“Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis” is Robert Putnam’s latest book and addresses our current crisis in public education. Better said, he takes a thorough look at the crisis of the widening gap in American classes with the defining characteristic being education.
Putnam’s book is well written with many anecdotes balanced by a thorough statistical analysis. The stories are relevant, interesting and impeccably documented with a 100 pages of notes and index. It is not an easy read and sent me scrambling for Google several times. It is written like a college text book but the message is bigger than a sociology or economics class. Like his best seller, “Bowling Alone”, this is a warning for our times and a call to action. We must rely less on the re-distribution of wealth and more on the re-distribution of opportunities. Education, higher and higher quality education are the most fertile fields for these opportunities.
I love the data, graphs and scissor charts. If you don’t, this is still an important read and worth the effort. The personal interviews and childhood stories are important, engaging, and make a forceful case for action without all number crunching. If you were to cheat and go to the end, Chapter 6, “What is to be done” gives a 45 page synopsis with sharp and practical conclusions directly from the data.
I read “Our Kids” through the eyes of the pastor. This is not a church-book but the faith community, especially the Christian Church, needs to take its message seriously. The schools especially the public schools, need full community support with informal mentoring, high quality extra curricular activities for the disconnected, community college support, paperwork coaching, resources for those in subsidized housing and a thousand other ways to close the opportunity gaps. The missing piece? Relationships-you and I have these.
Read this book. Find your place in the community and take action. You’ll be better for it and so will your community.