Kleshas and Tanhas

ethics morals faiths ideals

Collective Efficacy: An Abstraction or a Real World Application?

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           I hold a soft grudge against Ivy-League graduates; maybe notso much a grudge, but more of an incredibly high expectation. One of my goodhigh school friends had the opportunity to attend a school at the level ofabove and beyond that many people so highly esteem. And, knowing how diligentof a student he was, I think that my high standard for Ivy grads is somewhat suitable.That being said, I find that some forms of higher education, me not to beexcluded, can involuntarily distance a college student from the “real world.”Somehow, in my instance, my food just happens to be magically paid for when infact there are quite a few sacrifices being made. My parent’s financial andmoral support, the kitchen staff that seemingly lives in the back of thecafeteria, the university for overseeing that our tuition goes to the rightplaces so we can we eat better. I say all of this because I, as a universitystudent, like to immerse myself in what the “real world” dubs as the real world. What I mean by that isattending something along the lines of a seminar on youth violence inPhiladelphia. I find that being informed on my surrounding community keeps mein touch with reality, which includes my thankfulness for being able to attendcollege. So to connect my points: acknowledging sacrifices, seeing theopportunity to hear about the “real world” from the real world, I feel like it’s my role to hear what people have tosay. And then form my own opinion on it, of course.
               Dr. Felton Earls sees himself as a witness. He says he wants to become an ally, apotential partner with Philadelphia. His soft spoken demeanor suggested he retainsexperience in his field; he has been to Tanzania. He possesses credible data fromhis studies and has many awards tagged to his name. He has even created a new term called collective efficacy.
               While inChicago, Dr. Earls measured the disorganization of 343 neighborhoods in thecity limits. Collective efficacy was a scale that he established that used auniversal rating system to determine how safe neighborhoods really were. Hisdiscoveries from investigating neighborhood responses to illegal activity brokesocial norms; Hispanic and middle class black neighborhoods apparently rankedvery high on his scale. He also drew an interesting, yet not incrediblyprofound, correlation between death rates and low birth weight. I think it was unbelievablethat collective efficacy was such an efficient means to measure this statistic;kudos to Dr. Earl. But I was at a loss when I started to think, “How could whatwe would already have been inferred withoutcollective efficacy, now presented to us in data, be any more useful andapplicable to the unsolved issue?”
               Between1995 and 1999, Dr. Earls worked in Tanzania during a severe outbreak ofHIV/AIDS. While working among two and three thousand population pockets, Dr.Earl found that 10-14 year old age groups worked the most effectively inconveying how to prevent the spread of HIV, educate the community on thebiology of the disease, as well as become what he keyed “active citizens.” (Here’swhere I got somewhat hung up on his titles and awards.) In essence, yes, as theopening speaker at this seminar, his story gave evidence to what the audience,panel, and community wanted to hear: children are capable of being more thanviolent, uneducated beings.
But what I personally foundmisleading was the veiled hope that a biased data collection from a rare pocketof two to three thousand population groups in Tanzania (of all places) wassomehow grounds to promote the idea that collective efficacy was to be appliedto American cities. Still, I did not see the connection between the datacollected in Chicago or Tanzania to the positive results that Dr. Earlsheepishly denied had any relationship to his “work.” In the instance ofChicago, shortly after the data from his collective efficacy came in, thehomicide rate dropped. I do not know if I did not catch the relationshipbetween the data and the aftereffects, but I personally do not recall in hisretelling how the raw data brought about change. Similarly in the Tanzaniaexample, even when he explained that he was educating the masses, I could notfigure out how whatever data he drew from the limited population groups linkedto his effectively educating teenagers. I think that the data enabled for himto see where more education on diseases was needed. Certainly. But could hehave not looked at the HIV/AIDS count and have said the same thing?
I thought the panel to follow hisopening remarks would fill the missing link between the raw data and theresulting application of that knowledge. What I listened to instead was thehardships reality imposes on theoretical concepts. The panel included manyprominent figures, much to my Virginian-boy surprise. It was the first time Ihad ever been to a seminar where the Deputy Philadelphia Police Commissioner, ActingSuperintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, Deputy Mayor ofPhiladelphia-and others-sat together and spoke plainly and pragmatically aboutthe issue at hand.
What followed inevitably cut anddried the lofty concept of collective efficacy. While each member of the panelagreed with the idea of collecting data, it seemed pointless to use time andresources to establish what they had already known. Youths are in danger.Youths are the future. Youths need to be protected in order to secure a betterfuture. Data was not needed in order to convince any member on the panel to actnow. They already were. And in the instance of the Police Department ofPhiladelphia where community policing has begun, collective efficacy was too late,or rather, it was already applied.
I spoke with a woman I work underthat also attended the seminar the next day. When Ms. Jill asked what my impressionwas, I said it was coordinated and informative. Especially since my hometownexperiences violence on a much smaller scale, the seminar brought me up tospeed on Philadelphia’s current events and issues. Nevertheless, I told myemployer that at the end of the session, something did not sit right inside me.While there was a positive flow of energy, there were no calls to action or anycommitment or proposal put forward to initiate action against youth violence. Ms.Jill informed me that while we were in the lecture, four kids were shot and twolater died from their wounds.
At that point, my optimisticsentiment took a turn for the worse. I feel like my cynical point of viewexpressed in this review of the seminar was created as a result of thatstartling reality. While it was important to acknowledge accomplishments andhear new ideas, the luxury of stopping to study and analyze is just too slowand impractical in this instance. 

Written by Jack Viere

October 4, 2011 at 8:14 pm

Posted in dukkha, ethics, Philadelphia

One Response

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  1. I think the self efficacy portion was too much of a tangent away from what you wanted to write about. You wanted to address or compare your life at college and the problems with inner city youth. Can talking about it (experts included) really bring about change? That's your point. It was a little unclear at times. Great points to consider though!


    October 4, 2011 at 11:32 pm

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