant. Kids come to accept it and prepare for it, coming from any adult or peer.
    – cultural isolation: different behavioral/cultural norms come to exist that envelop a community that are far outside normative behavior of wealthier neighborhoods. My students routinely express little regard for the property of others outside their kin group, and view drug use – especially soft drugs like pot or alcohol as perfectly normal daily activities.

    This list isn’t nearly exhaustive. What should follow (I’m late for work!) is the net effect this has on their brain and conscious state. Higher-order thinking is often difficult to achieve because of so much negative stimulus that the body will always prioritize. Education is often impossible because the student’s cognitive capacity has essentially been shut off. As long as they are living in this environment, it is very difficult to dial back that stress in a timely manner, so as to facilitate the acquisition of new skills. However, as you say Harold, simply helping them learning self-regulation is enormously important. Unfortunately, it’s kind of like treating PTSD while a soldier is still in a war zone. Further, because of years of academic failure, school has become a place not of love, understanding and support, but an institution that demands what is often an unrealistic normative environment, thus setting the students up to fail. Still further, the focus on standards and superficial achievement leaves little room for the kind of non-academic learning that help teach practical human-human interaction skills.

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