Thursday, May 05, 2016

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis - follow up to Putnam talk in Chicago

Dr. Robert Putnam was in Chicago again last week to talk about his book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, and to  point people to a new publication titled, The Opportunity Gap, which contains the ideas of many deep thinkers who were gathered over the past year by Dr.  Putnam and The Saguaro Seminar, which he leads at Harvard  University.

I heard Dr. Putnam speak in Chicago a couple times in early 2015 and wrote a series of blog articles, starting with this one

I have been using maps since 1993 to focus attention on all the places in Chicago where poverty creates unequal opportunities for the American Dream so the case made in Dr. Putnam's book is nothing new to me.  

I spent time in the past week reading through The Opportunity Gap, to see what ideas were being suggested for closing the gap.  It's over 70 pages of text with lots of ideas.  My first thought was "Who's going to read this?"

A few years ago I read a book titled "Uncharitable" by Dan Pallotta, which challenges the way non profits are funded and offers suggestions of different paths. I spent some time creating a concept map, to outline chapters in the book, hoping people would use this as a study guide. I also wrote a series of blog articles, applying these ideas to the youth tutor/mentor sector, which I feel is a strategy that should be considered not just for the impact well-organized tutor/mentor programs can have on kids, but on how they might involve more adults. After his TED talk, I updated the concept map to point to places where people were talking about his ideas. 

I sent an introduction to The Saguaro Seminar, and posted a message on Dr. Putnam's Facebook page, encouraging them to do the same to help people dig through the book and the ideas in The Opportunity Gap white paper.

Then, I went ahead and created a concept map, that I'm showing below.

This map is a starting point, that people at Harvard, or any other university, high school and/or civic organization, could use to build their own study guide as part of an on-going effort to get more people involved in actions that make opportunities available to k-12 youth and families now living in the high poverty places that Putnam and others describe in their writing and research.

On the left side of the map I focus on the book, and the white paper. I don't know of a place that I could point to with links to specific chapters, but someone else could provide this. 

On the right site of the map I point to sections of my own web library, with links to hundreds of other web sites with information that learners should look at, including information about challenges facing non profits who we're asking to do much of the work.  I also show examples of data maps, and of ways maps and network analysis could be used to show who is joining in this effort.

One of the organizations I point to is the Community Commons web site, which is a resource many could use, and a model of telling map stories and focusing attention on others,  that I feel many could duplicate.  They create maps such as the one at the left, showing faith groups in the Chicago region.  And they create map stories, such as this, showing how leaders in the St. Louis area are responding to the 2014 Ferguson riots. 

I dug a bit deeper into this story, and took a look at the web site of For The Sake of All, which is a  multi-disciplinary project focused on the health and well-being of African Americans in St. Louis.  I really like the ways that they are breaking down segments of their report and featuring them on the web site.  I think others could duplicate this to help learners dig deeper into their own publications.

On pages 56 and 56 of The Opportunity Gap, I found this message:

Page 51

We agreed that any policy agenda designed to reduce segregation and its consequences should begin with several principles.

First, it must be place conscious. Community experts have long debated whether to invest in places or the people within them. We argue for a place-conscious approach that recognizes how inequality is organized along spatial lines, and includes investments both in places and the people within them.6

Second, the policy agenda must consider both structure and choice.7 To close the opportunity gap for children, we must reduce structural barriers that shape neighborhood inequality and block their success while encouraging individuals to make choices that will facilitate their own mobility.

Third, a community agenda must include multi-level and cross-sectoral interventions. Confronting the decline of communities requires policy from multiple sectors operating at multiple levels, from the nonprofit and private sectors to local, state, and national government.8

Fourth, dosage matters. Over the past several decades many exciting community-rebuilding policies have been diluted in the political process or abandoned before they could realistically transform communities.9 Any place-conscious policy should be assessed for its long term sustainability so it can forge durable change in families’ lives and their communities.

Page 56

We shouldn’t kid ourselves about quick neighborhood turnarounds. It takes time to create stable communities, establish partnerships, and change accountability. Organizations often resist the call to broaden their efforts to reach the community as a whole, claiming that a broader agenda will dilute their focus or make their task too hard.

The truth is that the stakes are too high for business as usual. We must begin by identifying actors within and outside of a community, core anchor institutions, and funders and policymakers willing to plan for long-term change, agree on these broader metrics and the importance of working together to achieve them, and have the public or private sector support this collaboration and the data systems that enable communities to track their progress.  

Can this have greater long-term impact than similar initiatives in the past?

I've pointed to past news stories, like the one below from 1993, to reinforce what is being said in The Opportunity Gap report.  

I've also attempted to fill an intermediary role, collecting, organizing and sharing information, that others can use in their own efforts, and long-term commitments, to help close this gap, in Chicago, or in any other part of the USA, or the world.

I hope that role is appreciated, and that the ideas and resources are used and applied.  I started doing this in 1975 when I began to draw volunteers together to support youth  in the Cabrini-Green area of Chicago, then expanded my role in 1976 and 1977 when I began to invite leaders from other programs in Chicago to gather and share ideas and resources.  I formalized this information collection and public awareness campaign in 1993 when the Tutor/Mentor Connection was created. I continue this effort under the structure of the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC, created in 2011.

This timeline shows some of the actions taken since 1992.  

I'd be happy to share my ideas and experiences with any of those who are also focusing on this problem. I'd love to have help to communicate these ideas more effective, more consistently, and to more people. I keep looking for a benefactor who would put his/her name on the Tutor/Mentor Institute, either as a stand-alone think tank, or as a policy/action center on a university campus.

Let's connect if you want to use the ideas or want to help.

1 comment:

Tutor Mentor Connections said...

Here's a May 2016 Washington Post article that focuses on income inequality and impact on kids. The title is "The one thing rich parents do for their kids that makes all the difference"