“Our Kids” by Robert Putnam, 2015

The New York Review of Books published a review of the new book of Robert Putnam “Our Kids”. This book is about where America is going in terms of the “morality” of life — increasing divorce rates, children born out of the wedlock and an overall decreasing happiness trend.

He traces this all back to the question of social capital. Just to note for those who do not know, Robert Putnam is the author of the book “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital” from 2000 (and an earlier essay from 1995), which made him famous beyond academia and proved a policy hit in the Clinton era. His essential thesis in that book was that the social institutions which made America America, and were noted since the times of Tocqueville, were eroding; such as social clubs, societies, grassroots institutions, sports and the like.

In the new book, attention is paid to education as the key factor in making sure that all have an equal opportunity to succeed. The New York Review of Books article and the book by Putnam are interesting to read — so I just recommend to have a look there. And for me, there were two noteworthy moments in the article really, one about the ‘American dream”, and another about the role of education in changing lives. So, the original quote from a historian Adams in 1931 denotes the birth of the “American Dream” as a phrase,

a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

As the article also discusses the key role of education in eliminating the inequalities and giving equal opportunities to all Americans. But having said that, there is also an interesting caveat that there is so much we can do in education:

One problem with this idea, appealing as it is, is that one of the most consistent findings in education research is that students’ performance in school is far more closely correlated with what kind of home they come from—parental income, education, marital status, how they make use of time, and so on—than with anything that goes on in their school. That isn’t to say that schools can’t make a contribution to equal opportunity, but it has to be understood as commanding only a limited territory.

For more, please read the article and the book.


Assistant Professor at International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), The Hague, The Netherlands

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