In coming posts, I’ll examine more of Our Kids in digestible chunks, offer critique, and attempt to expound upon connections I see to education and schooling, education reform, and my own experiences. I see this book as central to understanding contemporary exigencies regarding education policy and essential to building and actualizing an egalitarian social justice agenda.
Chapter One: “The American Dream: Myths and Realities”
Robert Putman’s Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis begins in epigraph with a line from a Chrissie Hynde *song*: “I went back to Ohio, but my city was gone.” Putnam his team of researchers visited with residents or one-time residents of Putnam’s childhood hometown, Port Clinton, Ohio, in attempts to see how opportunities had changed for its young people over time. In the 1950s, Putman says, “My hometown was… a passable embodiment of the American Dream” (1). Research suggests, he says, that the 1950s were boom times for those seeking socioeconomic upward mobility, even for those in marginalized groups.
But times have changed. Amid profiling several residents who were able to take advantages of the economic affordances of yesteryear and contrasting them with more-recent residents of the city in a county “once among the most egalitarian in the country,” Putnam posits his claim: We are experiencing a “nationwide increase in class inequity….[T]he class-based opportunity gap among young people has widened in recent decades” (19).
Today, young people in poverty are “in much worse shape” (29) than their well-off counterparts, Putman asserts. The confounding complication is not that rich families are able to pull ever-ahead so much as it is that poorer families are falling further behind. For any number of reasons, if bootstrapping is a sort of race, we have some running it with jet packs and roller skates while others, despite their best efforts, walk backwards.
|Despite efforts to the contrary, poor Americans are moving further away from economic stability and upward mobility as their more affluent counterparts move ever forward and away from them.|
Rugged individualism and a belief that through hard work and enterprise one can accomplish great things, aspects of the “rags to riches” narrative, are so ingrained in the American psyche that a shrinking empathy might accompany the growing opportunity gap as people on one economic strata see less of people in others. Americans may be so sure that socioeconomic upwards mobility is such a reality that they feel those who do not obtain it have only themselves to blame (33).
As someone who grew up in a working class family which always seemed one step away from financial disaster but who was able to become the first member of his family to attend college and who, briefly, was able to live a specter of a middle class lifestyle before falling back into the one-step-from-ruination status so many of us experience currently, I connect with much in Putnam’s assertions and accounts.
Indeed, often I remark to people when I travel that “I left my small town to see the big wide world, but I did so at a time the big wide world was becoming more like my small town.” By this I mean many things, but among them are parallels to Our Kids’ introductory points.
In coming posts, I’ll examine more of Our Kids in digestible chunks, offer critique, and attempt to expound upon connections I see to education and schooling, education reform, and my own experiences.
Next time: "Conflating Equalities"