A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Education Reforms and Students at Risk: A Review of the Current State of the Art - January 1994

Community Climate and Resources

Poor communities, especially those in the inner cities, are often stereotyped as uniformly blighted and dangerous. However, in spite of the poverty of these communities, many residents attempt to provide safe, attractive environments for children. In even the poorest inner cities, there are often pleasant streets with well-maintained buildings and concerned neighbors. As one resident of a low-income community states, "There's nothing wrong with the people living up here, [but] other people think...you [better not] come here because if you do.... you're liable to have this or that done to you (Brantlinger, 1985)."

Dangers of urban life. However, it is true that many sections of inner cities are unsafe for children:

From illegal waste dumps to scores of deserted buildings with wide open windows and doorways and sagging fire escapes, this neighborhood appears to offer more dangers than sanctuaries for young children....The spray-painted graffiti of pitchforks and stars on many buildings testify to the power and prevalence of street gangs (Littel and Wynn, 1989, p. 21)

Chronic stress is a part of daily life in some inner cities. As Halpern (1991) notes, "[Children] in some neighborhoods face the possibility of walking into danger on every trip to and from school, and on every trip up and down the stairs of their apartment building (p. 7)." Many inner-city children reside in neighborhoods so crime-ridden it is dangerous to play outside (Kotlowitz, 1991; Zinsmeister, 1990). Adult leadership in these communities may be ineffective and disorganized, and in the absence of parental authority young people may seek protection, camaraderie, and "career opportunities" in gangs and the drug trade. The murder rate for young black men in these communities is so high that Gibbs (1988) refers to them as an "endangered species." Alternatives to street life may appear slim: Littel and Wynn (1989) find that young people in a black inner-city community have fewer programs and a narrower range of activities to participate in than do young people in a nearby white suburban community. As a result, they may have fewer opportunities to receive adult supervision, explore their interests, learn about a variety of career options, enhance skills, demonstrate competency, and feel a sense of belonging.

Poor rural communities. Although poor rural areas usually lack the level of violence characteristic of some inner cities, they also may be discouraging, hostile environments for children. Research indicates that alcoholism, unemployment, illiteracy, welfare dependency, law-breaking, depression, and family violence are major problems in these communities (Auletta, 1982). Recreational and educational opportunities for rural youths and adults are often limited. As one rural resident states, "The only thing around here is a bowling alley and a lot of beer joints (Auletta, 1982, p. 162)."

Declining economic status. The declining economies of many rural and urban areas may intensify community problems (Heffernan and Heffernan, 1986, as cited in Green and Schneider, 1990). During the 1980s, the earnings of young, noncollege-educated males fell sharply, and many young families slipped below the poverty line (Grant Foundation Commission, 1988, p. 18). Affordable housing has become increasingly difficult to locate, thus many young families have been forced into inadequate dwellings (pp. 28-29). Inadequate shelter -- or not having a home at all -- may increase accidents, disease, and delinquency among children and youth.

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