This is a book by Miles Corwin, a reporter at the Los Angeles Times. The book highlights the lives and triumphant stories of twelve children at Crenshaw High School. These children have gone through difficult backgrounds, especially unfavorable home environments, only to emerge triumphant. This paper offers review of the book with a focus on Olivia. The book entails several students such as Toya whose father beats both her and her mother and eventually rapes her and strangles her mother; Sadikifu, whose father disappeared at the age of five leaving him with his ill mother, he turned to crime but later changes his ways; and many others. However, this paper focuses on Olivia; her life and triumph. The paper will analyse Olivia’s life through Erikson’s developmental theory and anomie environmental theory. These theories offer a comprehensive framework for understanding human behaviour. In addition to these, the paper will analyse the role of Olivia’s environment, especially her neighbourhood and family set up, in her behaviour and personality (Longres, 1990).
Miles Corwin, the author of this book, is a Los Angeles Times reporter. After repeatedly writing about crimes and gang bangers, Corwin decided to write about the South-Central children who evade streets’ temptations by striving for success against their unfortunate situations. These children persevere and succeed in crime-hidden neighbourhoods. Corwin’s stories about these children are shocking and enlightening as well. Corwin decided to write this book after highlighting a case of John Doe, a fifteen-year-old boy who became a drive-by shooting victim. Despite having no identification, John had a printed examination paper on the French revolution in his back pocket, in which he had scored an “A”. Corwin decided to find out more about John. The students that Corwin covers in this book go to Crenshaw High School; all in a gifted program. The author focused his attention on twelve bright senior students in an Advanced Placed English class, taught by Toni Little.
One of the students in Corwin’s book is Olivia. Olivia has bad memories of her childhood. During her early years, Olivia’s salvation was school, as her home situation was unbearable. Her mother could beat and whip her constantly using an extension cord. For years, her mother beat, whip and scalded her with hot water. After the beatings, Olivia could go ahead, study for her tests, and do her assignments. At twelve years, Olivia had the strengths and the mind to request for help. She called a hotline for abused women. The state made Olivia its ward, but she did not receive any counselling for the abuse she received from her mother. Instead of providing counselling for Olivia, the state shuffled Olivia to different foster homes, with a few of her belongings in plastic garbage bags. This situation made Olivia bright enough to come up with several moneymaking schemes in a bid to support herself and alleviate her suffering. Additionally, moneymaking provided her with the safety and protection she needed. Eventually, Olivia got involved in check forging. Despite understanding her desperation, Olivia realized that this was a fraud, and she did not support crimes. The state charged Olivia at the nonviolent offender’s center, the Dorothy Kirby Center. At the centre, Olivia could obtain counselling in order to complete her education. Olivia’s psychiatrist and counsellor commented that Olivia was superficial and is emotionally disconnected. During her therapy, Olivia participated in group therapies though she did this superficially and in a disconnected manner. The counsellor also commented that Olivia had built up a tremendous defence system that made her unable to realize her mistakes at the beginning (Erikson & Erikson, 1997).
In August 1997, Olivia was released, and she proceeded to study at California State University. Later, she secured a full tuition scholarship to Babson University, where she plans to transfer. In addition to this, Olivia works forty hours a week and dedicates her free time to tutoring students.
Unlike most of the similar stories, Olivia’s story ends successfully. For the society to change and help eliminate such cases, it is fundamental to understand such children in several perspectives. This way, it is possible to understand why they become deviant, ways of restructuring lives, and how to stop such cases from recurring. Using Olivia’s case as an example, this paper will discuss and analyze her life through Erik Erickson’s developmental theory and an environmental theory, anomie.
Erickson’s psychosocial stages identify critical stages in an individual’s life. It also offers a model for children learning and thinking by illustrating the stages of positive ego development in contrast to character development.
Freud fundamentally influenced Erikson’s theory, especially by the argument of ego existence and development. Generally, Erikson’s theory supposes that an individual’s feelings of inferiority or competency are learned from their environments, especially through the support and challenges they receive while growing up. In his discussion, he organized life stages into eight categories extended from birth to death. Unlike Freud who focuses on sexual energies, Erikson highlights the impacts of the social environment and experiences on an individual’s life.
The first stage starts from zero to eighteen months (trust versus mistrust stage), which he called the oral sensory stage. In the book And Still We Rise, Olivia’s story begins when she is past this stage. However, it is important to understand the consequences of this stage because the triumph of one depends on the achievement of the previous stage. Therefore, it is useful to understand the occurrences in this stage that may have had a consequence in Olivia’s life. At the oral sensory stage, emphasis lies on the caregiver’s (mother) love, care and positive regard of the child with a greater emphasis on touch and visual contact. At this stage, infants are utterly dependent on their caregivers; hence, the development of trust depends on the caregiver’s quality and dependability. If the caregiver is consistent and dependable, the child develops trust and grows up feeling safe and secure in his/her surroundings. An inconsistent, rejecting and emotionally unavailable caregiver contributes to children having feelings of mistrust hence resulting to fear and progress of a certainty that the world is unpredictable and inconsistent. Olivia had turned into moneymaking schemes because she felt insecure, and the only way that she felt safe was by making money to support herself (Corwin, 2008). The insecurity feelings might have developed from her mother’s inconsistency in providing for her infancy needs such as feeding, change of clothes, or lack of contact. Evidenced by her mother’s behaviour towards her, it is undeniable that she did not care for Olivia even in infancy.
The second stage is autonomy versus shame and doubt, which takes place in the early childhood, from eighteen months to three years, and aims at children obtaining a great sense of self-control. Erikson placed great emphasis on toilet training at this stage. He believed that a child’s ability to control his/her bodily functions results in feelings of independence. A successful passage through this stage makes children secure and confident while failure leads to feelings of shame, inadequacy and self-doubt. Olivia seemed to have been quite confident, independent and sure of herself. At twelve, she had the strength to seek help to deal with her battering mother and through foster homes. Olivia survived by being independent and able of devising ways to support herself. This confidence and independence must have originated from a successful transition of this stage.
The third stage is initiative opposed to guilt (preschool years). Children begin taking initiatives in their social world by coming up to direct plays as well as other social interactions. An unsuccessful passage of this stage leads to self-doubt, guilt and the lack of initiative. Olivia must have passed through this stage well because she displayed initiative in several instances, especially by devising money making schemes and coming up with ways to support herself.
The fourth stage in Erikson’s theory is industry versus inferiority, which covers children of ages five to eleven years (early school years). This stage places emphasis on social interactions and competition in school. Through this, they develop feelings of pride in their abilities and accomplishments. Erikson argues that parents or caregivers need to encourage and commend their children in order to ensure the child develops belief in their skills. During this time in Olivia’s life, she received no encouragement from her mother. Olivia gained courage to seek help at age twelve. This means that during her fourth stage in Erikson’s hierarchy, Olivia may not have obtained parental encouragement. It was also during this stage and a little after (at twelve) that she started staying in different foster homes. This had a negative effect on her lack of belief in herself and ability to excel in school. Despite being bright, Olivia got involved in other events non-beneficial to her.
The fifth stage is identity versus confusion, which occurs during early adolescence. At this stage, individuals are learning to form identities. They learn to identify with role models in their surroundings. It is also during this stage that children adopt gender roles by identifying with their respective gender parents. Boys identify with their fathers and girls with their mothers. Children also seek the feelings of importance in their communities once they secure an identity and are sure of the societal expectations. A failure to form an identity leads to confusion because the individual will be unaware of societal expectations. Olivia’s case displays a lack of an identity formation because she had no role model. During this stage, Olivia lived with different people with no true connection. She did not form an identity, therefore, did not know what the society expected of her. She sought to provide for her needs through illegal means, which facilitated her arrest. At the Dorothy Kirby Center, Olivia received counselling, which helped her start solving the conflicts associated with the unsuccessful developmental stages. Unlike Freud who argues that once an individual passes a stage unsuccessfully, they live with the consequences, Erikson recognizes the importance of obtaining help to correct past mistakes. Counselling is one way that an individual lets go of the past and remodels their personality and character. This seems to have had a fundamental positive influence on Olivia because after attending the center, she was able to complete her high school and proceed to University.
The sixth stage in Erikson’s theory is intimacy and solidarity against isolation. At this stage, individuals seek mutually beneficial relationships by seeking for intimacy and love. The success of this stage relies on one’s ability to form an identity. If one is unable to form stable and satisfying relationships, they end up feeling lonely and isolated. Olivia seemed to have successfully formed an identity because she realized she could work for the community. She started tutoring school students during her weekends and worked for a group home. This is one way of forming relationships by becoming a part of an institution and identifying with a particular group.
Olivia’s development, circumstances and life overall may also be blamed on her environment. Anomie theory describes instances when confusions within an individual arise due to the lack of existence of the norms or a conflict in the norms. The children that Corwin chose to write about, including Olivia, were all from South Central. These children came from neighbourhoods that were impoverished and crime hidden. Most people living in such neighbourhoods are poor and can barely afford to fulfil basic needs. To survive, people engage in crimes. It is also difficult for children from these neighbourhoods to attend schools for several reasons: their parents may be unable to afford schooling, the children may be influenced to bad behaviours or they may be unmotivated to seek education. In addition to this, children’s parents may also engage in crimes in attempts to provide for their children, leading to the lack of role models. The hardships associated with such neighbourhoods requires children to behave like adults, fending for themselves and engaging in risky behaviours such as drug peddling and sexual crimes such as prostitutions. There are also more chances of finding unstable families in such neighbourhoods than in up market, suburbs or better neighbourhoods (Meece & Eccles, 2010). Most parents in these neighbourhoods do not care about their children as they are engulfed in crimes, and children are left to care for themselves and their siblings. Children in such neighbourhoods face several risks: getting involved in crimes in order to provide for their families, not receiving education and living without parents. Illegal drugs are the most dangerous of all as it influences the whole community. It shapes the lives and stability of families, hence disrupting children’s well-being. Female children may end up in prostitution once they lack role models or education, or end up in immature and dysfunctional marriages where the circle begins again. Despite this, there are several advantages of this community. Faced with hardships, individuals living in such neighbourhoods are usually proactive and are capable of initiating ways to improve their lives. Unlike children from richer and more secure neighbourhoods, children brought up in poor neighbourhoods are capable of surviving difficult times, are more development oriented and hard workers. These communities seem to train an individual on how to survive and show initiative. In addition to this, living in such a community may change and shape an individual’s perception positively. By witnessing the consequences of risky behaviours, one may decide to stay away from these behaviours and seek a different path.
Anomie theory describes the discrepancy between the goals that the society accepts and recognizes and the availability of resources to obtain these goals. One of the most recognized goals is attaining wealth. However, very few people obtain the acceptable means of attaining wealth. Therefore, the few people with no access to the means of wealth attainment experience “anomie”. In response to this, they may turn to deviant or socially unacceptable means to obtain wealth. In addition to this, an individual who experiences anomie may become frustrated and display socially unacceptable behaviour. Having lived in a neighbourhood marred with crimes and a difficult life, Olivia’s mother may have released her frustrations on her daughter. Though this is unacceptable, it explains her mother’s behaviour, which in turn had an impact on her. In a different perspective, Olivia’s environment also had a direct impact on her behaviours, especially on her personality and consequences. It is clear that Olivia’s mother was going through difficulties because in a normal situation a mentally and physically healthy mother would not batter her child.
Her immediate environment (home) was harsh, especially for tender age. Olivia needed someone to care, teach and provide for her. Her mother was in no position to do this because it seems she was having difficulties with herself. Olivia learnt to take care of herself and shutting everyone out. School became her salvation because her home was unbearable. Olivia turned to forging checks in an attempt to provide for herself and meet her daily needs. In addition to that, she must have needed other material things that the society deems important (Hart & Risley, 1995). Because she could not afford these things, Olivia turned to crime as the easiest way to obtain her desires. When Olivia called the abused women hotline, the authorities made her a state ward and shuffled to different foster homes, without counselling her. This was not helpful to Olivia because by living with different people, she had different experiences, which were not beneficial to her development. Anyone at that age requires stability and care. By moving from foster homes, Olivia lacked stability, which is essential in a child’s life, as illustrated by Erikson’s theory. Olivia’s deviance at the point of forging cheques may be attributed to social forces such as the need to live like other people and obtain certain things. Olivia’s counsellor reported that Olivia had built up a defence system, which made her lack emotions and act superficially. This is a consequence of her environment (Greene, 1994). Children learn how to be emotional and evoke feelings from their caregivers. Olivia’s environment did not offer her a chance to learn how to be empathetic or show emotions. Her tough neighbourhood and home environment led her to believe that she needed to be tough in order to survive. She also had no one to learn from because no one showed her emotions.
Olivia seemed to have been affected by several social policy issues, especially child protection, throughout her childhood to the time she sought help. The state did little to protect her from parental abuse. Despite having child, protection policies, these policies are inadequate if the community is not empowered to look out for children. During the time Olivia’s mother was beating and scalding her, Olivia was already attending school. This means that teacher, playmates or other parents could notice that something was wrong with Olivia. However, for years, this battering went unreported and unnoticed, until the child herself reported the issue. Communities need to be sensitized against child abuse and empowered to take action against any abuser. Teachers should also be trained on how to identify troubled children and how to help these children. This training should be compulsory so that teachers can be accountable for cases of abused children under their care (Traub & Little, 1975).
The book And Still We Rise shapes an individual’s perception of inner city education as well as the general view of life situations. Though sad, these children’s stories are uplifting and entertaining. It offers a realistic picture of a school situation and relationship between teachers and students and the difficulties they face. Despite being a collection of stories about twelve children, this paper has only centered on Olivia by discussing her behaviours throughout her life in view of developmental and environmental theories. Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory is comprehensive and covers an individual’s whole life cycle, hence was most appropriate in this case. Erikson’s theory was also effective because it borrows from Freud’s theory, but uses a more rational approach to explain human development. Additionally, the anomie environmental theory is effective in explaining this case because the environment seems to have contributed to Olivia’s life. Anomie explains deviance to societal goals and definition of success.