The Public Interest

The Berkeley youth wars

Gail L. Zellman & Steven L. Schlossman

Summer 1986

IN THE EARLY twentieth century, the university town of Berkeley, California, forged a nationally noted and admired consensus on how it should educate, discipline, and serve its youth. This consensus expressed the most enlightened views and practices of the times, with social science providing a base for imaginative social and educational planning. City officials confidently believed in a “science of human conduct” that justified early and active intervention into the lives of children showing any behavior irregularity—any sign, in the jargon of the day, of “maladjustment.” The Berkeley Coordinating Council for Child Welfare, composed of representatives from the schools, police, and social agencies, watched over childhood socialization, alert to poor parental performance, ready to intervene to diminish the severity of early behavior problems, and determined to impose communal norms on children and parents alike. Until the end of World War II, it remained the hub around which youth policy in Berkeley revolved and a centerpiece of the residents’ glowing self-image as the most progressive small city in the nation.

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