Saturday, October 16, 2010

Disrupting the Pipeline

Disrupting the Pipeline presented by St Paul Youth Services (SPYS)

Seriously, did you know that the 13th amendment to the constitution holds that slavery and indentured servitude are abolished, except as punishment for a crime? You could look it up…. and our first speaker (Prof. Nekima Lyon-Pounds) has done just that. It seems that much of our judicial system is founded upon ways to utilize this “free” labor. If you look back at the progress of the amendment through the ratification process, it becomes painfully obvious that the South saw this as a way of replacing the workforce that they were now unable to access through slavery. And, they were not the only ones. The chain gang concept became a way of creating a ready workforce, with people (mostly healthy teen or adult black males) being convicted of ludicrous crimes (vagrancy, spitting on the sidewalk) and being forced to endure years of servitude for selectively enforced crimes. This inequity has set up distrust among communities of color which is hard to fault them for….would you trust a system that was skewed in such a way?

Once we were all sufficiently depressed by this reality, Joel Franklin (a program manager at SPYS) talked about the statistical realities of growing up at the intersection of race and poverty. Those statistics are included in the power point handout that you can read in the FYI basket in the phone room. To select just a few:

  • A black boy born in 2001 has a one in three lifetime risk of going to prison. A Latino boy’s risk is one in six. A white boy’s risk is one in seventeen.
  • The percentage of black children in poverty by state showed that only 3 states in the union had a higher percentage of black children in poverty than MN- we were “beaten” by Louisiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma.
  • While MN ranks 36th out of 50 states for white unemployment rates, it ranks 2nd in black unemployment rates in the United States.
  • High school dropouts are almost 3 times more likely to be incarcerated as youths who have graduated from high school.
  • 89% of black, 85% of Latino and 59% of white 8th graders cannot perform math at grade level.
  • 86% of black, 83% of Latino and 58% of white 4th graders are not reading at grade level

This last statistic is particularly depressing, as the state determines how many prison cells it will need based on 3rd grade reading scores. More kids not reading at grade level=more space required in prisons.

Are you sufficiently depressed yet? No? Read on.

Dave Willms, the Director of Programs at SPYS, gave us all a crash course in recognizing and comparing the differences between the survival mode mindset and the growth mode mindset. When the environment provides youth with basic needs, safety and support for developmental growth the child will generally be in what is called growth mode. When the environment is ambivalent to the needs of youth, or withholds resources that youth need for developmental growth, the child will be generally default to the state called survival mode. Some of the basic assumptions of the two modes are reproduced here:

Survival Mode Assumptions

Individual Needs First: Take what you want or you won’t get what you need.

“The System”: is corrupt and cannot be trusted or counted on

Relationships: are used to get what you want or need….loyalty is extreme, but reserved for select friends/family. (Friends/family are backup in a dangerous situation)

Choices Based on: immediate outcome. Future is almost always uncertain.

Organizational Skills: Organizing things, time and processes is futile because schedule and proximity is unpredictable.

External Locus of Control: Because environment is dangerous and unregulated. What others do or say dictates behavior. Therefore, individual responsibility is not assumed.

Respect (from others) is Primal: Demanding respect from others is critical to not just esteem but also safety. If disrespect is tolerated…exploitation will follow.

Growth Mode Assumptions

Group/Individual Needs: There’s enough for all if we only take what we need.

“The System”: generally works and can be trusted.

Relationships: are used as a demonstration of popularity…loyalty is less critical…(Police are backup in a dangerous situation)

Choices Based on: longer-term outcomes, future is predictable if we learn how to plan for it.

Organizational Skills: learning to keep track of things, time and processes is almost automated. Hoever, boys generally learn these skills later than girls.

Internal Locus of Control: Because most environments are regulated and monitored, self regulation skills are encouraged, supported and taught. Personal responsibility is generally assumed.

Respect based on Internal Processes: Demanding respect is not required…respect from others is assumed. Safety is based on a deep trust of the system as managed by others.

But, let’s be clear….neither mode is either right or wrong. They are what they are. In some instances survival mode is what you would want and need. For example, the special services of the military actually look for kids in survival mode to train as elite soldiers in our fighting units. However, those who live in growth mode generally believe that mode to be the default. That is where huge misunderstandings and complete communication breakdowns can and do occur. And, that is where the SPYS training that has helped turn the relationship in several branches to their teen ‘troublemakers’ from adversarial into a definitely more communicative and peaceful alternative.

One of the ways that is done is by identifying and moderating the style in which these kids are approached. The four main styles are; authoritarian, permissive, uninvolved and authoritative. While we should all be striving for an authoritative style, which fosters growth and maturation through relationships and guidance, the reality is often much different, even for those who have trained for a long time. After all, kids know how to push our buttons, don’t they? Here’s a short list of ‘traps’ to avoid and ‘tricks’ to push some of the right buttons on them:


  • Withholding resources to teach responsibility
  • Interpret limit testing as disrespect
  • Relationship testing as dislike of the adult
  • Assume behavior is only about motivation
  • Believe repetitive behavior exhibits resistance
  • Withhold respect until teen gives respect


  • Teach responsibility by giving tools AND incremental expectations
  • Interpret limit testing as an attempt to engage/connect
  • Relationship testing as fear of rejection, failure, disapproval
  • Assume positive behavior needs a combination of skills and reason to succeed
  • Understand new behavior is learned slowly/incrementally
  • Self-respect is nurtured by adult’s unconditional respect of others

For more information, see the handout in the FYI basket in the phone room,
or speak to any of the staff who were lucky enough to be present at this valuable training.


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