Campus of the Big Ideas
launch of The Chicago Initiative-the University's five-year, $2
billion fund-raising effort-was marked by an April 12 event that
focused on Chicago's intellectual initiatives.
services, or laws: how do we improve lives?
floor, exposed duct work, low ceiling-one look told Edward Lawlor
and his colleagues that the basement of the Oriental Institute
would be a fitting place to talk about poverty, crime, and the
state of public schools.
a sociologist and dean of the School of Social Service Administration,
and his panel colleagues are scholars but also activists. Their
element is not just the library but also the failing school, the
crumbling high-rise, the overcrowded jail. And although they discussed
some of the nation's most intractable problems, their conversation
was tinged with hope.
Mayer, for example, gave a spirited defense of the War on Poverty.
Mayer, the incoming dean of the Harris Graduate School of Public
Policy Studies, focuses on children and poverty. A self-described
"money person," she insisted that the War on Poverty
did not fail, contrary to what many people think: "Big efforts
directed at big problems produce results."
child of 1960s idealism, the War on Poverty gave us food stamps,
Medicaid, and other programs for America's poorest. Yet the number
of children living in poverty increased. But if the War on Poverty
did not increase the income of America's poor, Mayer said, in
some ways it made their lives better. Today most poor children
have enough to eat and access to medical care. Just as important,
the War on Poverty broadened opportunities. Poverty is no longer
irony is that these successes made future progress more difficult.
Today's poor are increasingly entangled in what Mayer called "multiple
disadvantages": mental-health problems, substance abuse,
low skill levels. Big solutions can no longer yield big results.
"It was easy when poor children's problems were general,
requiring things like more money, more food; much harder when
what they need is the adults in their lives to be willing and
able to be good parents and good role models."
and schools often go hand in hand, and Anthony Bryk, the Marshall
Field IV professor in sociology and director of the Center for
School Improvement, described the center's work in the city's
public schools. "Poor and minority students, even in our
most disadvantaged neighborhoods, can do the work," Bryk
made plain. "There's no question."
fail children, not the other way around, he said. In many schools,
teachers "have been there for long periods of time, have
tried lots of things, and they have come to the conclusion that
nothing works." But better teachers are not enough, Bryk
noted. Rooted in communities, schools need broader support. Bad
schools often reflect a distrust between teachers and the community,
as well as high crime rates, weak social institutions, and other
need to create new institutions in these communities," said
Bryk. He and his colleagues are putting their ideas to the test
at the North Kenwood/Oakland Charter School, a public school the
University began five years ago, hoping to improve urban schools
by training better teachers and by linking school and neighborhood
in ways that help both to thrive.
approaches to law enforcement in poor neighborhoods, suggested
Tracey Meares, JD'91, a professor in the Law School and director
of the Center for Studies in Criminal Justice, could improve community
life-having police arrest the people who buy drugs, rather than
concentrating on the dealers who sell them, would spread the social
cost of enforcement to wealthier communities rather than concentrate
it in the poor communities where the dealers tend to predominate.
conversation recalled some of Chicago's earliest traditions, when
scholars like education reformer John Dewey combined research
with social activism. But an old rift needs mending, noted Lawlor.
A century ago, a divide grew between Dewey's education reforms
and the settlement house movement of Chicago social reformer Jane
Addams. Since then, social services and public education have
taken separate paths. Today, Lawlor said, social services must
be centered in community institutions, like schools, not dispersed
in a hodgepodge of agencies. The divorce between Dewey and Addams
no longer works. "Maybe it makes sense," suggested Lawlor,
"to put them back together."
the beginning: what do our origins tell us about ourselves?
Homo sapiens: are
we really rational creatures?
physical and biological sciences: what lies ahead?
services, or laws: how do we improve lives?
Clones, genes, and
stem cells: can we find the path to the greatest good?
How will technology change
the way we work and live?
Why do we dig up
Art for art's sake?
In the realm of
the senses: how do we understand what we see, hear, feel, smell,
Can we protect
civil liberties in wartime?