After reading the true story There Are No Children Here in which freelance journalist, Kotlowitz followed the lives of two young brothers for two years, I wondered what one explanation or better yet theory is the most appropriate in explaining why these children lived their life the way they did. Kotlowitz traces the lives of these two black boys; 12-year-old Lafayette, and 9-year-old Pharaoh, as they struggle to beat the odds of growing up in one of Chicago’s worst housing projects. And a family that includes a welfare-dependent mother, an alcoholic-drug using father, an older sister, an older brother, and younger triplets. One question that most would most likely argue about would be: What is the true cause of their struggle? Is it the run down smelly housing project completely taken over by gangs, where murders and shootings are an everyday thing, is their family, school, society, the system, or maybe it’s because of the economical disadvantages.
While others may argue, I believe that it isn’t just one of these reasons; it’s all of them altogether. It is just that some have a bigger influence than others. All through their lives Pharaoh and Lafayette are surrounded by violence and poverty. Their neighbourhood had no public libraries, no movie theatres, no skating rinks or bowling allies. The schools that the boys attended were dirty and violent. In the boys’ apartment, there are bullet holes in the living room curtains, in a bedroom window, and in one of the doors. The elevators didn’t work; the basement was full of rats and rotting carcasses, and rotting smells which arise through the plumbing to make their apartment unbearable on a hot day. The plumbing was bad. They had constant water dripping from their bathroom. There was a narrow hallway which was their shelter when there was a shooting between the rival gangs.
Prices start at $12
Prices start at $11
Prices start at $10
Sometimes they would spend hours there trying to avoid getting shot and waiting for the shooting sounds to end. There was this one time where there was a gang dispute right after school when all of the children were coming out. Lafeyette feared that Pharaoh will run through the gunfire on his way home that day. Fortunately, Pharaoh made it home. Drug abuse was so widespread and out of control that the drug lords were stationed and ran their operation in an abandoned building in the projects. If that wasn’t bad enough there was shooting everywhere almost every day. Because of the disadvantage of not being able to do and have certain things, the children came up with other things to keep them busy and settle down their frustration. This is where I would say the general strain theory comes in which suggests that because of strain children may become delinquent.
It is said that strain can arise from two sources. The first is, restricting a youth’s normal activities such as: playing certain sports and games with their peers, or some other activity that they were participating in before. And the second source of strain may be the presentation of negative stimuli that may cause an individual to become angry or frustrated. Because these children had no safe place or better yet any place that they could play and enjoy themselves they would become angry and find other things to do that would keep them busy. For example, some had joined gangs, got involved with theft and burglary, while a small percentage wandered the streets frustrated and scared.
Throughout the book, we see how Lafeyette tries to have a different life than the one he has. He tries really hard not to drop out or join a gang. But as one after another of his friends are killed, first Birdleg, then Craig, and then Scooter and him being convicted for a crime he didn’t commit it makes it even harder for him to be different from most of the children in his community. On the other hand, we see his younger brother Pharaoh who tries to also be different and positive. Pharaoh tries really hard to win the spelling bee. And his determination to get away from the ugliness around him, and to remain a child against all odds. But his stutter gets worse, he worries about dying, and even at night, he crawls in his sleep through the hallway to escape the gunfire. Considering their demographics Lafeyette and Pharaoh were faced with serious challenges.
Lafayette and Pharaoh had almost opposite personalities. I think that because of all of the negative influences in the society children like Lafeyette and Pharaoh are pushed back from their dreams. It almost seems that they can’t escape the poverty and violence that surrounds them. The poor living conditions did not go unnoticed, however little is done to improve their conditions. A person in authority really has to care to turn things around. Then when a person of authority finally did care, the money was not there to provide the services necessary. Vincent Lane was appointed the new chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority. He decided to reclaim the buildings. With the help of 60 Chicago policemen, officials went from building to building looking for drugs and weapons. The problem was that Lane was only one person, and could not change the projects overnight, but at least he gave the people a reason to hope. I think that it takes more than just one person to help; the family has to also help make a difference.
When I take a closer look at Lafayette’s and Pharaoh’s family, peers, and society as a whole, I could see how the sociological learning theory might be appropriate in explaining the reason for delinquent behaviour. The mother was portrayed as a woman who lacked self-esteem, she had no job and as it seemed she didn’t really try hard enough to find one. She was completely dependant on welfare. She also liked to gamble. Her husband and father of all her children was an alcoholic who didn’t bring any money home. The older children had gotten into trouble with the police, and the oldest boy had served time. The oldest girl worked on and off as a prostitute when she needed the money. The family was almost relieved when the oldest boy; Terence was sentenced to prison because he was involved with the gangs, and prison would at least keep him off the street, and save his life.
When Dawn who is the boy’s cousin had graduated from High School, gave the other kids hope and made them too want to graduate from school. However, Lafeyette slowly began to live a life he promised himself that he would never live. He began following in the footsteps of his older brother Terrence. It started with petty theft and shoplifting and later escalated with Lafayette breaking into a car. It seems as if for Lafeyette he was slowly learning from his brother Terrance and Lafayette’s friends. I believe that what you grow up around is what you learn from, which is what the learning theory means. But when you look at Pharaoh who succeeded in school, placing in the spelling bee and being an excellent student. One may wonder if the learning theory is valid and if it is if it should be used for everyone.
A problem that also had an influence on the children and adults was the dominance of the gangs at Henry Horner Homes. The gangs were dedicated to violence, and children were compelled to join for their own safety. Drugs were a part of the boy’s everyday life, and brutal drugs wars surrounded their apartment. With the gangs so close to home, the children had a constant fear of death. In the six months preceding the summer of 1987, 57 children were killed in the city, five of them in the area of the family’s building. That summer their mother Lajoie took out burial insurance on the two boys and the younger children. The violence had never gotten better. It made them feel that there was no way out, and death was their fate. Their feelings of loss also caused them to have a tremendous distrust of the police. In a way, they looked to the police for guidance, but at the same time did not trust them.
Residents of the homes felt stuck in the middle between the drug gangs and the police. The police feared going into that area of the community out of fear for their own safety, while the gang members were there 24 hours a day. Also, there were no drug rehabilitation programs or centres to help combat the problem. The environment that children like Pharaoh and Lafayette grow up and live in can also make up who they grow up to become. Children learn from what they see, especially when it’s every day of their lives. When I read the end of the book about the time that Kotlowitz sent and paid for the two brothers to attend a private school called Providence-St. Mel, it changed my thought and perspective. Pharaoh did really well there. He enjoyed having two hours of homework every night. He started out behind in math and reading but started to slowly catch up. Despite the challenges he was facing, he was now on a straight path to prosperity. Lafeyette on the other hand had much difficulty at the new school.
He was unable to keep up with the required work and later dropped out and returned to the public school. He had started to smoke pot when he returned to the public school. This had shown and proved to me that if someone tries to help a child become closer to his/her dream it makes it much easier for the child to succeed. But still, the theories and explanations are not the same for every person; they are different for each individual because some are more influenced by their surroundings, while others are determined to become who they want to against all odds. Or maybe it’s just that some like Lafayette who would fall under the labelling Perspective where because he was being labelled as deviant it forced him not to be able to succeed in the private school like Pharaoh did because he acted according to the label.
To my conclusion I feel that this book shows great significance in dealing with the youth of America, how can you expect a kid to grow to be an upstanding citizen when all he sees his entire life is everything but an upstanding citizen. Even if his will and personality are strong enough to get him by without a positive role model, then what resources do we provide for him in a place filled with abandoned buildings and gunfire. Also, when the system is so messed up and corrupt it makes it difficult for a child to grow up a good citizen. Police are too scared to go into that community and when they do they don’t respect the people there. When people go through the court system, they are treated unfairly because they don’t have money to get good representation and the attention that they need. In order for communities like this to prosper, everyone needs to pitch in and help the people who need the help, the government and others who are in better financial situations. Unfortunately, this will be very hard, because I believe it has failed before. I don’t really know that exact answer to the solution, just like many others have my own personal opinions and assumptions.