Thursday, 6 October 2011

Attitude Adjustment

Yesterday was the first hearing in more than a year in which James Prindle was represented by competent counsel. Judge Bobby Carter allowed the substitution of counsel, and the public defender was replaced by Claiborne Ferguson. Judge Carter stated that he wants the case to go to trial as soon as possible; November 8 was set as James’ next court appearance.
This is not a problem, Claiborne says, “except for the three banker boxes of Discovery that must be processed and digested. My whole office is on the case to get me up to speed and ready to fight this case,” he said. “I still can’t figure out what evidence they may claim to have against James when there were so many people there.”
Three banker boxes?! The discovery file as produced by his public defender and provided to us through James only contained a meager handful of documents, none of which contained any incriminating evidence. Has information heretofore been withheld from James and us? If so, by whom and why? I’ll let you know when we know.
Stephen called after he’d heard from James by phone about the hearing. James needed to be reassured because Claiborne had stepped across the aisle and chatted with the prosecution—the enemy—in a friendly and familiar way. James had apparently never seen this before. He was worried. James didn’t realize that effective counsel means that his attorney is his advocate and must work with the opposition to get them to do the right thing. While James was being made a scapegoat and railroaded for this crime, he hadn’t seen this behavior. He didn’t know that this is how a winning defense is mounted.
Claiborne’s main challenge is going to bring about attitude adjustments all around and, depending on whose attitudes need adjusting, this will require either friendly or contentious persuasion. As in the Jordan Brown case, too many people in Memphis have been allowed to become set in their erroneous views and conclusions without any pushback whatsoever.  
An old friend of mine died four days ago, on Sunday. He was Dr. Peter L. Benson and he had been dealing with cancer for a year. He died at age 65. According to an article by author Neil Starkman that was published in Seattle, “Peter Benson was one of the most influential educators in the world.” This just may be so.
As president and CEO of Minneapolis-based Search Institute, an organization he led for more than 25 years, “what Peter Benson did that was so significant was to shift the way educators think about young people,” said Starkman. “Rather than focusing on what’s wrong with kids and trying to ‘fix’ them, he zeroed in on what was right with kids and tried to support them.”
Talk about attitude adjustment!
I met Peter in the early ‘90s when I partnered with Search Institute on a couple consulting projects. His fame was just taking off at the time. He was a charismatic guy who put solid research behind a positive, common-sense approach to youth development which has always been second nature to me—so second nature that, when dealing with the nonsensical ways in which parents, schools, prosecutors, courts and prisons abuse young people, I keep asking myself, “What planet do these clueless people come from?” Fortunately, this is changing.
Peter’s Developmental Assets model has become the most widely recognized approach to positive youth development in the United States and, increasingly, around the world. Peter’s vision, research, and public voice inspired a sea change in research, practice, and policy. His work has guided more than 500 community-based initiatives in 45 states and every Canadian province, and on six continents. His approach has been embraced by most national youth-serving systems and is embedded in the curriculum in numerous colleges and universities. It influences state, national, and international public policy in education, public health, substance abuse prevention, and other youth-related fields including (yet unfortunately not enough) juvenile justice.
Peter identified 40 items that he called “Developmental Assets”—relationships, experiences, values, attitudes, attributes—that are correlated in the literature with young people’s success in both school and in quality of life. Success—whether you define it as attracting friends, getting good grades, or avoiding drug use, violence, and early sexual activity—is related to these developmental assets in a chicken-and-egg kind of way. Peter demonstrated that even if the assets don’t cause success, they are nevertheless associated with success. He showed that the more assets a young person has, the more likely it is that that young person will be successful.
His developmental assets are divided into 20 “external assets” and 20 “internal assets.”
The external assets are divided into Support (i.e., #5 Caring School Climate—“School provides a caring, encouraging environment”), Empowerment (i.e., #8 Youth As Resources—“Young people are given useful roles in the community”), Boundaries and Expectations (i.e., #11 Family Boundaries—“Family has clear rules and consequences, and monitors the young person’s whereabouts”), and Constructive Use of Time (i.e., #17 Creative Activities—“Young person spends three or more hours per week in lessons or practice in music, theater, or other arts”).
The internal assets are divided into Commitment to Learning (i.e., #21 Achievement Motivation—“Young person is motivated to do well in school”), Positive Values (i.e., #27 Equality and Social Justice—“Young person places high value on promoting equality and reducing hunger and poverty”), Social Competencies (i.e., #35 Resistance Skills—“Young person can resist negative peer pressure and dangerous situations”), and Positive Identity (i.e., #37 Personal Power—“Young person feels he or she has control over ‘things that happen to me’”).
As Starkman explains, there is no one Developmental Assets program. “It’s not merely a matter of buying a curriculum and plugging it into a school or youth-serving organization. Developmental Assets is more of an attitude: You identify the assets and you promote them. And by ‘you,’ I mean every contributor to the well-being of a young person’s life, whether you interact in the home, school, or community.”
Starkman says this focus on attitude adjustment is Peter Benson’s legacy: “a way of looking at our nation’s future in terms of strengths, not deficits; a way of treating young people not as problems but as resources. When people are treated a certain way, they often come to act in that way. If you treat a teenager positively, you’ll foster a different personality than if you treat a teenager negatively or—as is too often the case—indifferently.”
(For more information about Peter Benson and Developmental Assets, go to Search Institute’s website at 
Groove of the Day 

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