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NY Times’ Nicholas Kristof talks inequality, empathy, children

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Nicholas Kristof speaking

By Stephen D'Angelo for the Cornell Chronicle

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Cornell developmental psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner and his contributions to child well-being, the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research welcomed Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times to deliver the Urie Bronfenbrenner Centennial Lecture Oct. 2.

“Nicolas Kristof’s work links so well with Urie’s in his passion for uncovering the truth, and for creating a better world for children and for all human beings. He’s a powerful public advocate for the poor and vulnerable and oppressed,” said Karl Pillemer, director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research and the College of Human Ecology’s Hazel E. Reed Professor in the Department of Human Development, in his introductory remarks.

Kristof’s talk, to an almost 600-person crowd in Call Auditorium, drew on his work promoting gender equality around the world and on public health and poverty with a focus on children.

“I think one reason why we haven’t been effective at addressing inequality is that we often start too late, and the roots of inequality are often very early in life,” he said. “Inequality of opportunity is maybe the most fundamental inequality of all.”

He continued, “There actually is a certain amount of agreement in principle that we should do more to address that, in one poll, 97 percent of Americans agree that there should be greater equality for children at a starting point.”

From reporting on inequality in education for girls in China to sexual slavery in Cambodia, Kristof painted a picture of young people across the globe and in the United States who are being left behind. He said translational research will lead to better outcomes for these populations.

“There has been more and more scholarship looking at this issue, at the roots of inequality the impact of early childhood, even prenatal experiences on lifetime outcomes,” Kristof said. “I think that the traditional view is that children are endlessly resilient, and it’s clear that that is not the case.”

As one example, he said programs that coach underprivileged mothers on basic care can have long-lasting impacts on infants. Women taught the importance of avoiding alcohol and drugs, managing anger when frustrated with a child, and what to do if a husband or boyfriend is mentally or physically abusing their child have a massive impact on future graduation rates, teen pregnancy, and drug and alcohol use among their children.

Further, Kristof pointed to family planning and education programs as profoundly effective for young women and children, compared with programs focused on promoting marriage and a traditional faculty structure.

“As far as we can tell, American kids and European kids have sex at about the same rates, based on self-reporting surveys, and yet American girls get pregnant and have babies three times as often,” Kristof said. “This seems to be because American kids don’t have as good access to comprehensive sex education and access to reliable forms of birth control.”

Overall, he said, girls who have this education are not only empowered but more likely to stay in school, to go to college and to do well in their adult and family lives.

“Increasingly, we do have an evidence base and randomized control trials that give us a sense of what works and what creates opportunities,” Kristof said. “Something that always puzzles me is that we have what works at what cost, yet we don’t apply that knowledge.” He pointed to the “empathy gap” – which leads wealthier Americans to be less engaged in many social issues compared with those who are poorer – as a partial culprit.

“There is no doubt that poverty sometimes involves self-destructive behavior that compounds poverty,” he said. “But we have to talk about our collective responsibility to address these issues, and that’s where I believe we have a collective failing when we have so many impoverished kids in this country.”

Kristof concluded, “If we can bridge that empathy gap more often and bring in evidenced-based policies that create opportunity, then we can create a very different kind of America.”


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Nicholas Kristof to give Bronfenbrenner Centennial Lecture Oct. 2

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Nicholas Kristof

By Sheri Hall for the BCTR

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof, a writer for The New York Times known for his work exposing social injustice, will speak on campus Monday, Oct. 2, at 5 p.m. in Call Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.

Kristof will deliver the Bronfenbrenner Centennial Lecture to honor the 100th anniversary of the birth of developmental psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner, who taught at Cornell for more than 50 years and is considered by many to be the father of translational research.

Kristof’s lecture is titled “A Path Appears: Promoting the Welfare of Children.” The talk will draw on his work in promoting gender equality around the world and on public health and poverty with a focus on children. His reporting has documented the living conditions of people across the globe and advocated for human rights.

“Nicholas Kristof is the perfect person to help us celebrate the centennial of Urie Bronfenbrenner’s birth,” said Karl Pillemer, director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research and the Hazel E. Reed Professor in the Department of Human Development. “Urie and Nicholas share an interest in protecting the rights of children and in the ways citizens and policymakers can act positively to change our society for the better.”

Bronfenbrenner’s work at Cornell included developing theory and research designs at the frontiers of developmental science, finding ways to apply those theories to use in policy and practice, and communicating his findings to the public and to decision-makers.

His research was among the first to demonstrate the environmental and social influences on child development and was critical in helping the U.S. government develop the Head Start program, which provides early childhood education, nutrition and parenting support to low-income families.

The Bronfenbrenner Center in the College of Human Ecology capitalizes on translational research as a means to more closely link the twin missions of research and outreach.

Kristof holds a bachelor’s degree in government from Harvard University and a law degree from Oxford University, England, which he attended as a Rhodes scholar.

Nicholas Kristof to give Bronfenbrenner Centennial Lecture Oct. 2 - Cornell Chronicle



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Bronfenbrenner Centennial Lecture: Nicholas Kristof, Monday, October 2, 2017

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A Path Appears: Promoting the Welfare of Children
Nicholas Kristof, New York Times

Monday, October 2, 2017
5:00 - 6:00 PM
Call Auditorium, Kennedy Hall

This event is free and open to all. No registration or tickets are required.
A book signing will follow the lecture with books for sale on site.

Urie Bronfenbrenner Centennial Lecture

On the 100th anniversary of his birth, we celebrate Urie Bronfenbrenner's contributions to child wellbeing by welcoming Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times to deliver this lecture. Bronfenbrenner and Kristof share an interest in protecting the rights of children and in the ways citizens and policymakers can act positively to change our society for the better.

Kristof argues that the greatest moral challenge of the 21st century, akin to fighting slavery in the 19th century or totalitarianism in the 20th century, is gender inequity around the world. Drawing from his No. 1 best-selling book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, he explores some of the kinds of repression women face, from sexual violence to early marriage to female genital mutilation. But above all, he notes that there is a huge gain to be had if a society educates girls and ushers those educated women into the labor force. Kristof also explores areas in which the West has more to do at home to create gender equity, including domestic violence and sex trafficking.

event-kristof-inpostNew York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof has lived on four continents, reported on six, and traveled to more than 150 countries. During his travels, he has caught malaria, experienced wars, confronted warlords, and survived an African airplane crash. Kristof has won two Pulitzer Prizes in the process – advocating human rights and giving a voice to the voiceless.

In 1990 Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, then also a New York Times journalist, became the first husband-wife team to win a Pulitzer Prize for journalism for their coverage of China’s Tiananmen Square democracy movement. Kristof won his second Pulitzer in 2006 for what the judges called “his graphic, deeply reported columns that, at personal risk, focused attention on genocide in Darfur and that gave voice to the voiceless in other parts of the world.” Kristof and WuDunn have written four best-selling books: Half the Sky, A Path Appears, China Wakes, and Thunder from the East. Half the Sky and A Path Appears each inspired a prime-time PBS documentary series. Archbishop Desmond Tutu dubbed Kristof as “an honorary African” for his reporting on conflicts there, and President Bill Clinton said, “There is no one in journalism, anywhere in the United States at least, who has done anything like the work he has done to figure out how poor people are actually living around the world, and what their potential is.”

After joining The New York Times in 1984, Kristof served as a correspondent in Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Beijing, and Tokyo. He has covered presidential politics, interviewed everyone from President Obama to Iranian President Ahmadinejad, and was the first blogger on The New York Times website. A documentary about him, Reporter (executive-produced by Ben Affleck), aired on HBO. He has won innumerable awards including the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the Anne Frank Award, and the Fred Cuny Award for Prevention of Armed Conflict. He also serves on the board of Harvard University and the Association of American Rhodes Scholars.

Jeffrey Toobin of CNN, his Harvard classmate, said of Kristof, "I’m not surprised to see him emerge as the moral conscience of our generation of journalists. I am surprised to see him as the Indiana Jones of our generation of journalists.” George Clooney, said himself, that he became engaged in Sudan after reading Kristof columns, and traveled with Kristof to the fringes of Darfur – rooming with him on the floor of a cheap hotel – motivating Clooney to make this video of Kristof.

Follow Nicholas Kristof on Facebook and Twitter















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Urie Bronfenbrenner and Stephen Ceci 1993 Lecture

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Urie Bronfenbrenner and Stephen Ceci delivering the James Mark Baldwin Developmental Forum Lecture at the University of Alabama - Birmingham on March 29, 1993.

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The Developing Ecology of Human Development

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The Developing Ecology of Human Development: Paradigm Lost or Paradigm Regained?

Urie Bronfenbrenner at the University of California - Berkeley in the 1980's.

First introduction by Dr. Campos, second introduction by Dr. John A. Clausen, then director of the Institute of Human Development at Berkeley.

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The American Family: Who Cares?

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Urie Bronfenbrenner recorded by Cornell University Media Services in August 1976.

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Revisiting Urie’s role as Head Start turns 50

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Lady Bird Johnson at an early Head Start event

A recent Cornell Chronicle article on Urie Bronfenbrenner's involvement in the founding of the National Head Start Program begins,

Testifying before Congress in 1964, Cornell developmental psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner urged lawmakers to fight “poverty where it hits first and most damagingly – in early childhood.”Intrigued by his work, Lady Bird Johnson invited Bronfenbrenner to tea at the White House, where he shared his findings on early childhood programs he had observed abroad. In January 1965, as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, Sargent Shriver empaneled 13 experts – including Bronfenbrenner – to develop a federally funded preschool program for the nation’s poorest children.

Urie BronfenbrennerThe article goes on to detail Urie's unique contributions to the formation of the influential program:

Among Head Start’s architects, Bronfenbrenner stood out for his dynamic systems theory of human development – which became synonymous with the field of human ecology and inspired the renaming of Cornell’s College of Human Ecology in 1969. A champion of field-based observations in children’s homes, schools and neighborhoods, Bronfenbrenner upended the conventions of mid-20th century developmental psychology, which had taken a decontextualized, sterilized approach.

For Bronfenbrenner, it wasn’t enough to look narrowly at children. To understand the effect of a mother’s employment on a child’s development, for example, he urged investigators to consider the child’s age, the quality of daycare in the mother’s absence, her attitude toward her work, the family’s race and income level and the father’s employment status and attitude toward his partner’s work and family duties.

50 years later, recalling a founder of Head Start - Cornell Chronicle

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The BCTR (and Urie!) in Human Ecology Magazine

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news-chemagspr15-inpostThe spring issue of Human Ecology Magazine features the BCTR prominently - including a cover story on Urie Bronfenbrenner, for whom the center is named. Also inside are: a story on BCTR director Karl Pillemer's new book, 30 Lessons for Loving (p.28); briefs on the Translational Research Institute on Pain in Later Life and the new Obesity Prevention Center in the Division of Nutritional Sciences with multiple BCTR ties (p. 10 and p. 11, respectively); a photo of John Eckenrode with Bronfenbrenner Lecturer Richard Lerner and one of Iscol Lecturer Maria Pacheco (p. 51).

As a child on walks with his father in the woods, they played a game, guessing why certain plants grew in certain places and not others - light, water, and soil determining which plants thrived where. These early hikes with his amateur botanist father were fundamental in forming Urie's perspective that human development must be viewed in a wider context of interacting influences to be understood. The HE Magazine cover article expands on Urie's forming his ecological systems theory of human development, his influence as a professor on today's top thinkers in the field, his passionate and open work ethic, and his strong conviction that research must engage with and affect policy and practice. BCTR director Karl Pillemer notes,

We have the good fortune of being named after an individual whose life and career epitomizes the work our center does. People working in agencies, health care settings, and social services help scientists set scholarly priorities, find the most interesting research questions, and help us get our research findings out to people who can actually use them. Urie modeled that.

Human Ecology Magazine - Spring 2015

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The Legacy of Urie Bronfenbrenner



The BCTR is named in honor of Urie Bronfenbrenner, the renowned developmental psychologist who taught at Cornell for over fifty years. This September 18th a panel of Cornell faculty reflected on Urie's enduring legacy in the field. In his introduction, BCTR director John Eckenrode expressed the hope that the panel discussion would rectify a knowledge gap among newer members of the College of Human Ecology (CHE) and the university about Urie and his importance to human development and the college as a whole.  The panel was moderated by BCTR associate director Stephen Hamilton.

The panelists were all professors of human development who were influenced by Urie's work. All but Sternberg were also colleagues of Urie's in the CHE department of human development. Elaine Wethington, center associate director, was co-author with Bronfenbrenner, Stephen Ceci, and others on The State of Americans: This Generation and The Next. Stephen Ceci worked on Urie's research projects in the 1980s. Gary Evans  took a class with Urie as a faculty member and went on to  co-teach with Urie. Robert Sternberg was acquainted with Urie and feels the impact of Urie's research in his own work.

Gary Evans

Gary Evans noted that, while the impact of Urie's research is profound, he was also an engaged and influential teacher. Evans quotes Urie himself on teaching:

As a teacher, I have seen as my main goal enabling students to experience the adventure, and hard-won harvest, of disciplined, creative thought that goes beyond any one discipline. To be sure transmitting knowledge is also important, but today’s knowledge is sure to be surpassed by tomorrow’s. Thus, the greatest gift one can give to the young is to enable them to deal critically and creatively with new answers, and the new questions, that the future brings.

In the event video, Evans refers to this quote and to figures in a handout, which can be seen here.

Stephen Hamilton relayed a story of Urie testifying before a senate committee and being asked what it takes to produce a well-functioning human being. Urie replied, simply, "Somebody's gotta be crazy about the kid."

For an anecdote about the strange, interesting story about Urie and the naming of the College of Human Ecology, see minute 15:40 of the event video.

Panelists recall legacy of Urie Bronfenbrenner - Cornell Chronicle

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Center fall event videos now online

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Three videos from our major fall events are now online in case you missed them, or want to revisit the events. All are permanently archived in our media library and direct links to the videos can be found below.

Iscol Family Program for Leadership Development in Public Service (IFPLDPS) Lecture [BCTR]2014 Iscol Lecture: WAKAMI: A Value Chain that Connects and Transforms People and the Earth
Monday, October 6, 2014

Maria Pacheco, Founder and CEO, Wakami

Bronfenbrenner Lecture [BCTR]2014 Bronfenbrenner Lecture: "Making Human Beings Human:” Urie Bronfenbrenner’s Vision for Understanding and Enhancing Positive Human Development
September 23, 2014

Richard M. Lerner, Applied Developmental Science; Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development, Tufts University

2014_0824_041.jpgThe Legacy of Urie Bronfenbrenner
September 18, 2014

Welcome by John Eckenrode, director, BCTR
Stephen Ceci, Helen L. Carr Professor of Developmental Psychology
Gary Evans, Elizabeth Lee Vincent Professor of Human Ecology
Robert Sternberg, Professor of Human Development
Elaine Wethington, Professor of Human Development; associate director, BCTR
Moderated by Stephen Hamilton, Professor of Human Development; associate director, BCTR

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