There is a growing chasm in our society. It isn’t so much between the wealthy and the middle class, though it does have to do with social classes, a major demarcation seeming to be between the college educated and those who just finished high school. But it isn’t an economic gap so much as a cultural gap, or, more specifically, a child-raising gap. It’s between children who have been raised by both parents, who have been cared for, given lots of attention, and taken care of. And children raised pretty much on their own, often with a single mother and serial boyfriends, with very little supervision, and with very little protection from abuse, sex, and their own impulses. This is the thesis of Robert Putnam’s new book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. Putnam, the author of Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, is a very important social scientist, a Harvard professor whose insights have been very influential across the spectrum. That he is pointing to this crisis in childraising–which, in turn, leads to young adults poorly equipped for a successful life–will get attention.
Thanks to Larry Hughes for pointing me to a New York Times column by David Brooks, who reflects on Putnam’s findings, which he summarizes this way:
Roughly 10 percent of the children born to college grads grow up in single-parent households. Nearly 70 percent of children born to high school grads do. There are a bunch of charts that look like open scissors. In the 1960s or 1970s, college-educated and noncollege-educated families behaved roughly the same. But since then, behavior patterns have ever more sharply diverged. High-school-educated parents dine with their children less than college-educated parents, read to them less, talk to them less, take them to church less, encourage them less and spend less time engaging in developmental activity.
Brooks goes on to describe some of the heart-breaking profiles of children growing up that Putnam gives, from descriptions of abuse and neglect to this statement of a young man who said he would like to grow up to be a preacher: “I just love beating up somebody and making they nose bleed and just hurting them and just beating them on the ground.” Then Brooks considers what the problem is and what is needed to address it. [Read more...]