The Unheavenly City Revisited

Title: The Unheavenly City Revisited (1968, 1970, 1974)

Author: Edward C. Banfiled

Publisher: Little, Brown & Company

A very informative book of the inner-cities and their problems. Although published 40 years ago the problems are still there and still of the same origin but have increased in scope and magnitude. He discusses the programs that have failed then and are continuing to fail now. We do the same things and get the same results and many say that is the definition of insanity which any sane person would probably agree with. He discusses possible solutions which don’t perfectly fit the reformers visions but his solutions are based in reason rather than emotion. Anyone familiar with inner-cities will recognize the problems today he discussed back in the 60s and 70s when the book was written  and revised. It is readily available from many used bookstores and also from Amazon and eBay at very reasonable prices. For anyone that has or will have contact with inner-cities, from a sociological, psychological, economic, criminal activity, educational, environmental and political perspective this book is a must. Considering by 2050 worldwide urban area will expand in area by 1.2 million square kilometers, the size of  France, Germany and Spain combined we better be looking at realistic solutions. These solutions will pose decisions that will be difficult to make but the longer we avoid them the more difficult they will become. Below are a few excerpts from it:

“American sociologists define social class in very different ways: by objective criteria (income, schooling, and occupation), subjective criteria (attitudes, tastes, values), and position in a deference hierarchy (who looks up to whom), among others. Whatever criteria are used, it turns out that essentially the same pattern of traits is found to be characteristic of the class. “All who have studied the lower-class,” writes Lee Rainwater, one of those who has studied it most, have produced findings that suggest a “distinct patterning “of attitudes, values, and modes of behavior. The same can be said of those who have studied the working, middle, and upper classes. Each class exhibits a characteristic patterning that extends to all aspects of life: manners, consumption, child rearing, sex, politics, or whatever.”

 “Thus, the traits that constitute what is called lower-class culture or lifestyle are consequences of the extreme present orientation of that class. The lower class person lives from moment to moment, he is either unable or unwilling to take account of the future or to control his impulses. Improvidence and irresponsibility are direct consequences of this failure to take the future into account (which is not to say that these traits may not have other causes as well), and these consequences have further consequences: being improvident and irresponsible, he is likely also to be unskilled, to move frequently from one dead-end job to another, to be a poor husband and father….”

 “The reader is asked to keep in mind that members of a class as the word is used here are people who share a ‘distinct patterning’ of attitudes, values, and modes of behavior, not people of like income, occupation, schooling, or status.””

 “Strong correlations exist between IQ and socioeconomic status, and some scholars have presented evidence tending to show that they are due in large part to genetic factors. Ability (or willingness) to take account of the future does not appear to have much relation to intelligence or IQ; however, it is not implausible to conjecture that some genetic factor may influence it. The position taken here, however, is that time horizon is a social, not a biological, product.”

 “The Lower-Class. At the present oriented end of the scale, the lower-class individual lives from moment to moment. ……..  Impulse governs his behavior, either because he cannot discipline himself to sacrifice a present for a future satisfaction or because he has no sense of the future. He is therefore radically improvident: whatever he cannot use immediately he considers valueless. His bodily needs (especially for sex) and his taste for “action” take precedence over everything else – and certainly over any work routine.”

 “Although his income is usually much lower than that of the working class individual, the market value of his car, television, and household appliances and playthings is likely to be considerably more.”

 “Although he has more “leisure” time than almost anyone, the indifference (“ apathy” if one prefers) of the lower class person is such that he seldom makes even the simplest repairs to the place that he lives in. He is not troubled by dirt and dilapidation and he does not mind the inadequacy of public facilities such as schools, parks, hospitals, and libraries; indeed, where such things exist he may destroy them by carelessness or even by vandalism.”

 “The motives that produce this overemphasis on prejudice are understandable. It is graceless of the whites, to say the very least, to run any risk of deemphasizing it. There is a feeling, too, that it can do no harm – and may do some good – to err on the side of see more prejudice than is really there. Besides, even if prejudice is not important causally, it is very important morally.”

 “There are, however, at least two serious dangers in widespread overemphasis on prejudice as a cause of the Negros’s troubles. The first is that it may lead to the adoption of futile and even destructive policies and to the nonadoption of others that might do great good. It is clear, for example, that if improving the housing of Washington Park Negros is the goal, programs built on the assumption that the main problem is prejudice will lead nowhere.”

 “The other, perhaps more serious danger in the overemphasis on prejudice is that it raises still higher the psychic cost of being Negro, a cost cruelly high under the best of circumstances. It is bad enough to suffer real prejudice, as every Negro does, without having to suffer imaginary prejudice as well.”

 “Measures to reduce unemployment and poverty by increasing the skills of workers through schooling can have only a very limited success. They cannot change the situation fundamentally; probably the best they can do is to hasten somewhat the movement up the job and income ladder of people who would move up it anyway.”

 “A distinction should be made between a “trained” worker and an “educated” one. The trained worker has learned how to perform certain tasks of more or less complexity – to operate a machine, say, or to keep accounts.”

 “The educated worker, by contrast, (1) possesses the kind of general knowledge, especially of reading and mathematics, that will help them to solve various new problems, and (2) has certain traits of character – especially motivation to achieve, ability to accept the discipline of a work situation, willingness to take the initiative and to accept responsibility, and the ability to deal fairly with employers, fellow employees, and others.”

 “…..but the traits of character that are equally a part of education are not learned in school – or at any rate not there more than elsewhere. For the most part, they are acquired in childhood.”

 “The lower class person cannot as a rule be given much training because he will not accept it. He lives for the moment, but learning to perform a task is a way of providing for the future. If that training process is accompanied by immediate rewards to the trainee – if it is ”fun” or if he is paid while learning – the lower class person may accept training. But even if he does, his earning power will not be much increased, because his class outlook and style of life would generally make him an unreliable and otherwise undesirable employee.”

 “The child has absorbed the elements of his class culture long before reaching school; …. The child has ”picked up” from parents and playmates an outline map of his universe, and the main features of it – the continents, so to speak – cannot be changed by anything that is said or done in school. At best, teachers can only help the child to fill in certain empty spaces on the map he brings with him to school. If the map is extremely crude or wildly inaccurate, teachers and textbooks can be of little help.”

 “The circumstances that prevent the lower-class child (and in lesser degree the lower working-class one as well) from acquiring in school the traits of character that contribute to education also prevent him from learning how to read, write, and compute adequately. By the age of 14, according to Basil Bernstein, many such children are “unteachable” keeping them in school does not add to their knowledge; it only damages their self-respect, which is already small.”

 “Class cultural factors largely account for the conspicuous difference between the slum and the suburban school. Each school has a class character imposed upon it by the social setting in which it exists; this, and not staff inefficiency, racial discrimination, or inequitable provision of resources, is the main reason for the virtues of one and the defects of the other. The implication is one that reformers find hard to accept – to wit, that no matter how able, dedicated, and hard-working the teachers, no matter how ample the facilities of the school or how well designed its curriculum, no matter how free the atmosphere the school from racial and other prejudice, the performance of pupils at the lower end of the class cultural scale will always fall short not only of that of pupils at the upper end of the scale, but also of what is necessary to make them educated workers.”

 “….. And even the most comprehensive programs have yielded little or no measurable benefit. Consider, for example, what happened of the typical lower income school in central Newark – the Cleveland School. In a period of about six years the Victoria Foundation added one million to its regular budget and the Board of Education also gave it extra funds. Innovations were planned largely by the teachers. They included supplementing the regular staff with “project teachers” in subjects like science, speech, and remedial reading with “helping teachers” to assist the less experienced; starting a prekindergarten program; placing heavy emphasis in all grades on reading ability and using a variety of approaches to the teaching of reading; continually examining and refurbishing the curriculum; giving students practice at taking standardized tests; tripling the capacity of the library and adding a full-time librarian; providing comprehensive medical and dental services; enlarging the cultural horizons of the children by field trips, an after school club, an Afro-American program, assemblies dealing with black history and other efforts to build the self-esteem of the children, most of whom were black; establishing a Social Service Center with five full time professional social workers to provide services for children who needed them; starting parent groups to encourage their involvement; and employing a school psychologist.”

“Such a program might be expected to work if anything would, but after six years the evaluation revealed that the children were doing little, if any, better than before.”

 “The lack of success (to put it mildly) of almost all such compensatory efforts does not by any means prove that “the problem of the slum school” is insoluble. It does strongly suggest, however, that no amount of tinkering with present arrangements is likely to produce any significant results.”

 “Boys, especially working-class ones, frequently want to leave school for the very practical reason that changing their status from “schoolboy” to “worker” will give them independence and even a certain prestige at home. If not permitted to leave, the boy who finds the “schoolboy” role intolerable may replace it with membership in a youth gang or other delinquent subculture. Indirectly, then, the school may be a factor generating delinquency.”

 “Since 1964 (the year of the first riots) the growing “black power ”movement, by accusing the “white” school system of practicing “mental genocide” against black children and by forcibly demanding “community control” of schools, has dramatized for black pupils the idea that whites are to blame for everything and they, the pupils, to show their resentment by learning nothing while making life as miserable as possible for their white teachers. Not all black children have been infected by the contagion of these ideas, but enough have been to make it doubtful that whites – even those sympathetic to the militant point of view – can in the future be even moderately successful in the inner-city schools.”

 “Four years of high school is too much for those who do manual work; it is not enough for those who will do work that requires education.”

 “To be sure, the jobs that teenagers might get would in most instances Be far from exciting, like pushing a broom around the factory. Even a dull job, however, would be exciting as compared to sitting in a classroom where the subjects discussed are boring if not incomprehensible. The factory, unlike the school, is the ”real”  world; it is a world of adults, usually male, and of lower or working (as opposed to middle or upper) class types. In such a world even though work has satisfactions for youth: one stands in line with men (not “kids”) to punch the time clock, one takes orders from a foreman who talks one’s own language (instead of from a middle-class lady), and one learns from the boss and from fellow workers that it makes a difference whether one does one’s job or not. Not all jobs for the young need be as simple and unexciting as pushing a broom, however, there is no reason why a healthy boy of fourteen or fifteen should not do work that calls for considerable strength, endurance, and bravery. Indeed, it is only in the upper classes of an affluent society that any doubt about this could arise. If, as the military asserts, eighteen to nineteen is the optimal age for a combat soldier, it is safe to say that nothing but prejudice prevents the employment of boys of that age as lumberjacks, long-distance truck drivers, longshoremen, construction workers, taxicab drivers, and the like, and of even younger ones as helpers in these occupations.”

“For several years most women having unwanted pregnancies have known about effective techniques (the pill and the I.U.D.) even if they did not use them or did not do so regularly or, perhaps competently.”

“If there is reason to doubt that these developments will much affect the birth rate of the lowest socioeconomic group, there is even more reason to doubt that they will affect that of the lower-class – that is, of the woman who cannot or will not plan ahead, who regards pregnancy (and everything else) as something that “happens” if one is “unlucky,” who is not much troubled at the prospect of having a baby whose life chances will be poor, who may be incapable of following simple directions (“take a blue pill each day until they are all gone and then take the red ones”) and who in all likelihood must adapt herself to the demands of a man who, if he has any interest in the matter at all, wants to claim “credit” by getting her pregnant (without, of course, assuming responsibility for her or the child afterward). Such a woman, it is safe to say, will make little use of birth control clinics and when she does use them, will often end up pregnant anyway.”


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