Praise for a Promise

Last week I heard on the radio the announcement of a new program called the Pittsburgh Promise that’s set to begin in 2008. It’s a sort of scholarship proposal that guarantees college tuition to qualifying students who graduate from Pittsburgh city schools. There are no financial requisites, and the only other criteria that have been set so far are general ones that confirm a kind of common sense attitude toward proper attendence, appropriate behavior, and good grades. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Mark Roosevelt (Superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools) are still hashing out all the details.
So the basic idea is that by guaranteeing college money to students early on in their education, they will work harder to obtain the grades and that might translate into fewer kids and teenagers getting into trouble thereby possibly reducing crime. Mayor Ravenstahl’s other goal is that doing this will also draw families into the city and encourage the ones there to stay and this will have some economic effect, possibly creating more jobs and boosting the real estate market (as if it needed it in the city).
That last snide comment aside, I think it’s a great idea. I know some people think it’s nuts or too drastic to be successful, but I think it’s just the thing that might set the city down a more profitable path.
When I was listening to the talk radio guy on KDKA (sorry, don’t remember who) discuss it with his callers I remembered a book I read called The Tipping Point. Its focus is on why and how certain trends become trends. It’s sort of a socioeconomic science book for the general public. It contains information from which you learn something new without sounding like a textbook. Its bottom line, and indeed its subtitle, is “how little things can make a big difference.” In other words, what is the point at which something will tip and result in a change? There are lots of anecdotes illustrating the phenomena of word of mouth advertising and what the author calls “stickiness.” It’s quite intriguing and now that my intest is piqued, I think I’ll read it again.
Anyway, the reason I thought of it during this radio discussion was because of all the emphasis put on the possibility of the Pittsburgh Promise eventually trickling down into economic change. I think it’s good future planning and shows insight into social workings. It’s a somewhat small change relative to the distress and decline of the city, and the idea of giving away money seems contrary to the want of improving the place. Or, if not contrary, at least unrelated. But there’s a story in The Tipping Point about how New York City officials and police wanted to reduce the crime in the subways. They did it starting by cleaning graffiti off all the cars. Every night when the cars came in, a team of people would clean graffiti and repaint cars if necessary. This went on for a length of time that I can’t recall and partnered with a few other seemingly small adjustments, (such as cracking down on people trying to dodge paying their fare) crime was significantly reduced in the subways. At the first mention of the idea, people balked because who would think that graffiti or the absense of it would have any relation to crime? Turns out, that was the tipping point.
Who is to say that giving away some money to educate young people who probably don’t otherwise have a chance at pursuing a good education much less at earning a decent living might not be the tipping point for the city of Pittsburgh?
Below are some links to initial media reports of the plan and the last link is a kind of funny parody of it by some Pittsburgh bloggers.
Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Pittsburgh Tribune
Pittsburgh Bloggers

2 thoughts on “Praise for a Promise

  1. Pastor Rock brought up The Tipping Point in church a few years ago, I think he was talking about racial stats in the community. Great minds think alike! I have nothing to say about what you have written, as I have the beginnings of a headache.
    Thank you so much for my Christmas presents! I’m going to look at the pattern tonight and see what I still have to learn.
    Also! I used the adidas deodorant today and it totally worked all day. Best purchase we’ve ever made, collectively. You know, out of all of our collective purchases.


  2. The Pittsburgh Blogger is funny, but there’s one thing that the City of Pittsburgh does understand: where the money will come from.
    The money is coming from private endowments, and not tax payer pockets. I think that’s a good thing.


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