I just finished reading a book called Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City, suggested by our own Ryan Hackett. The book describes the challenges of growing up in impoverished inner city neighborhoods, and how a particular code of behavior dictates the social norms of the community. The book describes the stark contrast between “decent” and “street” norms of behavior, and how challenging it can be for children who grow up in these neighborhoods to maintain a sense of decency and a focus on a purposeful life, given the pull of street culture. There are lots of factors involved, including the pervasiveness of illicit drugs and the lack of jobs. As I thought about the issues in this book as they related to our work at The Community School, it occurred to me that the lack of enduring, flexible relationships is also a significant factor in the lives of the individuals in these areas.
It is difficult to tell to what extent the lack of nurturing relationships is a result of the conditions, and to what extent it is a contributing factor in outcomes. Regardless, it seems clear that when early attachments between children and caregivers are compromised, it becomes more difficult for communities to develop and maintain mutually respectful, flexible social behavior. A large part of the work of TCS is strengthening the ability of students to develop and sustain interactive, nurturing relationships. While we are not concerned, for the most part, with “losing” our students to the streets, the dangers of a lack of attachment and meaningful relationships are no less destructive. The rigid thinking, social isolation, resentment, and chronic experiences of being misunderstood and even forgotten can lead to such overwhelming feelings of despair and failure.
I am grateful for the commitment that all of the families of participants at TCS have shown to their children. As hard as our job can be, it would only be more difficult without caring families supporting their children and backing us up. I am aware that the families are strained and stressed in so many ways, and that their ability to offer this support is sometimes fragile. This is, I have known from my own experience, the nature of raising challenging children. I am hopeful that our work with their children can offer some moderate sense of relief and some hope for growth, which in turn then gives those families a little more breathing room and a little more opportunity to rejuvenate themselves, able to fight the good fight a little more happily.