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A groundbreaking examination of the growing inequality gap from the bestselling author of Bowling Alone: why fewer Americans today have the opportunity for upward mobility. It's the American dream: get a good education, work hard, buy a house, and achieve prosperity and success. This is the America we believe in a nation of opportunity, constrained only by ability and effor A groundbreaking examination of the growing inequality gap from the bestselling author of Bowling Alone: why fewer Americans today have the opportunity for upward mobility. It's the American dream: get a good education, work hard, buy a house, and achieve prosperity and success. This is the America we believe in a nation of opportunity, constrained only by ability and effort. But during the last twenty-five years we have seen a disturbing opportunity gap emerge. Americans have always believed in equality of opportunity, the idea that all kids, regardless of their family background, should have a decent chance to improve their lot in life. Now, this central tenet of the American dream seems no longer true or at the least, much less true than it was. Robert Putnam about whom The Economist said, "His scholarship is wide-ranging, his intelligence luminous, his tone modest, his prose unpretentious and frequently funny," offers a personal but also authoritative look at this new American crisis. Putnam begins with his high school class of 1959 in Port Clinton, Ohio. By and large the vast majority of those students "our kids" went on to lives better than those of their parents. But their children and grandchildren have had harder lives amid diminishing prospects. Putnam tells the tale of lessening opportunity through poignant life stories of rich and poor kids from cities and suburbs across the country, drawing on a formidable body of research done especially for this book. Our Kids is a rare combination of individual testimony and rigorous evidence. Putnam provides a disturbing account of the American dream that should initiate a deep examination of the future of our country.


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A groundbreaking examination of the growing inequality gap from the bestselling author of Bowling Alone: why fewer Americans today have the opportunity for upward mobility. It's the American dream: get a good education, work hard, buy a house, and achieve prosperity and success. This is the America we believe in a nation of opportunity, constrained only by ability and effor A groundbreaking examination of the growing inequality gap from the bestselling author of Bowling Alone: why fewer Americans today have the opportunity for upward mobility. It's the American dream: get a good education, work hard, buy a house, and achieve prosperity and success. This is the America we believe in a nation of opportunity, constrained only by ability and effort. But during the last twenty-five years we have seen a disturbing opportunity gap emerge. Americans have always believed in equality of opportunity, the idea that all kids, regardless of their family background, should have a decent chance to improve their lot in life. Now, this central tenet of the American dream seems no longer true or at the least, much less true than it was. Robert Putnam about whom The Economist said, "His scholarship is wide-ranging, his intelligence luminous, his tone modest, his prose unpretentious and frequently funny," offers a personal but also authoritative look at this new American crisis. Putnam begins with his high school class of 1959 in Port Clinton, Ohio. By and large the vast majority of those students "our kids" went on to lives better than those of their parents. But their children and grandchildren have had harder lives amid diminishing prospects. Putnam tells the tale of lessening opportunity through poignant life stories of rich and poor kids from cities and suburbs across the country, drawing on a formidable body of research done especially for this book. Our Kids is a rare combination of individual testimony and rigorous evidence. Putnam provides a disturbing account of the American dream that should initiate a deep examination of the future of our country.

30 review for Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jan Rice

    How could he idealize the 1950s? How could he say equality of opportunity has declined since then? For whom? Even if I hadn't been studying The Black Swan, even if I'd never read Thinking, Fast and Slow, I would have had to be questioning. Why does the fact that all the classes tended to live together in close proximity in the '50s make that decade the pinnacle? Why not the 1920s or '30s, when whole families lived together and whole communities were rooted in one place? Just coincidentally, '59, th How could he idealize the 1950s? How could he say equality of opportunity has declined since then? For whom? Even if I hadn't been studying The Black Swan, even if I'd never read Thinking, Fast and Slow, I would have had to be questioning. Why does the fact that all the classes tended to live together in close proximity in the '50s make that decade the pinnacle? Why not the 1920s or '30s, when whole families lived together and whole communities were rooted in one place? Just coincidentally, '59, this ideal year of the ideal time was the year of the author's high school graduation. The 1950s preceded the Civil Rights era. Jim Crow and, where I live, racial segregation still prevailed. In case I had forgotten about that, I happened to see the musical Memphis--set in the 1950s and focusing on segregation and its ills--while I was reading this book. The author gives lip service to recognizing the difference between causality and correlation. To be sure, few of these studies were true experiments, randomly assigning some kids to participate and excluding others, so we cannot entirely rule out the possibility that the robust correlation between extracurricular involvement and life success might be due, at least in part, to some unmeasured variable... Nevertheless, he routinely tells a causal story. He routinely implies causality, even in the face of a mishmash of variables. So, we have poverty leading to inequality of opportunity. Having money would buffer against stress, from which poor children inequitably suffer. Even inspired parenting can't be effective in the face of poverty. Their communities lead them in downhill directions. Their institutions fail them. Their schools cannot cope. They attend church less often. The overall picture may be something like Charles Murray's in Coming Apart, which has the upper classes behaving conservatively--attending church, staying together, and pursuing long-term goals--while poor families disproportionately disintegrate. The result is a two-tier society. This author is fingering inequality of opportunity. The book is a fast read. For each chapter--family, parenting, schooling, community--the author describes two families, one of which represents a securely middle-class situation, while the other struggles with poverty and various social ills. Those stories can be skimmed. Then the author gives studies and opinions in support of his conclusions. On one hand he seems "conservative," in that he seems to think people could make better decisions. And he says that, despite financial disparities, Americans don't begrudge the successful their rewards. On the other, he thinks more money and expensive programs would do the trick. And at one point he goes on about the evils of wealth. After all the opinions, discussion, and citations, what can he advise? We must pursue a strategy of trial and error.... So my criterion is not whether any given proposal has already proven effective, but whether the best available evidence suggests that it has promise. I think he confuses "the best available evidence" with the conventional wisdom, the latter being a function of the prevailing winds. And he capitalizes on our human tendency to project causality onto everything. This book is an opinion piece, a sermon of sorts. This is a case in which the author already knew what he wanted to find. So all his references, stories, statistics, and examples lead in the preordained direction. He already believes what he believes. In other words, the book is, I think, an example of confirmatory (rather than exploratory) thinking. That would be the case if out of the universe of facts and observations he has selected those in line with his beliefs while leaving inconvenient truths in the darkness. In that way he carves out a reasonable-sounding thesis by eliminating from consideration what doesn't fit. Thus come the questions that don't easily fit within the boundaries of his narrative, such as: How have immigrant classes in abject poverty been able to pull themselves up? Why does the underclass, in contrast, get stuck there? When an example arises that argues against some aspect of his explanatory theory, the author disavows or dismisses it by coming up with some elaboration of his narrative. In that way, plot adjustment masquerades as factual explanation. That is the sense in which theologian Karen L. King asks, "What work is this narrative doing?" And that should tell us something about the nature of confirmatory thinking. For example, Robert Putnam's use of term "social capital:" for him, social capital consists of connections that the rich have but the poor don't. And it's those connections that matter. The example that might challenge his argument is that of connections through social media. The author simply waves his hand regarding the possibility that those connections matter. Case dismissed. But I'm not sure the poor are defined by their lack of connections, although, by definition, they do lack money. For Putnam, poor children don't have their share of something of which the rich have more than their share: especially money, but also including social capital, which, for him, means connections. I read him as saying the poor must be given their share, and that's what would fix things. Nicholas Lemann reviewed Our Kids in the New York Review of Books and found the author hadn't supported his conclusions and recommendations. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archi... Perhaps in the '50s, what was beneficial to all was the booming postwar economy, imbuing rich and poor alike with the magic fairy dust of hope and spurring all and sundry to their best efforts. Putnam espouses what in another review (of Miss Lonelyhearts) I recently called the "social work" approach: just put people in touch with the resources they need and everything will be all right. The problem is that so very often the "social work" approach doesn't work, although according to our logic, it should. After being linked up with programs and resources, people often revert. What about equality of opportunity, the decline of which I questioned at the beginning? In the essay Capitalism and Inequality, Jerry Muller asserts that although there are both formal and informal barriers to equality of opportunity, formal barriers have been gradually lowered. So the issue is no longer unequal opportunity but the inability to use it, even when it is placed in front of the deprived. In that connection, Muller looks not at social capital, in Putnam's sense, but at human capital: cognitive ability, character, knowledge, social skills. It is human capital than enables people to cope with today's economy, as there are fewer and fewer lucrative jobs requiring unskilled labor. For Muller, the factory that produces human capital is the family. Speaking of capitalism and inequality, it is noteworthy that in 2015 Robert Putnam has written a whole book on inequality and never once mentioned Thomas Piketty. Disagreeing with the author's theory doesn't necessarily entail offering one of my own, but the mind does turn to what it is that will make people change or permit them to do so. Surely, heavy-duty confrontation with their alleged wrongness is ineffective and paradoxically may have the opposite effect. (Think of the Aesop's fable about how the winter wind couldn't make the traveler take off his coat, no matter how hard it blew!) My whimsical reference above to "the fairy dust of hope" gives a clue to my thinking: narrative is important--but not just any free-floating narrative. To be sustaining, it has to ring true. The facts on the grounds are not without importance, but in addition a sustaining narrative can seem counterfactual a great deal of the time. I see now that I must abbreviate this line of inquiry. The "ring true" aspect alone could entail lengthy exposition! But when it comes to how change occurs, a narrative of blame won't work. It may lead me to revolution, in the sense of my taking from you the share I think should be mine, but it won't take me where I want to go. As with driving a car, one must focus on the road ahead and not on the driver in the other lane. I do think there has to be some income redistribution, but making it effective seems to come with complications. Then, too, in that musical, Memphis, it wasn't just that the poor black people were lacking. In that story, they possessed aspects that the white folks coveted. Sociology is involved here. Whatever "free will" is, it doesn't lie in doing whatever I choose (or "feel like"), but in some sort of wider view, in which I have some recognition of the impinging forces. I have had past discussions right here on Goodreads about whether participating in organized religion, for one example, or having children, for another, are deeply individual and personal choices. People think so, but if I stop and think about it, I see we're carried along in huge waves of which we're barely aware. Consider the recent US "marriage map:" http://nyti.ms/1IC8fuh Surely all the people who have made the deeply personal decision to remain single didn't move to New York City! Any modicum of free will requires that the wave in which we are swimming not remain invisible. Boko Haram has a point, right? If we spread Western education there, the women will certainly become uppity and reduce the number of children they're willing to have. So, do we aim to change the wave? Or maybe we advocate for all to become expert surfers. Why did I give the book two stars? I didn't respect the way he argued, but he did point out the inequities of a two-tier society (although not so clearly as is done elsewhere).

  2. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    A saddening yet necessary examination of how the gap between the rich and the poor has expanded in the United States. Fans of Matthew Desmond's Evicted may enjoy this book, as Robert Putnam blends human narratives with quantitative data to make his points. His main thesis: while America once served as the land of opportunity for a lot of us, the opportunity for the impoverished has shriveled up. Putnam shows how economic inequality has widened through discussing how wealthier parents can aff A saddening yet necessary examination of how the gap between the rich and the poor has expanded in the United States. Fans of Matthew Desmond's Evicted may enjoy this book, as Robert Putnam blends human narratives with quantitative data to make his points. His main thesis: while America once served as the land of opportunity for a lot of us, the opportunity for the impoverished has shriveled up. Putnam shows how economic inequality has widened through discussing how wealthier parents can afford more time, motivation, and resources for their kids, how poor kids have fewer connections and mentors in their communities, and how poor kids have fewer family dinners which disadvantages them, and more. He does a great job portraying the relentless cycle in which the wealthy can continue to ascend while the poor get trapped in dead ends, of no fault of their own. The book concludes with some practical suggestions on how to improve these issues, such as fighting against pay-to-play policies in local schools and expanding the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit. My sole main critique concerns how I wish Putnam had dedicated more time to examining how race, immigration status, and other identity factors influence wealth. I feel like he understated the role of race, especially in regard to intergenerational wealth and how experiences of racism can affect socioeconomic status. I am unsure if he minimized the role of race to appeal to a broader audience. Still, despite this limitation, I am glad this book exists and illuminates how the myth of the American dream has long collapsed. If we want to revive it for all of our kids and not just the wealthy ones, we have to work toward that goal intentionally.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Clif Hostetler

    The American dream of opportunity and upward mobility is fading fast, and it has happened during most of our lifetimes (since 1970). Most of us have heard the news about the trend toward increased disparity in wealth. This book makes the point that there is a similar trend toward disparity in many social, cultural and educational ways. The following graph demonstrates the trend by showing changes in education attainment over the past several decades. [image error] This difference is not caused by The American dream of opportunity and upward mobility is fading fast, and it has happened during most of our lifetimes (since 1970). Most of us have heard the news about the trend toward increased disparity in wealth. This book makes the point that there is a similar trend toward disparity in many social, cultural and educational ways. The following graph demonstrates the trend by showing changes in education attainment over the past several decades. [image error] This difference is not caused by a difference in ability. Smart poor kids (lower third of parental income, top third in test scores) have less chance of graduating from college than not-so-smart rich kids (upper third of parental income, bottom third in test scores). The same “scissors pattern” graph showing a trend of increased disparity can be found in almost all metrics that measure the quality of family life, neighborhoods and schools. Below are some of the metrics mentioned in the book:1. Frequency of family sit down dinners 2. Number of two parent families 3. Nurturing time with parents 4. Access to good daycare 5. Access extracurricular activities 6. Access to enriching summer time experiences 7. Church attendance 8. Voting and political envolement 9. Obesity rates, heath and longivity 10. Participation in cultural and social activitiesSo much for equality of opportunities. The discouraging part is not so much that things are not fair; it's that the trend is leading toward increased disparity into the future. Toward the end of the book there are suggested steps to be taken to stop and reverse the trend. I'm not listing them here, but I am including the following quotation that caught my attention:An increase in family income by $3,000 during a child's first five years of life seems to be associated with an improvement on academic achievement tests equivalent to 20 SAT points and nearly 20 percent higher income later in life. (p246)In other words, if the lower income portion of the population would experience some real growth in their incomes relative to the rest of the population the trend would start closing. Much of the book consists of interviews with young people and their families of various backgrounds. An overview of analysis methodology and bibliography used in the book are available at http://robertdputnam.com/about-our-ki.... The following are my observations of what's not in this book. Putnam has kept his analysis as non-political as possible by not mentioning the biggest (right-wing mostly Republican) elephant in the room: (1) tax breaks for the rich but increased sales taxes for everybody else, and (2) the accusation that Obama was promoting “class warfare” by proposing expanded tax credits for the poor, greater access to quality day care and more money for community colleges. These trends could be ameliorated with correct political policies. The prospect for adoption of these policies does not appear likely.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ian

    Yeah, what can you say about a book like this? Seems to be getting a near universal 4-star rating here, as it is well-written, meticulously researched, interesting, and exceedingly timely. That said, the book covers a lot of well-explored territory, and I rarely found myself surprised by any of the book's conclusions. The book makes an attempt to say that class rather than race or other factors is the driving determinate for kids' life outcomes. This may or may not be true -- frankly it's beyond Yeah, what can you say about a book like this? Seems to be getting a near universal 4-star rating here, as it is well-written, meticulously researched, interesting, and exceedingly timely. That said, the book covers a lot of well-explored territory, and I rarely found myself surprised by any of the book's conclusions. The book makes an attempt to say that class rather than race or other factors is the driving determinate for kids' life outcomes. This may or may not be true -- frankly it's beyond my área of expertise. However, it felt the author was downplaying a lot of things to keep this book safely within the politically correct circle... note the distinct lack of negative reviews for this book, in comparison to Charles Murray's much more interesting book on the same subject: Coming Apart Similarly, this book's conclusions and call to action are weak and uninspiring. More mentoring and free after school activities would probably be of some help to lower-class students, but I can't imagine them making any great difference.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Todd N

    Everything that you need to know about the lack of opportunity equality -- and therefore the lack of upward mobility -- in today's America can be summed up in one graph on page 190 of this book. It displays the results of a study showing that a poor 8th grade kid who scores well on standardized tests is less likely to graduate from college than a rich 8th grade kid who scores poorly on the same tests. So if you are a kid with the misfortune of being born near the bottom of our greasy class ladder Everything that you need to know about the lack of opportunity equality -- and therefore the lack of upward mobility -- in today's America can be summed up in one graph on page 190 of this book. It displays the results of a study showing that a poor 8th grade kid who scores well on standardized tests is less likely to graduate from college than a rich 8th grade kid who scores poorly on the same tests. So if you are a kid with the misfortune of being born near the bottom of our greasy class ladder, America's institutions will be sure to keep a weighty boot on your neck for the rest of your miserable existence. You'd probably have a better chance against the medieval feudal system, the court of Louis XVI, or maybe the Greek gods. The subject of this book is kids in America. This is smart because who doesn't want anything but the best for kids, even poor ones (as opposed to adults)? It's also risky because demographic studies about what happened to a generation don't usually come out until they have reached 40 or so. So while it might be premature to focus on today's batch of kids, there are still some pretty clear trends. The book starts with a retrospective of Mr. Putnam's own class of 1959 in Port Clinton, Ohio. Similar to another really good book on the same topic, Coming Apart by Charles Murray, rich and poor live in similar neighborhoods and have similar values. It's like Happy Days but with a bunch more racism and factory work. Then we jump to the present day and get case studies showing an upper- and lower-middle class family illustrative of differences in (1) family structure, (2) parenting, (3) schools, and (4) community. There is one chapter on each topic. Of course the chapter on public schools is the most horrifying. The case studies are extremely compelling and I'm going to assume representative, though obviously not scientific. Then come a boatload of studies, facts, and figures backed up with footnotes in case you want to read more. Each chapter contains lots of "scissor charts" showing one group of Americans pulling away from the other group, usually based on income or education. Weirdly, or maybe smartly, Mr. Putnam keeps politics almost completely out of this book. I figured after the appalling studies and facts presented in this book that the last chapter would be some kind of screed blasting someone. (But then again Mr Murray couldn't resist doing that in Coming Apart, and frankly he completely lost me in his last chapter.) He winds up making recommendations to help bring America back together, but somehow our broken political system gets a pass. I guess that's how Mr. Putnam gets to be an advisor to our past three presidents. As long as he gets them to read this book, I'm okay with it. Very highly recommended. In the same zone as Coming Apart (Murray) and The Unwinding (Packer) and sorta The Divide (Taibbi). A few other random notes: * They could improve a kid's chance of success drastically simply by moving his family out of a poorer neighborhood and into a richer one. (Who even does studies like that? Is that even ethical?) * Even the upper class parents felt the need to manipulate the education system through great effort to get their kids a decent education. There really is a huge problem there. The 1959 kids were embarrassed at any attempt at parents to intercede in their education. The present day kids don't have a say of course. * It's sad how in one case study church programs were a way for people to get help for addiction problems but also a way for dealers to pick up new customers * This book made me reassess the people I know who are in their 20s. Now I realize that they are pretty much all from upper class backgrounds. (I used to assume that everyone came from a similar background as me, paid for college themselves, and started their careers with no outside assistance like I did.) * Reading this book helped me understand why the hiring process at Google made me feel uneasy. Jokes like, "Oh your dad left so you had to go to a local college? Maybe Yahoo would be better for you," were still funny to me in 2006, but more in a gallows kind of way. * Given the differences between the two schools described in Orange County, I don't see why everyone is so uptight about the standardized testing movement. (Best of the Left podcast did a whole hand-wringy episode on this last week.) I think it would bring exactly the kind of problem with substandard schools and social promotion to light. * It's amazing how quickly a neighborhood can deteriorate from safe and diverse to unsafe in less than a generation. There are several examples described in the book. * There are about a billion studies showing that extracurricular activities are tied to positive outcomes later in life. I was a band-o, so I guess I had this covered, but outside of that I was never one for extracurriculars. I didn't realize that with cuts to funding, esp. in California, most of them are either gone or they cost money. I probably wouldn't have been in band if it had cost my parents extra money, which means I would have just stayed in my room and played The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon an extra million times instead. * If society is going to marginalize people without college degrees and there aren't enough jobs that require college degrees then how is this all going to end up? Right now 2% of Americans make their living through agriculture and the manufacturing base has greatly declined. Are we promoting college for all knowing that a certain percentage will be consigned to crappy service jobs? Ones that will probably pay so low that they will require tax payer funded benefits? * When the dozen or so 2016 candidates talk about blue collar family values and some even claim that they still represent blue collar values, do they mean that their families are split up, they rarely attend church, they often draw public assistance, and they have loose ties to the communities? Demographically this appears to be what they are saying. I guess it doesn't sound very populist to say they have upper-middle class values, but I think that's what they are actually getting at. * I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I hate rich kids.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Caren

    The widening gap between upper and lower income levels in the USA has been cause for a lot of research and discussion. Mr. Putnam's book considers one aspect of inequality: how if affects the opportunity of children in this country to advance beyond the class into which they have been born, which used to be known as the American Dream. He begins with changes in his own home town of Port Clinton, Ohio, looking at how children from disparate backgrounds in his youth, the 1950s, compare to kids gro The widening gap between upper and lower income levels in the USA has been cause for a lot of research and discussion. Mr. Putnam's book considers one aspect of inequality: how if affects the opportunity of children in this country to advance beyond the class into which they have been born, which used to be known as the American Dream. He begins with changes in his own home town of Port Clinton, Ohio, looking at how children from disparate backgrounds in his youth, the 1950s, compare to kids growing up there now. His view then widens to other areas of the USA, always comparing children from lower economic and education-level families and children from families whose parents are more highly educated and with comfortable incomes. When Mr. Putnam was growing up (and he is now in his 70s), residents of his town thought of all of the kids in town as "our kids" and those from families with fewer resources were mentored and helped by other community members. In other words, all of the children were seen as the future of the town, all of them were "our kids". (He acknowledges that racism certainly was a problem in the town of his youth, but even the two African-American children in his graduating class achieved great leaps beyond the level of their parents, both earning graduate degrees.) Fast forward to his town today, where those children at the bottom are very often from single-parent families, living on the edge in dangerous neighborhoods and with no prospect of rising above that level. In Mr. Putnams's highly regarded previous book, "Bowling Alone", he decried the waning of "social capital". In a way, this book continues that lament. He is a professor of public policy at Harvard, so this sort of broad overview which considers the ramifications of continuing on this trajectory would seem to be his specialty. He feels so strongly about the threat of continuing on this path that he openly says he timed the book (which he thinks could be his last) to coincide with the next presidential election. He believes it should become the top talking point. This book is engaging, with its stories of real people, even while being a piece of rigorous research by an academic (with roughly 80 pages of notes and a twenty-page section at the end that details how he went about his research). It is clear he meant it to reach the widest possible audience. He explores, with actual families as examples, how the family and parenting, schooling, and community affect what sorts of opportunities are open to kids of different classes. He says (in the section that explains his methodology) that he tried to find a "quartet" of people in varied areas of the country. The quartet would consist of a girl and her mother, and a boy and his father. For some of the poorer kids, this had to be modified, since some of the fathers were not around. He noted that the way poorer, less educated parents raise their kids is very different from the more economically advantaged families. Here is an observation, from page 119: "One broad class difference in parenting norms turns up in virtually all studies: well-educated parents aim to raise autonomous, independent, self-directed children with high self-esteem and the ability to make good choices, whereas less educated parents focus on discipline and obedience and conformity to pre-established rules...Upper-class parents have more egalitarian relations with their children and are more likely to use reasoning and guilt for discipline, whereas lower-class parents are more likely to use physical punishment, like whipping." He continues on page 122: "Class-based differences in parenting style are well established and powerfully consequential. The ubiquitous correlation between poverty and child development (both cognitive and socioemotional) is, in fact, largely explained by differences in parenting styles, including cognitive stimulation (such as frequency of reading) and social engagement (such as involvement in extracurricular activities...) In particular, parental reading (controlling for many other factors, including maternal education, verbal ability, and warmth) fosters child development. Child development specialists Jane Waldfogel and Elizabeth Washbrook have found that differences in parenting---especially maternal sensitivity and nurturance, but also provision of books, library visits, and the like---is the single most important factor explaining differences in school readiness between rich kids and poor kids, as measured by literacy, mathematics, and language test scores at age four." He further says, on page 128: "What are kids from less educated homes doing when they are not getting personal attention from their parents? Studies of how children actually spend their days suggest that the most important part of the answer is TV...Children with well educated parents...spend less time watching TV and more time reading and studying compared to children of less educated parents...With the spread of the Internet, TV is being gradually replaced by Web-based entertainment, but the basic fact remains: rich kids get more face time, while poor kids get more screen time." He goes on to note that parental stress is a big reason for this difference. He quotes Laura Bush as saying, in 2007, "If you don't know how long you're going to keep your job, or how long you're going to keep your house, you have less energy to invest in your kids." Putnam says: "The first lady's comments anticipated arguments that the behavioral economists Dendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir made in their 2013 book, "Scarcity". Under conditions of scarcity, they write, the brain's ability to grasp, manage, and solve problems falters, like a computer slowed down by too many open apps, leaving us less efficient and less effective than we would be under conditions of abundance. What we usually understand as an impoverished parent's lack of skills, care, patience, tolerance, attention, and dedication can actually be attributed to the fact that the parent's mind is functioning under a heavy load." (page 130-131). The last chapter of the book is titled "What is to be done?", but he also emphasizes (in case the preceding stories haven't made a strong enough impression) why this matters. On page 230 he says: "Poor kids, through no fault of their own, are less prepared by their families, their schools, and their communities to develop their God-given talents as fully as rich kids. For economic productivity and growth, our country needs as much talent as we can find, and we certainly can't afford to waste it. The opportunity gap imposes on all of us both real costs and what economists term 'opportunity costs'." Continuing, on page 232, he says: "Roughly two thirds of these costs reflect lost earning, lower economic growth, and lower tax revenue, while less than 5 percent reflect the costs of 'welfare ' programs. Even if we harden our hearts and simply leave these poor kids to fend for themselves, we will still have to reckon with the lion's share of these costs, because these kids will not be contributing to the national economy." He also says that "college-educated young people are more civically engaged", while poorer kids are often apathetic. Here is an exchange with one of his poorer subjects (from pages 237-238): "On the other side of the tracks, David lives in a chaotic family situation with no role models at all for political or civic engagement, so our questions about those topics elicited a puzzled stare and a brief response, as though we had asked about Mozart or foxhunting. Q: Do you ever vote? A: Never voted. Q: Do you know if your parents are involved in politics, or if they get involved in stuff? A: I don't talk to them about it. [The researcher queries Kayla, another disadvantaged young person:] Q: Are you involved in political stuff or community stuff? A: Not really. Q: Are you interested in watching the news? A: It gets old after a while. Somebody shot somebody, or somebody robbed somebody. I'm not that interested. Q: Are you excited about the election coming up? Do you think you'll vote? A: Nah, I don't care. Q: Do you have a party that you like? A: They all kind of suck. Q: Are your parents involved in politics at all? A: Not really." Mr. Putnam points out that this apathy has ramifications for democracy: first, that the political system becomes less representative of Americans as a whole, and second, that this mass of disaffected people could become restive. From pages 239-240): "An inert and atomized mass of alienated and estranged citizens, disconnected from social institutions, might under normal circumstances pose only a minimal threat to political stability, with any menace muted by the masses' very apathy. Government under such circumstances might not be very democratic, but at least it would be stable. But under severe economic or international pressures---such as the pressures that overwhelmed Europe and America in the 1930s---that 'inert' mass might suddenly prove highly volatile and open to manipulation by antidemocratic demagogues at the ideological extremes." Mr Putnam does have suggestions for addressing these problems. He speaks about ways to affect family formation and structure, about early childhood development programs and instruction in effective parenting, about changing the residential segregation (based on income inequality) of public schools, of getting kids into extracurricular activities by getting rid of "pay-for-play" programs, and of studying how our country approached these very same challenges in the past. He encourages readers to move past the individualist mindset that has threaded its way through this country's history, and turn to more communitarian values, quoting a city manager from Boston as saying: "If our kids are in trouble---my kids, our kids, anyone's kids---we all have a responsibility to look after them." (page 261). ** Here is an interview with the author, from Book TV: http://www.c-span.org/video/?325084-1...

  7. 4 out of 5

    Esil

    Thank you to the Publisher and Netgalley for an opportunity to read Our Kids. I usually read fiction and mysteries with an occasional foray into history and memoirs so this was not within the scope of my usual reading. But the description was really interesting and I am glad I took the chance. Through a combination of personal stories and an extensive review of recent research, Putnam describes the growing economic gap between rich and poor, with an emphasis on the declining opportunities for up Thank you to the Publisher and Netgalley for an opportunity to read Our Kids. I usually read fiction and mysteries with an occasional foray into history and memoirs so this was not within the scope of my usual reading. But the description was really interesting and I am glad I took the chance. Through a combination of personal stories and an extensive review of recent research, Putnam describes the growing economic gap between rich and poor, with an emphasis on the declining opportunities for upward mobility. He looks at a variety of factors, including changing trends in schools, families and communities that have the effect of making it harder for poorer kids to develop the skills -- including soft skills like savvy and resilience -- to move up the economic ladder. The personal stories are very powerful, making this a book that at times I found hard to put down. And the trends Putnam described really resonated for me -- even from the Canadian side of the border. Things I thought of as idiosyncratic aspects of my childhood and my kids' experience growing up turn out not to be so idiosyncratic. Perhaps the weakest aspect of the book are the solutions Putnam proposes at the end -- but realistically it's hard to fault him for not proposing a magic bullet solution to such a complex problem. This was a very readable and thought provoking book. I recommend it even if it takes you out of your comfort zone.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    Bryan Alexander hosted a readalong of this book on his blog, where there has been thoughtful ongoing discussion chapter by chapter. He also talked about the book on the 30th episode of the Reading Envy Podcast. The best discussions are in those two locations. The book is well worth the read if you are interested in socioeconomic topics, particularly if you work with kids in any way. I read it from the perspective of changing demographics at my own institution, more because I wanted to be presente Bryan Alexander hosted a readalong of this book on his blog, where there has been thoughtful ongoing discussion chapter by chapter. He also talked about the book on the 30th episode of the Reading Envy Podcast. The best discussions are in those two locations. The book is well worth the read if you are interested in socioeconomic topics, particularly if you work with kids in any way. I read it from the perspective of changing demographics at my own institution, more because I wanted to be presented with creative solutions that I could adapt to my own situation. Unfortunately, I think Putnam is not as strong on solutions as he is on discussing the data and changes. I suspect someone else may need to take his ideas forward with stronger or more feasible solutions. Basic summary comes late in chapter 5: "If it takes a village to raise a child, the prognosis for American children isn't good: in recent years, villages all over America, rich and poor, have deteriorated as we've shirked collective responsibility for our kids."

  9. 5 out of 5

    Vance

    Robert Putnam provides another interesting read that hits on timely issues to tackle how the American Dream is in crisis. I read his book “Bowling Alone” years ago and it definitely influenced the way I see the world. For example, our lack of social capital continues to affect our actions and contributes to a breakdown in the fabric of society. This book “Our Kids” builds on that work by looking at specific stories of families of different demographics and socioeconomic levels to understand if t Robert Putnam provides another interesting read that hits on timely issues to tackle how the American Dream is in crisis. I read his book “Bowling Alone” years ago and it definitely influenced the way I see the world. For example, our lack of social capital continues to affect our actions and contributes to a breakdown in the fabric of society. This book “Our Kids” builds on that work by looking at specific stories of families of different demographics and socioeconomic levels to understand if there’s a divide in the opportunity gap. Putnam finds that the big opportunity gap is based on the socioeconomic status of the privileged versus underprivileged. He brings up the issue of income inequality quite often and how that relates the education system and other institutional issues. The problems identified deal with the breakdowns in the family, income inequality, lack of education, and lack of networking. His solutions are broad and vague, but they tend to revolve around more government intervention: increased contraception access to reduce pregnancies of unplanned babies, more spending on education, expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, fund more for child care and welfare programs. While I enjoyed the book, I give it 3 stars because of the lack of specificity in the solutions and the lack of consideration of government programs leading to these socioeconomic problems that then contribute to social ills. In particular, we should work to strengthen institutions like the family and civil society in general by reducing the wedge the government has placed in people’s incentives, especially in the poorest among us. Without understanding the effect welfare has had on these incentives, there is a lack of understanding of an appropriate solution. Therefore, in my view he over-emphasizes government solutions for the social ills he identifies that would actually make the situation worse because those solutions are already part of the problem. But don’t take my word on the book, check it out for yourself.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Marks54

    This is a report of Putnam's latest study on inequality in education in America. Qualitative interview results for a selected set of respondents which is then supplemented by summaries of current results from larger sample statistical studies. It is a timely book that is easy to read. The results - that inequality is currently being driven by class rather than racial divisions - are reasonable and well presented. While I enjoyed the book, I did not find it outstanding. I have read much of the re This is a report of Putnam's latest study on inequality in education in America. Qualitative interview results for a selected set of respondents which is then supplemented by summaries of current results from larger sample statistical studies. It is a timely book that is easy to read. The results - that inequality is currently being driven by class rather than racial divisions - are reasonable and well presented. While I enjoyed the book, I did not find it outstanding. I have read much of the research covered in the book and there is little new here. Moreover, the framework that Putnam develops lumps together the situations of the upper middle class and the super rich (top 1 percent). This is a major gap and the study neglects the richness open to a more complete theoretical approach, such as that pursued by Piketty. While painting a plausible picture, however, there is also little new in terms policy recommendations. There is also the tension that comes from focusing on individual cases and thus presenting pictures that can be deconstructed in terms of the choices of individuals. While there are always choices, the structural pressures on the disadvantaged are if anything downplayed and thus the state of the crisis posed by inequality is less rather than more developed. It is, if anything, too rosy of a picture. To be fair to Putnam and his RA, they appear to realize this issue in their final chapter on methods, although it is unclear what was done with this recognition. I also enjoyed the cross-generational analysis that starts off the book. The author is also careful in presenting his methods and showing how this study passes muster for social science norms. It is a capably done study. It is the contribution that concerns me. Still, the publicity that the book has received is good and the book is worth reading.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Veronica

    Ye olde importance of 'weak ties', growth trend in college premium, collective efficacy in wealthier neighborhoods, class gap in adolescent obesity, extracurricular importance to upward mobility. Suggestions? enact marriage policy, implement Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and child tax credit, funnel money into antipoverty programs, reduce incarceration, address residential segregation (zoning laws; publicly subsidized mixed income housing), increase access to parental coaching, expand pre-schoo Ye olde importance of 'weak ties', growth trend in college premium, collective efficacy in wealthier neighborhoods, class gap in adolescent obesity, extracurricular importance to upward mobility. Suggestions? enact marriage policy, implement Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and child tax credit, funnel money into antipoverty programs, reduce incarceration, address residential segregation (zoning laws; publicly subsidized mixed income housing), increase access to parental coaching, expand pre-school education equitably, increase funding for community colleges. "Concerted cultivation refers to the childrearing investments that middle-class parents deliberately make to foster their children's cognitive, social, and cultural skills, and, in turn, to further their children's success in life, particularly in school." "What are kids from less educated homes doing when they are not getting personal attention from their parents? Studies of how children actually spend their days suggest that the most important part of the answer is TV, just as Darleen said when we asked about family dinners. Children with well educated parents spend less time watching TV and more time reading and studying compared to children of less educated parents. With the spread of the Internet, TV is being gradually replaced by Web-based entertainment, but the basic fact remains: rich kids get more face time, while poor kids get more screen time."

  12. 4 out of 5

    Yannis Theocharis

    I was very much looking forward to reading this book. I was not disappointed and I can strongly recommend it. As always, Putnam has a lot to say and delivers in style. The central argument of this book is that inequality *of opportunity* in America is growing (alongside economic inequality), to the point that the poorer clusters of the society experience a present and a future that is virtually unimaginable to those coming from privileged backgrounds. The book is basically a description of socia I was very much looking forward to reading this book. I was not disappointed and I can strongly recommend it. As always, Putnam has a lot to say and delivers in style. The central argument of this book is that inequality *of opportunity* in America is growing (alongside economic inequality), to the point that the poorer clusters of the society experience a present and a future that is virtually unimaginable to those coming from privileged backgrounds. The book is basically a description of social change thought a large collection of "Scissor graphs" showing increasing class gaps when it comes to how various factors (family background and stability, residential segregation, education, school quality and community) affect socioeconomic mobility. Around these graphs, Putnam has elegantly wrapped text stemming from interviews conducted with people from different social backgrounds in various parts of the country painting a dire picture about the state of inequality of opportunity in America; a condition that makes upward mobility not just harder than it used to be in the baby boomer generation but often impossible (or even something one would contemplate). Putnam's hope is that his readers will be able to at least get an idea of how the other half lives.. or rather struggles to survive. Putnam is extra cautious to point out that most of his warnings and developments he describes are based on correlations - as only few of the studies he includes in the book have randomised experimental designs "proving" causality - yet the overall picture - whether causal or not - is plausible. And dire. This is in many ways a heartbreaking book, although if you have seen "The Wire" you will be no stranger to the lives of those whose terrifying experiences with violence, gangs, parental abuse, drugs, and so on are narrated in this book through their own words. You will certainly not be a stranger to the consequences either - at least if you've been following the news. You probably *will", however, find yourself being amazing with the extent of these developments and with how obviously difficult is to reverse them. What I like is that within the stories narrated - even the most depressing and heartbreaking - there is almost always a glimmer of hope reflected in the humanity and efforts of people who inspired, supported, helped, and loved others without asking for anything in exchange. The kind of stories that reinstate your trust in humanity. Yet, as the book shows, they are not enough. It is political will that can reverse these patterns (if they can be reversed), and that is the subject of the last chapter about "what is to be done", in my view the weakest of the book. And a final note. I am not expecting Putnam, a Harvard academic, to say clearly that what he describes is class struggle of a modern kind (although he clearly says that the differences are no longer race-based but class-based and there are clear and massive class differences within different races), but in reality that is precisely what he is talking about. And in many ways it is precisely the outcome of policy decisions made during a certain period and expanded (strengthening the disastrous effects especially towards the poorest) during the rise and spread of neoliberalism. Although again Putnam does not want to push the political point as far as I would have liked (or he pushes it in a rather subtle way, some may argue), much of the neoliberal policies advanced over the last decades (as well as the absence of responsible policies -regardless of ideological origin- for the most vulnerable clusters of society) have had a destructive effect of American society, tearing the social fabric apart. This much is clear.

  13. 4 out of 5

    James (JD) Dittes

    "If our kids are in trouble--my kids, our kids, anyone's kids---we all have a responsibility to look after them." I place this quote at the beginning of my review--even though it is the last quote of the book (p 261) because it delineates those who will want to read it from those who will ignore its profound proofs and conclusions. There are those who see kids as Our Kids and those who complain about "those kids." Putnam's book is definitely for the former. Looking at the basic systems that suppo "If our kids are in trouble--my kids, our kids, anyone's kids---we all have a responsibility to look after them." I place this quote at the beginning of my review--even though it is the last quote of the book (p 261) because it delineates those who will want to read it from those who will ignore its profound proofs and conclusions. There are those who see kids as Our Kids and those who complain about "those kids." Putnam's book is definitely for the former. Looking at the basic systems that support American kids, Families, Parents, Schools and Communities, he finds much that has improved in recent years, but growing gaps of support between prosperous families and those in need. Each chapter includes cases studies of young people and parents from both sides of the tracks. Putnam uses their experiences to emphasize researched findings about effective parenting, successful schools and meaningful community supports. For example, one chapter that surprised me was the chapter on parenting. Educated parents (whom Putnam describes as having a BA degree or higher) tend to nurture and motivate their children through vision, whereas High School and under-educated parents, tend to emphasize conformity and discipline. The morning after reading this, I was caring for the children of a close high school friend, who did not go on to complete college. "If they don't behave, I'm going to have their daddy whoop them," I heard her say. If my kids are bad, I'm more interested in learning why! As a teacher, I'm going to use the lessons learned here in the way I interact with my own students. Putnam emphasizes how church pastors and teachers can have outsized influences in the lives of kids who may not have necessary support from home. In fact, he shows ways that all Americans, of many career types, can have a genuine impact on Our Kids for many generations to come.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn

    The non-fiction genre is not a favorite of mine -- it doesn't even rank in the top ten -- but I was compelled to read this book by my sister-in-law, a recently retired, highly-respected public school teacher, who slid it into my hands the last time I saw her and told me she had already purchased four more copies for her grown children. The book is about an opportunity gap that has emerged over the past five or six decades between children born to educated and uneducated parents. Putnam and his Ha The non-fiction genre is not a favorite of mine -- it doesn't even rank in the top ten -- but I was compelled to read this book by my sister-in-law, a recently retired, highly-respected public school teacher, who slid it into my hands the last time I saw her and told me she had already purchased four more copies for her grown children. The book is about an opportunity gap that has emerged over the past five or six decades between children born to educated and uneducated parents. Putnam and his Harvard team have pulled together and analyzed hundreds of studies (referenced in 84 pages of notes at the back of the book which I only felt the need to consult once or twice) and they have humanized the data by including some of the stories they heard while interviewing upper and lower class families in Ohio, Oregon, California, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. The result is an academic book that does not stray too far or often over the line into overly pedantic. Solutions are suggested. I had a hard time falling asleep in the week I spent reading this book. Putnam has been called "the most influential academic in the world" by The Sunday Times of London. I hope and pray that is true in this case.

  15. 5 out of 5

    farmwifetwo

    Through the use of stereotypes and previously done research the authors try to write a book about the disparities of income gaps and offer no real solutions. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archi... Through the use of stereotypes and previously done research the authors try to write a book about the disparities of income gaps and offer no real solutions. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archi...

  16. 4 out of 5

    Thalia Chloe

    I wish that I had read this before I wrote my honors thesis, because it touched on a number of salient mechanisms that I sought to explore in my study. Although I didn't learn anything new, the book offers a nice overview of the relative contributions of the home, school, and neighborhood/community environments to the opportunity gap. I'll definitely return to this as a reference when working on literature reviews.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Denise

    Required reading for those wanting to understand how growing income disparity and increasing economic polarization affects our youngest generations. With severe implications starting from even before birth, putnam ends with actionable points to support those who most need it.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Nick Klagge

    I picked this up after reading a review, having enjoyed his book "Bowling Alone." As I'm sure others have said, this book is more of an aggregation of reasonably well-known results from other social science researchers than a presentation of original research (at least on the quantitative side). That's not necessarily a knock against it. The main thesis is that in mid-century America, there wasn't (too) much separation between the lives and life-chances of children raised in upper and lower class I picked this up after reading a review, having enjoyed his book "Bowling Alone." As I'm sure others have said, this book is more of an aggregation of reasonably well-known results from other social science researchers than a presentation of original research (at least on the quantitative side). That's not necessarily a knock against it. The main thesis is that in mid-century America, there wasn't (too) much separation between the lives and life-chances of children raised in upper and lower class families, but that over the last 50-odd years, a wide gap has opened up. Putnam presents a wide range of "scissors charts" showing the widening gap between classes in a variety of respects, including likelihood of being raised by two parents, access to early childcare, access to education, community support, etc. Virtually anything good you can think of for a kid. Although Putnam focuses on parental education as the key class indicator, he says that any of the indicators you might think of are, unsurprisingly, highly correlated. The evidence is quite convincing and I have no quibble with Putnam on that front. However, I'd make two criticisms of the book, which left me somewhat unsatisfied. First, I would say he treats the midcentury situation as a sort of status quo, and spends the book trying to figure out what has gone wrong recently. This is understandable given that Putnam himself grew up in the midcentury era, so it is his point of reference, and given that the time series of data he works with generally begin in the midcentury era. However, the work of Piketty has (in my view) quite convincingly shown, using very long time series of wealth and income data, that it was in fact the midcentury period of relative economic equality that was a historical anomaly, and that the current situation of high inequality and low mobility is the historical norm. That's not to say that we need to accept the current situation, but rather that the focus should be on what the special conditions were that created the midcentury situation as opposed to what's wrong today, per se. They are related, but different, ways of asking the same question. I'm very surprised that Putnam didn't so much as mention Piketty (as far as I remember). This brings me to my second criticism: I think Putnam soft-pedals the conclusion. Possibly because he doesn't take the long perspective of Piketty, his recommendations come across as surprisingly mild. Indeed, from the vantage point of a couple of weeks after having finished the book, I can barely remember what they were. I remember something about expanding the earned income tax credit and something about expanding formal mentoring programs for low-income kids. On the face of it, I think that it is clear that this kind of tweaking is going to do nothing to solve the huge systemic problems that Putnam is documenting. I think only much more radical solutions would even stand a chance of working: a comprehensive effort to crush income and wealth inequality through a substantial reworking of the tax code; probably a universal basic income; and increased direct government provision of public options in areas such as health care, early childhood education, and higher education; a rollback of the carceral state. I can't say I'm exactly surprised that Putnam doesn't go for this program. (Though Bernie Sanders might!) Very relevant to all of this is this piece, by one of my favorite internet writers: http://www.interfluidity.com/v2/5876..... I'm largely convinced at this point that there is no such thing as a society with high inequality and high economic/class mobility. Those at the high end have too much incentive to defend their privilege and it is too easy for them to do so. Thus, the only way to give lower-class kids a good chance is to compress the income and wealth distribution, as happened in midcentury America due to a confluence of policies and other forces, and as happens in the Nordic states today as a matter of policy.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    Such a depressing title to begin my 2017 reader's journey. Our Kids was written by a sociologist from the Erie shores of my home state. He grew up in the misted-in-memory idyll of 1950s white America in a little town called Port Clinton. I am familiar with this town as I drove through it many times during the 1980s while making the dull trek between my parent's home, on the east side of Cleveland and my university, which was smack in the midst of the corn fields of north west Ohio. My family sti Such a depressing title to begin my 2017 reader's journey. Our Kids was written by a sociologist from the Erie shores of my home state. He grew up in the misted-in-memory idyll of 1950s white America in a little town called Port Clinton. I am familiar with this town as I drove through it many times during the 1980s while making the dull trek between my parent's home, on the east side of Cleveland and my university, which was smack in the midst of the corn fields of north west Ohio. My family still ventures through the Port Clinton area once a year on our summer visit to the Lake Erie Islands. Certainly times have changed from Robert Putnam's Happy Days. Our nation's current psychotic trip is underpinned by a collective desire among many of our population to return to Putnam's youth in a small town America pre-Wal Mart, pre-industrial collapse, pre-digital age, pre-ISIL and pre- modern complexity and whatever new age we are currently ushering in, which will replace the world of our childhoods. Right now we are, as a society, in the crisis point. The new ways (new industries and new solutions) are still out of reach for many of us. The old problems (unemployment, displacement, opiate addiction epidemic and virulent gun violence) remain. The adults who nominally run our society seem out-of-control and corrupt. The adults who seem smarter and more thoughtful are marginalized to the shadows while hucksters and gangsters take center stage. We are worried about our kids who are inheriting a world that appears to be randomly violent, inherently dishonest, in constant chaos and crisis, and lacking in wisdom. Where will Our Kids work? Will they be able to purchase homes of their own? Will they manage to attend college? Will our families hold together just enough to support their emotional needs and provide them with a fall back plan if things go badly? Sadly, many indicators point to a darker future for Our Kids...one where inequality in housing, education, opportunity, family support, health care and income will enable a small percentage of upper middle class (mainly white) kids to thrive while larger segments of society, beneath them in status, will stagnate. Our Kids traces the paths of a group of young people from various locations around the nation and from various walks of life. We learn their back stories and are given a snap shot of their lives. Unlike Putnam's Port Clinton of yore, where rich kids lived a few blocks away from poor kids, attended the same school, shopped the same local stores, worked the same after school jobs and dated classmates from lower social rungs...today's kids are definitively segregated by income. You see this in every city when you travel. There are inner metropolitan rings, where there is a wealthy and shiny down town core surrounded by inner city poverty. Next are the ageing inner ring suburbs, followed by ever more opulent and privileged outer ring suburbs and, finally, the 21st century Landed Gentry who reside in 'exurbs'. Once you leave exurbia, you are back out among the vast stretches of rural poverty classes. Rarely do these people live in proximity to one another or connect socially or through school or work. Putnam points to a time when neighborhoods were more economically mixed. The wealthy families in a small town took an active interest in talented youth from more modest backgrounds and mentored them. My mom went to college because her friend's dad was a banker who picked up a college application for her, along with one for his own daughter. So my mom, the farm girl and school valedictorian, attended Ohio University on his urging. (His own daughter dropped out. My mom finished.) My dad was the poor son of immigrant parents. However, his amazing artistic talent was noticed by teachers and the head of the art curriculum in the Cleveland Public Schools and he was also encouraged. Amazingly, he also made it to college and, thus, my life was one spent in the comforts of the post war middle classes. These days, upper class Tiger Moms and Dads save all of their efforts and networking for their own privileged offspring and their children's generally equally well off friends. To be fair, wealthy people rarely 'know' the lower classes in 21 century America. Those who least the need the hand up are the same people who have all of the 'soft contacts' in business, at country clubs and in academia. Meanwhile, the vanishing middle class and the expanding working and lower classes face ever increasing obstacles to higher education due to intimidating price hikes and a basic lack of understanding when it comes to the tricks and secrets involved in applying to college. Gone are the days when the kids who are not academically motivated can drop out and find gainful employment in manufacturing. Today's lost kids work third shift at Taco Bell and live at home forever, often with an ever rotating cast of adults who are never permanent fixtures in their lives. These days, people mainly work...or else they are unemployed. Leisure has declined precipitously for those fortunate enough to have jobs. (My own spouse works 50 hour weeks and we have almost zero time for hobbies, clubs or civic involvement.) We are more secular (I am a good example of this modern type, being unaffiliated with religion) and do not have room in our lives for community groups. Thus, our kids have lost the extra buffer they might receive through their religious congregations or through their dad's Kiwanis Club membership or their mom's pull with the local PTA. Only the wealthy can afford the luxury of time to commit to these organizations. And many of the groups that enjoyed vibrant mid century membership are withering away today. I am fifty and, therefore, have been around for awhile. I have seen a sea change in the way we live now as opposed to the pace of the life I lead in the 1970s as a kid. It concerns me greatly to raise my own daughter in this colder, more impersonal, more competitive and less compassionate world. Reading this book didn't really give me a lot of hope...but it did bolster some of my own feelings about areas where we have steered wildly off course as a society. I fear only time, innovation, and new solutions to continuing problems will bring positive change. I realize that my own generation, as a rule, lacks the drive and the vision to make the necessary changes and adjustments to the way we do things to provide a better world for Our Kids. We are mired in our nostalgia for 'the way things used to be/or perhaps only existed in our hazy daydreams'. It will be up to Our Kids, in the end, to decide that they must take the reins and change things for themselves and for the future.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ivan

    A good sociological foundation, along with Putnam’s ‘Bowling Alone,’ for recent analysis on our decline in social capital. While not a classic research project (it’s more anecdotal), the picture it paints about the divide in this country is heartbreaking and increasingly accurate. I picked this book up after reading this from Ben Sasse: ‘I’ve been aching over Robert Putnam’s “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis” for two years straight. It was widely praised, but still not enough. We ought to be A good sociological foundation, along with Putnam’s ‘Bowling Alone,’ for recent analysis on our decline in social capital. While not a classic research project (it’s more anecdotal), the picture it paints about the divide in this country is heartbreaking and increasingly accurate. I picked this book up after reading this from Ben Sasse: ‘I’ve been aching over Robert Putnam’s “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis” for two years straight. It was widely praised, but still not enough. We ought to be talking constantly about the troubling data Professor Putnam has uncovered. There really are “two different Americas,” but not in the way the phrase lingers in our ears because of how John Edwards’s presidential campaign in 2004 branded the 1 percent and the 99 percent. Putnam shows that the troubling resurgence of socioeconomic class in America centers primarily around the divide between the mobile educated elite (31 percent of our neighbors, according to Putnam) and the majority of America — the 69 percent of kids he says are born into a house with no college graduates. These children have collapsing family structures, decreasing socioeconomic mobility and rapidly thinning networks of kith and kin. I like J. D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy,” but Putnam’s work is, I think, the big backdrop for understanding the vicious cycle of how declining economic opportunities for the non-educationally credentialed and family and neighborhood collapse are becoming mutually reinforcing for broad swaths of America.’

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bri (girlwithabookblog.com)

    For more reviews visit, http://girlwithabookblog.wordpress.com A lot of press have published very enthusiastic and positive reviews about Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert D. Putnam, but as someone who works in the education field, has a background in family, youth, and educational sociology, and is a frequent reader of nonfiction, I must strongly disagree with the bubble of positivity surrounding this book. The book covers what the author believes to be the disintegration of the “ For more reviews visit, http://girlwithabookblog.wordpress.com A lot of press have published very enthusiastic and positive reviews about Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert D. Putnam, but as someone who works in the education field, has a background in family, youth, and educational sociology, and is a frequent reader of nonfiction, I must strongly disagree with the bubble of positivity surrounding this book. The book covers what the author believes to be the disintegration of the “American dream” which, for the purposes of the book, is essentially the belief that individuals can achieve upward social and economic mobility through increased educational attainment. Everything covered in the book isn’t new to anyone that works in education or is in tune with social inequality in anyway. I concede that this book is likely not meant for people who are already interested in and informed of these topics, but is rather meant to serve as an introduction to the general public of the troubling conditions that surround young people who are trying to advance themselves within society. However, the tone that Putnam adopts within his book is incredibly condescending. Within the work, he highlights the different life and education experiences that typically occur for youth in different economic classes, ranging from upper-middle class families to those who are living below the poverty line. I’m happy that Putnam (or rather his graduate student, Jennifer Silva, who actually conducted all of the interviews detailed in the book) included a range of representations of what it’s like to grow up in America today in comparison to what his and his high school classmates’ lives were like in 1959 in his hometown of Port Clinton, Ohio. However, what really irked me is when the author would write calls to action with an air of assumption that anyone reading the book helms from something above a working class background. When this happened, it seemed to me like Putnam sometimes lost sense of the humanity of the populations that he doesn't personally identify as and assumed that anyone reading his book would be of the same social social class as him. Because of this, I felt like the calls to action were particularly alienating. The main argument Putnam makes throughout the book is that class influences a child's success in the American schooling system and subsequent career and education trajectory more than race does. While I agree that class is incredibly influential on these outcomes, race can also greatly impact how children are treated by their peers, community, and educators, and this cannot be brushed aside as easily as Putnam makes it seem. I wish Putnam had spent more time digging into how the intersection of race and class can impact certain children, but he seemed to cherry pick stories that supported his main thesis instead of looking to include a representation of different experiences. Aforementioned alienation aside, I guess Our Kids can serve as a good introduction to how social and education inequality affects young people for a reader who is completely new to these topics. If you decide to read this, please realize that Putnam’s tone can be incredibly condescending at times and this subsequently impacts how he details the experiences of all of the study participants who were interviewed. I partly think he did this in order to enact a larger call to action and a greater sense of shared responsibility with the assumed (upper-middle class) audience who is reading the book, but it fell flat for me. Below, I've included two quotes that I found particularly troubling in order to provide examples of why this book rubbed me the wrong way. They are only included in this review because I feel like they can help potential readers decide whether or not this is a book they would like to read. When describing how a poorer individual relates to his parents’ political ideologies, Putnam states, “David lives in a chaotic family situation with no role models at all for political or civic engagement, so our questions about those topics elicited a puzzled stare and a brief response, as though we had asked about Mozart or foxhunting.” “But most readers of this book do not face the same plight, nor does its author, nor do our own biological kids. Because of growing class segregation in America, fewer and fewer successful people (and even fewer of our children) have much idea how the other half lives. So we are less empathetic than we should be to the plight of less privileged kids.”

  22. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    I always enjoy reading sociology for no other reason than the vocabulary. Sociologists can't say anything in simple English. It's all "benevolent stability" and "collective efficacy" and things like that. You have to love it. I have a soft place in my heart for the social sciences, and Robert Putnam is a true master. His book Bowling Alone (which I managed to read while working full-time and going to graduate school full-time) was an eye-opening look at the unravelling of community in America ov I always enjoy reading sociology for no other reason than the vocabulary. Sociologists can't say anything in simple English. It's all "benevolent stability" and "collective efficacy" and things like that. You have to love it. I have a soft place in my heart for the social sciences, and Robert Putnam is a true master. His book Bowling Alone (which I managed to read while working full-time and going to graduate school full-time) was an eye-opening look at the unravelling of community in America over the past forty years. This one is about the unravelling of childhood. Basically, Mr. Putnam uses a LOT of statistics to show that socioeconomic mobility is influenced by things like family stability, residential segregation, school quality, community cohesiveness, and income inequality (pg. 228), and that that these indicators are increasingly being represented by a 'scissor graph' where people in lower and higher income brackets are diverging away from each other. Charles Murray covered a lot of this same material in his magisterial Coming Apart: The State of White America a few years back, and while both authors are worlds apart politically, they both would agree that changes in America's social fabric are resulting in very bad outcomes for children. What's the cause? Well, first, the thirty years after World War II were a time of unprecedented growth and prosperity. Upward social and economic mobility, fewer 'class' distinctions, greater intergenerational mobility...good times. Now? Not so much. The cause of all this is the perennial chicken-or-the-egg question: does something like family breakdown lead to poorer economic outcomes, or do poor economic outcomes lead to family breakdown? Are character traits determinants of life outcomes, or do life outcomes determine character? There will never be an objective answer. Suffice it to say that the children of the poor and lower classes in America are doing stunningly poorly while the children of the wealthy and educated are doing very well. There is less and less overlap between the two groups (or quintiles, or classes, however you wan to slice and dice it). Mass incarceration, epidemic drug and alcohol abuse, 'voluntary' fatherhood, the loss of manufacturing, single-parent households, and on and on and on. Point is: if you are born poor, with all that poverty entails, your chances of being successful in life are much lower than if you are born middle class, upper middle class, or affluent. That was not always the case, but now it's much more likely that 'it all depends on where you start', as the great poet Everclear tells us. I have not quite finished the book; I have one last chapter left, but I imagine that the author--a professor at Harvard University--will call for taxes and spending and federal programs to alleviate all of this unpleasantness. Anecdotally, I see just what the author is referring to every day at my job: the minority child who lives with his single mother in a housing project struggles much harder than does the white child of two married, college educated parents who lives in a single family home on a tree-lined street. Putnam's point is, it's now much less likely that these two children will go to school together, or be friends, and that there is a cost associated with that change. Incidentally, the egg came first. Only thing that makes sense, but you have to understand evolution. Most people don't.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jenni Link

    When I read 'Bowling Alone' years ago, it made a big impression on me. I was looking forward to this book - despite the depressing theme - both because of the previous one, and because I now work with a lot of young adults who are dealing with challenges that I could only imagine at their ages. There is a lot of powerful information here. The fact that surprised me most was that when you look at the academic achievement / cognitive development gap between kids whose parents went no farther than When I read 'Bowling Alone' years ago, it made a big impression on me. I was looking forward to this book - despite the depressing theme - both because of the previous one, and because I now work with a lot of young adults who are dealing with challenges that I could only imagine at their ages. There is a lot of powerful information here. The fact that surprised me most was that when you look at the academic achievement / cognitive development gap between kids whose parents went no farther than high school and kids with at least one college-educated parent, the size of the gap is about the same at age 18 as it was at age 6. In other words, school has a negligible effect on that gap, even though richer kids typically go to much better schools. Almost everything comes down to your family and its connections: your parents' education and income, marriage stability, the safety of your neighborhood, your parents' social ties, church and club memberships, and so on. As income inequality grows, therefore, social mobility declines. The dragging ropes of low incomes, high-crime neighborhoods, divorce, etc. produce a nearly-inescapable web of dysfunction. Meanwhile, the ease allowed by high incomes, safe neighborhoods, reliable relationships, etc. allow the wealthy to smooth their children's paths so that they're almost guaranteed to succeed (if I may mix my metaphors). So far, so convincing. However, I thought Dr. Putnam lapsed into "in my day, people were decent" nostalgia at times, acknowledging in passing that women and minorities may have had it harder then but still considering the 50s to be "the good old days." I've seen this widely reviewed, and I think reading a thorough review of the book will probably give you as much as reading the whole book.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Catawsumb

    Spoiler: American society is highly unequal and becoming more so. As usual, Putnam does a masterful job of summarizing social science research while integrating vivid portraits of the human lives behind the numbers. Chapter by chapter, he breaks down the sources of inequality, widening out from family structure to parenting practices to schools to communities. His overall theme is the increased focus of better off families on doing everything possible to maximize the competitive advantage of the Spoiler: American society is highly unequal and becoming more so. As usual, Putnam does a masterful job of summarizing social science research while integrating vivid portraits of the human lives behind the numbers. Chapter by chapter, he breaks down the sources of inequality, widening out from family structure to parenting practices to schools to communities. His overall theme is the increased focus of better off families on doing everything possible to maximize the competitive advantage of their kids, coupled with a drastic decrease in a sense of broader responsibility for kids who are not our own. His motif is the "scissor chart": dozens of data-based examples of factors where the gaps in access and outcomes between classes are widening over time, even in simple things like participation in extracurricular activities. This book helped me more than anything else I have read to understand the feeling of hopelessness and exclusion that is manifesting as anger in our politics. It is impossible to read this book and believe that the game is not rigged. He does offer a set of policy recommendations at the end which would begin to decrease inequality of opportunity, but I can't say I am optimistic about many of them coming to pass in the current climate.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Barbie Tew

    If our kids are in trouble—my kids, our kids, anyone’s kids—we all have a responsibility to look after them.”71 In today’s America, not only is Ash right, but even those among us who think like Emerson should acknowledge our responsibility to these children. For America’s poor kids do belong to us and we to them. They are our kids. That was the last line of the book. I liked the interviews with people from different backgrounds and the statistics to support how much a divide there is between kids If our kids are in trouble—my kids, our kids, anyone’s kids—we all have a responsibility to look after them.”71 In today’s America, not only is Ash right, but even those among us who think like Emerson should acknowledge our responsibility to these children. For America’s poor kids do belong to us and we to them. They are our kids. That was the last line of the book. I liked the interviews with people from different backgrounds and the statistics to support how much a divide there is between kids living in poverty and those who live in more stable economic conditions. I wish there had been more action points besides asking the superintendent of your school district to stop the pay-to-play policy. I think more can be done at the local level to support families with the tools they need to help their children succeed.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Brady

    Did not finish...although interesting from a sociological point of view about the effects of parenting, finance, and education among several different time frames and places...Port Clinton, Ohio for one. Also Atlanta, Georgia, etc. What a shame there is so much disparity! #huronreader

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ramille

    Meh. It's so hard to read non-fiction books you're not interested in. Well-researched, well written, and easy to understand. But it was very repetitive, very sentimental and anecdotal, painting an idyllic picture of the 1950s. Meh.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ms. C

    There isn't anything new here, if you're a reasonably aware person, but the information is presented well. Should be required reading for all Republicans - not that I know any.

  29. 4 out of 5

    SJ Loria

    Opportunity versus income equality, the books main ideas and why this matters (but I'll start with the why, then jump back) Why: This book is a wake up call. If we want to preserve the things that we love about our country we need to make changes, quickly. This plays to our strengths, as innovation is as American in apple pie, but also to weakness of the human condition - it's always possible to ignore looming issue (the climate change debate is a slight parallel). The silver lining in the storm Opportunity versus income equality, the books main ideas and why this matters (but I'll start with the why, then jump back) Why: This book is a wake up call. If we want to preserve the things that we love about our country we need to make changes, quickly. This plays to our strengths, as innovation is as American in apple pie, but also to weakness of the human condition - it's always possible to ignore looming issue (the climate change debate is a slight parallel). The silver lining in the stormy cloud is it's possible to emerge even stronger if we approach this problem strategically and have an all hands on deck approach. Consider this. In the era of choice and plurality, you will be hard pressed to find something that 95% of Americans agree on. 95% of Americans believe in the principle of the American Dream "about 95% of us endorse the principle that 'everyone in America should have equal opportunity to get ahead.'" or in essence, if you work hard and excel in school you will have the opportunity to climb the ladder. So we have ideological common ground. Good. How far the gulf between belief and reality. Dostoevsky wrote that "love in action is a harsh thing compared to love in dreams," the same could be said of abstractions such as opportunity and dreams. It's far more difficult to actualize them than conjure them. Through a systemic analysis of data, supplemented by jarring maps, graphs, and powerful anecdotal stories, Robert Putnam shows that the American Dream is in crisis, and urges action before it is too late. The main idea in this book is that since the 1950s gender inequality has decreased significantly, racial inequality has decreased substantially, but class inequality has increased to levels unprecedented. If they continue, and if we do nothing to reverse the trends it has created, the fabric of our society and the economic security we enjoy could be jeopardized. We are seeing a scissorizing of outcomes across almost any measure of well being, and two distinctly different Americas emerge as a middle class vanishes. It is closer to a Latin American Dream than we would like to admit. Here's an important caveat that the author makes early on. Inequality is a debate that is widespread, and typically falls into one of two categories - income or opportunity. Putnam address opportunity, and I think that's key. It's very politically charged to talk about income equality, redistribution, etc. I think that debate quickly devolves into partisan bickering and not much in terms of solutions. But if you're talking about "opportunity" it's a purple issue, an issue people agree on, people agree that opportunity should be widespread. There's common ground here, along with the added bonus that opportunity is free, and that systemic tinkering can make it much more possible and effective. How did we get here? With such a large scale problem, it's hard to find one reason why this is happening. Putnam organizes the main issues into the topics of family, community, and schools. The factors contributing to the emergence of two distinct Americas are lumped into these main categories. Families you see the emergence of the "neo-traditional" model (two working, professional class parents, stable adult relationships, a lot of income devoted to child rearing) versus the kaleidoscope of the working class (the web of half siblings, out of wedlock births, unstable and impermanent adult relationships, grandparents raising children). This manifests itself in the kind of time that people spend with their kids, even verbal parenting models that balance discouragments versus discouraging statements. Here's a photo of that: https://twitter.com/TeacherMrLoria/st... The school chapter is interesting but a bit disappointing. After stating that the most effective use of resources are in preK and college time periods, Putnam focuses on the K12 which as statistics and my own experiences can attest to are horrific. He's heavy on the causes, and light on the solutions when it comes to education. The best teachers are not going to agree to work in the lowest performing schools, that's unrealistic. And what can be done to improve college outcomes for the most promising students? (The Extraordinary Institute, coming soon). My main issue with this book is that it does illustrate the extent of the problem, but it doesn't offer much of a comprehensive roadmap moving forward. There are vague generalities (it will be expensive) but few concrete do this now ideas. But maybe this book is an invitation to start ideas. It provides a broad overview, and broad suggestions as to how to help, but it is specific on when to start - now. Another important point. When we discuss opportunity in America, our demographics demand that the conversation no longer be just black and white. The Hispanic population (which lags black populations with academic achievement and economic success) currently stands at above 10% nationwide and are the fastest growing segment of the population (in particular in the Soutwest and West coast). 45% of California's elementary school students are Hispanic. When Putnam started his academic research, it was entirely possible to talk about just whites and blacks in this country. That time is no longer, now is the time to expand the debate. Too little of the Hispanic perspective is considered in this book. Overall, a powerful, informative read. Highly recommended. Quotes "Equal numbers of men and women of the class of 1959 went off to college, but 88 percent of the men got a degree compared to 22 percent of the women! In short, no gender winnowing at all until college, and then extreme gender winnowing." 12 "Inequality in the United States increasingly operates through education - a scare resource in our knowledge based economy and a measure that is closely correlated with parental socioeconomic status. Gender inequality, very high in the 1950s, has fallen sharply...progress on racial difference has been less encouraging...in modern America one barrier would loom much larger than it did back then: class origins." 19 We are less divided about the desirability of upwards mobility without regard to family origins. About 95% of us endorse the principle that "everyone in America should have equal opportunity to get ahead," a broad consensus that has hardly wavered since opinion surveys began more than half a century ago. 32 The gap between rich and poor is reflected in many other measures of well-being, including wealth, happiness, and even life expectancy. 36 Less discussed than the growing gaps between affluent and impoverished Americans, but equally insidious, is the fact that the ballooning economic gap has been accompanied by growing de facto segregation of Americans along class lines...fewer and fewer of us are exposed in our daily lives to people outside our own socioeconomic niche. 37 A society might have both high absolute mobility (a rising tide lifting all boats) and high relative mobility (dinghies doing ever better than yachts). My classmates in the 1950s and 1960s benefited from exactly that happy state of affairs...the underlying issue raised in this book is whether by contrast, American youth have the worst of both worlds - low absolute mobility and low relative mobility. 42 Kayla's (low-income teen) hopes for the future, unlike Andrew's, are disconnected from any realistic plan of action in the here and now...she has a lot to worry about...she has no stable, trustworthy adults in her life. 60 Two-tier pattern of family structure...In the college-educated, upper third of American society, a "neo-traditional" marriage pattern has emerged. It mirrors the 1950s family in many respects, except that both partners now typically work outside of the home, they delay marriage and childbearing until their careers are under way, they divide domestic duties more evenly...they have become nearly as durable as the 1950s model, as divorce rates among the upper third have retreated from the peaks of the 1970s...In the high-school educated, lower third of the population, by contract, a new, more kaleidoscopic pattern began to emerge in which childbearing became increasingly disconnected from marriage, and sexual partnerships became less durable..."fragile families." 63 The racial gap within classes has narrowed, while the class gap within races has widened. 66 By 2000 the ratio of divorced to married people was nearly twice as great among high-school-educated Americans (roughly 24 per 100) as among college graduates (14 per 100), and by 2008-2010 the gap had grown further (roughly 28 per 100 to 14 per 100). 67 All these changes in family structure have produced a massive, class-biased decline in the number of children raised in two-parent families during the past half century of so. 69 The growth of unplanned pregnancies and non-marital births that I have described is concentrated among women aged 25-34. 70 Economics is certainly a very important part of the story. "The wages of men without college degrees have fallen since the early 1970s," the demographer Andrew J. Cherlin reports, "and the wages of women without college degrees have failed to grow."...unemployment, underemployment, and poor economic prospects discourage and undermine stable relationships - that is the nearly universal finding of many studies, both qualitative and quantitative. 73 Motherhood, by contract, is open to all women, married or not; it doesn't immediately require abundant resources, and it offers meaning to their lives. Like Darleen, they often believe that mother basically involes "being there." On the basis of long-term ethnographic evidence from poor single mothers, both urban and rural, Linda Burton concludes that "moms in this context seek romance over marriage as a respite from their everyday poverty and uncertainty." 74 There was a set of policy choices in the 1980s that probably did contribute to family breakdown: the War on Drugs, "three strikes" sentencing, and the sharp increase in incarceration...this period of exploding incarceration is precisely the period in which single-parent families became more and more common in the less educated, lower-income stratum of the population. Correlation does not prove causation, of course, but mass incarceration has certainly removed a very large number of young fathers from poor neighborhoods, and the effects of their absence, on white and nonwhite kids alike, are known to be traumatic, leaving long-lasting scars...parental incarceration (independent of other facts about a child's background like the parents' education and income and race) is a strong predictor of bad educational outcomes. 77 Children pay the cost of early childbearing and multi-partnered fertility in the form of diminished prospects for success in life. 78 As family specialist Isabel Sawhill says, "generalizations are dangerous; many single parents are doing a terrific job under difficult circumstances. But on average, children from single-parent families do worse in school and in life. 79 Atlanta has more black college graduates and more concentrated black poverty than any of the other ten largest metropolitan areas in America. 82 Given limited resources and a challenging environment, strong parental commitment and tough love is sometimes not enough. 100 Children who experience severe or chronic stress during[ages 3 - 5]...are more likely to have impaired executive functioning. This, in turn, leaves them less able to solve problems, cope with adversity, and organize their lives. One important implication of this research is that skills acquired early in childhood are foundational and make later learning more efficient. 111 Intellectual and socioemotional development are inextricably intertwined from an early age. Research has shown that so-called noncognitive skills (grit, social sensitivity, optimism, self-control, conscientiousness, emotional stability) are very important for life success. They can lead to greater physical health, school success, college enrollment, employment, and lifetime earnings, and can lead people out of trouble and out of prison. These skills are at least as important as cognitive skills in predicting such measures of success, and may be even more important in our postindustrial future than in the preindustrial and industrial past. 111 Why is this class-based difference in parenting approaches - what we might term the "hug/spank ratio" - so stark and pervasive?...brain science has now shown that poor, less educated, more isolated parents are more restrictive, punitive, and harsher disciplinarians, in part because they themselves experience higher levels of chronic stress. 121 Trends in family dinners tell a revealing story. [turns out family dinners are one of the most important aspects to a cohesive family, so thank your parents if that happened] 122 The biggest increases in parental spending are concentrated in the preschool and college years: the two periods of development that we now know are especially important in determining upward mobility. 125 Rich kids get more face time, while poor kids get more screen time. 128 Under conditions of scarcity, [Mullainathan and Shafir study in the book Scarcity] the brain's ability to grasp, manage, and solve problems falters, like a computer slowed down by too many open apps, leaving us less efficient and less effective than we would be under conditions of abundance. 130 If schools are somehow implicated in class divergence, are they causes of class divergence or merely sites of class divergence? 160 Schooling - unequal as it is in America - plays only a minor role in alleviating or creating test score gaps. 162 Residential sorting by income over the last 30 to 40 years has shunted high-income and low-income students into separate schools. 163 [School choice] especially among lower-income families, the choices parents make are often not well informed and are constrained by transportation and child care problems. 164 Compared to low-income schools, schools in affluent areas are characterized by greater engagement and support from parents. 167 Involvement in extracurriculuar activities has been shown repeatedly to have measurably favorable consequences...extracurricular activities among low-income Latino students (all too rare, as the experiences of Lola and Sofia illustrate) predicts school achievement. 175 One important advantage that we shall explore in the next chapter is exposure to caring adults outside the family...but the biggest benefit of extracurricular participation seems to be what the educational reformers who invented this practice hoped it would be: soft skills and character. 176 More insidious and more widespread has been the rapid proliferation of pay-to-play policies now imposed on students in more than half of American high schools...within a few decades America's public schools have thrust the burden of extracurricular activity (and the resulting soft skills benefits) onto the family, reversing nearly a century of settled educational policy, with predictable results in terms of equity of access. 181 Schools are sites probably widen the class gap. 182 Growing [college] access by poor kids to college does not mean growing access to selective colleges and universities. Increasingly, poor kids who go on to college are concentrated in community colleges...in terms of entry into more selective institutions, which for better or worse offer the best prospects for success in America, the class gap has actually widened in recent years...by 2004, the nation's "most competitive" colleges and universities...kids from the top quartile of the socioeconomic scale outnumbered kids from the bottom quartile by about 14 to one...much of the recent growth in enrollment in postsecondary institutions by low-income students has been concentrated in the rapidly expanding for-profit sector, in such institutions as the University of Phoenix and Kaplan. In 2013 this sector attracted 13% of all full-time undergraduates, compared to 2% in 1991. These students are disproportionately from low-income backgrounds. 185 As the twenty-first century opened, a family's socioeconomic status (SES) had become even more important than test scores in predicting which eighth graders would graduate from college. A generation earlier, social class had played a smaller role, relative to academic ability, in predicting educational attainment. 189 High-scoring poor kids are now slightly less likely (29% to get a college degree than low-scoring rich kids (30%). The last fact is particularly hard to square with the idea at the heart of the American Dream: equality of opportunity. 190 Educated, affluent parents in America typically enjoy a wide rand of what sociologists call "weak ties" - that is, casual acquaintances in disparate social niches (psychiatrists, professors, business executives, friends of the family, friends of friends), and Marnie's daughters clearly benefited from such connections. By contrast, people lower in the socioeconomic hierarchy lack such useful weak ties and instead rely heavily on family and neighbors for social support. 198 Adult experiences of betrayal and abuse and dissolution parallel the neighborhood's degeneration, and Lisa and Amy have never really known anything better, as neighborhood solidarity has spiraled downward, and drugs and crime have ravaged the lives of the residents. 202 Poor kids are increasingly detached from religious institutions. 205 Studies during the past 40 years have consistently shown that, if anything, drug usage and binge drinking are more common among privileged teenagers than among their less affluent peers. What is different, however, are the family and community "airbags" that deploy to minimize the negative consequences of drugs and other misadventures among rich kids. 210 Afluent Americans use the Internet in ways that are mobility-enhancing, wheras poorer, less educated Americans typically use it in ways that are not. The same was true of books and the postage system; the point is that the Internet is not immune from that inequality in usage...at least at this point in its evolution, the Internet seems more likely to widen the opportunity gap than to close it. 212 Formal mentoring can help at-risk kids to develop healthy relationships with adults (including parents), and in turn to achieve significant gains in academic and psychosocial outcomes...these measurable effects are strongest when the mentoring relationship is long-term, and strongest for at-risk kids. 214 One consequence of the mentoring gap is to exacerbate the savvy gap that we first noticed in the previous chapter....dozens of other disadvantaged 18 and 19 year olds we met across the country are, however, replete with confusion and mystification. These kids are baffled about school practices, two and four year colleges, financial affairs, occupational opportunities, and even programs (both public and private) specifically designed to assist kids like them...these kids lack the dense networks of informal mentors that surround their upper-class counterparts. 216 Neighborhood poverty is bad for kids for many reasons, but probably the most important is that social cohesion and informal social control, based on cooperation among neighbors - what sociologists, following Sampson, term "collective efficacy" - are lower in poor neighborhoods. 218 Writing off such a large fraction of our youth is an awfully expensive course of inaction...if we begin to close the opportunity gap, these kids could become not a drag on our economy but contributors, as they wish to be. 233 To ignore these kids violates our deepest religious and moral values...the

  30. 4 out of 5

    stormin

    I had to race through this book because I bought it on Sunday afternoon and wanted to finish it before seeing a lecture by the author, Bob Putnam, on Monday afternoon. The book's main points are pretty easy to follow, however, and so I don't think I missed much in rushing. First major point: there really is a major change in equality of opportunity between kids raised in the 1950s and kids raised today. Lots of things play a role in this, particularly the way that the rich are clustering together I had to race through this book because I bought it on Sunday afternoon and wanted to finish it before seeing a lecture by the author, Bob Putnam, on Monday afternoon. The book's main points are pretty easy to follow, however, and so I don't think I missed much in rushing. First major point: there really is a major change in equality of opportunity between kids raised in the 1950s and kids raised today. Lots of things play a role in this, particularly the way that the rich are clustering together (literally, in terms of neighborhoods and schools, as well as metaphorically in terms of their attitudes towards child raising) while the poor across the nation are falling victim to a variety of social pathologies, especially broken families. Second major point: there's not much we can do about this, from a policy standpoint. This is my take, rather than Putnam's take. The reality is that the dysfunction is primarily social. There are economic aspects: the dearth of broad-based manufacturing employment, for example. There are also policy aspects: the War on Drugs had a really negative impact on poor communities. But the reality is that the economic hardship of the depression didn't lead to the same catastrophic collapses as we see today, and that the War on Drugs is only bad because it compounds the crisis in the family. Putnam writes that, "Unlike today, desperately poor, jobless men in the 1930s did not have kids outside of marriage whom they then largely ignored. Today the role of father has become more voluntary..." So the root cause has to do with social shifts, like the perception that fatherhood is voluntary. That, in turn, is a direct result of the Sexual Revolution. Once we separated sex from pregnancy the rest of the dominoes, like separating pregnancy from marriage and fathering children from being a father, started to fall as well. Now, if the root cause is social, then how are we supposed to solve it with policy fixes? In a word: we can't. That doesn't mean there's nothing we can do. Putnam mentions some of my very favorite policies--like the Earned Income Tax Credit--and I absolutely believe that we should be using those policies more. I'm not saying, "Oh, well, nothing to do. Let's watch it burn." But I am saying there's a tragic undercurrent, which is that the economic and policy mistakes that augmented the crisis of opportunity were marginal to the real problem, and so as solutions they have little hope but being more of the same: marginal. We do not know what a vibrant, egalitarian (opportunity) society looks like without a thriving network of families because such a thing has never existed. None of the research in this book gives us any reason to suppose it can exist (not that that was the research's primary focus, of course). Lastly, Putnam emphasized again and again another depressing truth. Just as we're at a time when we as a society have become hyper-conscious of race, it seems that race matters less and less compared to class. If you're of the suspicious bent, you might even be tempted to think that the convenient rise of universal race-consciousness (along with other forms of identity) at just the time when class is becoming the dominant factor in American life is awfully convenient from those who benefit from the class-divide. I don't think there's any conspiracy happening at all. It's just a convolution of factors. The biggest one, is that it's much, much more palatable for socially-conscious rich people to see inequality in terms of race (regardless of their own race) because it obscures the most potent transmission mechanisms for their own power and prestige, thus allowing them to continue to use those mechanisms (e.g. elite colleges, insular neighborhoods) to pass their advantages onto their children guilt-free. So here we are, at a time when race-based gaps are shrinking and class-based gaps within the races are growing, and all we want to talk about is race. This is another reason, combined with the inability of policy solutions to fully mitigate social problems, that my take on the book is probably much more pessimistic than what Putnam intended.

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