We shook hands with Robert Putnam, author of Our Kids, a terribly important new book about the opportunity gap last week. Better yet, when we explained that we were the director of the Coalition for Community Schools and National Coalition Chair respectively, he gave us a hearty smile, and encouraged us to continue our important work. In his book, Putnam recognizes the power and potential of community schools to address some of the challenges that our young people, our families, our communities and the entire society face.
Putnam's core argument is that the gap in the well-being of young people by social class has widened enormously in the past 40 years, leaving the American Dream in crisis. While the challenges facing low-income children of color is most severe, the problem is widespread, cutting across all groups in our society. His analysis presents a unique set of issues for public education at a time when forces beyond school are having a growing impact on student learning and development, and while our public education policies contribute to focus narrowly on academic achievement and test scores.
Here are a few of most compelling points he made:
- Low income kids are increasingly isolated and "just do not trust anyone... they live in an untrustworthy environments."
- All kids do dumb things but rich kids have "air bags" that inflate when they hit trouble. Poor kids have no air bags.
- Isolation leads to young people who lack "savvy."
- Fewer "smart poor" kids graduate college than "dumb rich" kids.
- The class gap is overlaid on the racial gap, deepening the crisis for America's rising number of children of color.
- Inequality of income is closely linked to the gap. Families under economic stress simply do not have the bandwidth to blow up the air bags for their children.
- America has reached a dangerous moment when we simply do not worry about other people's kids.
Education Program Officer, The San Francisco Foundation;
Chair, Coalition for Community Schools