Monday, January 4, 2016

The Growing Gap

Robert D. Putnam OUR KIDS—The American Dream in Crisis 


Once in a while there is a book that comes along that just makes you think and reflect about the world you grew up in, the world you are living in, and the world where our children will lead us. We each navigate our own path in this world but the load we bring and take with us is incredibly different. Different is good, but not necessarily fair. 

The steps we take in life and the hills we climb are often dictated by where we started. Robert D. Putnam’s book Our Kids shares many contrasting stories of our children’s strides through life and the economic disparities that can occur if ones life’s resource is less than another’s. The children’s stories are more than the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Putnam looks closer at the widening income inequality to the opportunity inequality our kids are experiencing

Putnam carefully explains this gradual decline of opportunities that has continued over time. As each of his stories unfolds about real kids in real families, privilege or not, and “at different times in different parts of America,” each case illustrates a strong correlation of income inequality to opportunity inequality. Putnam states, “As our cases illustrate, it took several decades for economic malaise to undermine family structures and community support; it took several decades for gaps in parenting and schooling to develop; and it will take decades more for the full impact of those divergent childhood influences to manifest themselves in adult lives.” 

Putnam addresses this dilemma with posing this complex but thought provoking question, “What is to be done?” What can be done for Our Kids who are experiencing unequal opportunity and economic growth? This widening opportunity gap poses a threat and even undermines their engagement in our democratic society. What can be done for Our Kids who are experiencing unequal opportunity and access to democracy? “Equality of opportunity is not a simple guide to public action” (p. 242). What can be done for Our Kids who are experiencing unequal opportunity and moral obligations?

Putnam explores these complex questions and advocates solutions will not come easily. He does offer a “menu of complementary approaches that have some collective promise of changing our current course” (p. 243). We all can start small.  We can look at what’s working with different policies, in different settings, with our current family structures, child development and care, parenting, schools, and our communities. Although before we begin we all need to change our mindset. “For America’s poor kids do belong to us and we to them. They are our kids.” (p. 261). 

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