Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Closing Opportunity Gap in America. Making all kids, "Our Kids"

This morning I had the opportunity to join with other civic leaders in Chicago to hear Robert Putnam talk about his new book "Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis". I had read the book on my Kindle prior to attending, but was pleased to receive a free copy of the book. I've already highlighted a number of passages that emphasize how important it is that we find ways to provide greater opportunity for kids now living in poverty.

The book, and Dr. Putnam's talk, provided a wide range of statistics and charts to show a growing "opportunity" gap between kids born to affluent parents, and living in affluent communities, and those born to parents living in poverty areas around the country. He said, and I agree, that "everyone should be concerned".

"The destiny of poor kids in America has broad implications for our economy, our democracy, and our values." (page 230 of "Our Kids).

What I want to focus on are "what to do" about it.

Putnam posted several suggestions in the final chapter of his book, and repeated them today. One was "invest in well organized mentoring" programs. However, I'd like to see more of a road map. How do we get to where we are today to a future when this opportunity gap has been significantly diminished.

This graphic was created by an intern, to illustrate the learning steps I have recommended in the past, in response to news stories about violence in Chicago. The same steps apply to closing the opportunity gap, too. Visit this page to see the animation, and the learning steps I recommend.

This is one of several graphics I've created to illustrate a four part strategy that expands the number of people who read and reflect on books like "Our Kids" and then supply time, talent and treasure to support youth mentoring and learning programs in high poverty areas. Read this article to see how a strategy is part of "getting from here to there".

In offering solutions, Putnam said "Surround them (poor kids) with responsible, caring adults that will help them through life." This graphic is a model of what that statement means to me. A well-organized tutor/mentor program has a diversity of volunteers involved over a period of many years. When you begin to investigate mentoring, look at this "shoppers guide" for ideas of what you should look for on an organization's web site. Don't just rely on the "brand name" to assure you that a program is meeting Putnam's goal.

Throughout the book, Putnam emphasized that this is a growing problem, that will only get worse if we don't begin to do something now. It reminded me of this image. Over the 40 years that I've been involved in leading a tutor/mentor program, and the Tutor/Mentor Connection, I've often been told how impossible the task I've embraced will be. Putnam said something similar today.

When I've been given that response, I tell this story. Imagine a snowball rolling from the top of a mountain, down toward the valley. As it grows it collects more snow, ice and rock, and gets bigger. Unless something stops it, it will eventually demolish every home in the valley.

The snowball is the problem of inequality
, and the challenges of getting millions of people from beyond poverty personally engaged in helping kids born or living in poverty have the opportunities they need to climb the ladder of social mobility. In his book Putnam talks about economic costs of doing nothing. He also talks of a potential cost to our democracy. He writes "Without succumbing to political nightmares, we might ponder whether the bleak, socially estranged future facing poor kids in Americ today could have unanticipated political consequences tomorrow."

As in the case of the snowball rolling down hill, there are really only two choices. We can ignore it, and ultimately be destroyed. Or we can get in front, and try to stop it. If we're the first, or the only ones, to stand up to the snowball, our chances of success are slim. However, if others join us, our chances grow.

Those are the only two choices we have.

What can you do?

Become a network builder.
Tweet this. Re-tweet my @tutormentorteam articles. Like me on Facebook. Do this every day.

Reach out to tutor/mentor programs in your city.
Look at the list of Chicago your organizations that I share in this link. Visit their web sites and get to know what they do and how they differ. Adopt one, or more. Find their social media pages, Twitter feeds, blog articles, etc. and start forwarding them to people you know.

Dedicate time to learning. Start by following the links in this article, to other articles, and spend time learning from the articles I've posted for the past 9 years. In this article I talk about super heroes, West Point, and leadership.

Then, create a version of this strategy map, and put it on your web site, to show your own commitment to helping kids in poverty move up the ladder to jobs and careers. If you know Robert Putnam, maybe you can share this with him, and help put it on his web site, too.

Finally, become a sponsor, benefactor and/or partner of the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC. I've been doing this work for over 40 years, partly as a volunteer, partly as leader of a non-profit, and how as a one-man crusade. If just one person who reads "Our kids" recognizes that I've been preaching this message for over 20 years and that they have the ability to help me continue for the next 20 years, then my ideas will reach more people and help communities across the country map a plan that gets them "from here to there".


Tutor Mentor Connections said...

Here's a Brookings.edu article showing the how stress impacts poor people differently than rich people. http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/social-mobility-memos/posts/2016/02/10-rich-have-better-stress-than-poor-graham?

Tutor Mentor Connections said...

Who ever is next President, need to focus on economic development in high poverty areas of the country. See article at http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/economy-budget/290974-community-development-can-help-close-the-opportunity

Tutor Mentor Connections said...

Here's a 2016 CityLab report showing the decline in the American middle class. http://www.citylab.com/work/2016/11/the-geography-of-middle-class-decline/505769/