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Improving Poor People: The Welfare State, the Underclass, and Urban Schools as History

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There are places where history feels irrelevant, and America's inner cities are among them, acknowledges Michael Katz, in expressing the tensions between activism and scholarship. But this major historian of urban poverty realizes that the pain in these cities has its origins in the American past. To understand contemporary poverty, he looks particularly at an old attitude There are places where history feels irrelevant, and America's inner cities are among them, acknowledges Michael Katz, in expressing the tensions between activism and scholarship. But this major historian of urban poverty realizes that the pain in these cities has its origins in the American past. To understand contemporary poverty, he looks particularly at an old attitude: because many nineteenth-century reformers traced extreme poverty to drink, laziness, and other forms of bad behavior, they tried to use public policy and philanthropy to improve the character of poor people, rather than to attack the structural causes of their misery. Showing how this misdiagnosis has afflicted today's welfare and educational systems, Katz draws on his own experiences to introduce each of four topics--the welfare state, the underclass debate, urban school reform, and the strategies of survival used by the urban poor. Uniquely informed by his personal involvement, each chapter also illustrates the interpretive power of history by focusing on a strand of social policy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: social welfare from the poorhouse era through the New Deal, ideas about urban poverty from the undeserving poor to the underclass, and the emergence of public education through the radical school reform movement now at work in Chicago. Why have American governments proved unable to redesign a welfare system that will satisfy anyone? Why has public policy proved unable to eradicate poverty and prevent the deterioration of major cities? What strategies have helped poor people survive the poverty endemic to urban history? How did urban schools become unresponsive bureaucracies that fail to educate most of their students? Are there fresh, constructive ways to think about welfare, poverty, and public education? Throughout the book Katz shows how interpretations of the past, grounded in analytic history, can free us of comforting myths and help us to reframe discussions of these great public issues.


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There are places where history feels irrelevant, and America's inner cities are among them, acknowledges Michael Katz, in expressing the tensions between activism and scholarship. But this major historian of urban poverty realizes that the pain in these cities has its origins in the American past. To understand contemporary poverty, he looks particularly at an old attitude There are places where history feels irrelevant, and America's inner cities are among them, acknowledges Michael Katz, in expressing the tensions between activism and scholarship. But this major historian of urban poverty realizes that the pain in these cities has its origins in the American past. To understand contemporary poverty, he looks particularly at an old attitude: because many nineteenth-century reformers traced extreme poverty to drink, laziness, and other forms of bad behavior, they tried to use public policy and philanthropy to improve the character of poor people, rather than to attack the structural causes of their misery. Showing how this misdiagnosis has afflicted today's welfare and educational systems, Katz draws on his own experiences to introduce each of four topics--the welfare state, the underclass debate, urban school reform, and the strategies of survival used by the urban poor. Uniquely informed by his personal involvement, each chapter also illustrates the interpretive power of history by focusing on a strand of social policy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: social welfare from the poorhouse era through the New Deal, ideas about urban poverty from the undeserving poor to the underclass, and the emergence of public education through the radical school reform movement now at work in Chicago. Why have American governments proved unable to redesign a welfare system that will satisfy anyone? Why has public policy proved unable to eradicate poverty and prevent the deterioration of major cities? What strategies have helped poor people survive the poverty endemic to urban history? How did urban schools become unresponsive bureaucracies that fail to educate most of their students? Are there fresh, constructive ways to think about welfare, poverty, and public education? Throughout the book Katz shows how interpretations of the past, grounded in analytic history, can free us of comforting myths and help us to reframe discussions of these great public issues.

32 review for Improving Poor People: The Welfare State, the Underclass, and Urban Schools as History

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Interesting look at the way our society has dealt with poverty historically. Katz emphasizes that the poor have been divided into "deserving" and "undeserving," and we have developed policies based on this division.

  2. 5 out of 5

    S. A.

    Dated, but a great historical study of how American's view poverty and especially education as a way out of poverty. Shows why our social programs have been so completely ineffective.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Joe Soler

  4. 4 out of 5

    Philip

  5. 5 out of 5

    David

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jayant

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

  8. 4 out of 5

    ms. rose

  9. 5 out of 5

    Srikanth

  10. 5 out of 5

    Joe Soler

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tanaxya

  12. 5 out of 5

    BookDB

  13. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

  14. 4 out of 5

    PKN4 GoodReads

  15. 5 out of 5

    Michael

  16. 5 out of 5

    Amy

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Fodness

  18. 5 out of 5

    Foppe

  19. 4 out of 5

    Innosanto

  20. 5 out of 5

    Michael Strode

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sean

  22. 5 out of 5

    Glenn

  23. 4 out of 5

    Robin

  24. 4 out of 5

    Stacy

  25. 4 out of 5

    bdm

  26. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Cohen

  27. 5 out of 5

    Shawn Gude

  28. 4 out of 5

    Adam

  29. 5 out of 5

    Alex

  30. 4 out of 5

    Fatima

  31. 5 out of 5

    LORRAINE

  32. 5 out of 5

    Amie Hall

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