Robert Putnam on the Am Dream

We just got back from hearing Robert Putnam speak, author of Bowling Alone, American Grace, Our Kids, and many others. In discussion with the audience he mentioned two things that had struck me in the book: that kids’ chances seem to improve dependent on WHO they go to school WITH, rather than family background, school quality, etc. And what Blacks went through, which was attributed to characteristics within the Black community and even inherited in the gene poo,l Whites are now going through for the same reasons: poverty and isolation.
I had two chances to chat with him and he was quite delighted to meet a fellow Port Clintonite b/c Our Kids uses our mutual hometown of Port Clinton, OH as a template for general income and social equality compared to what we have now all over the country as well as in Port Clinton. Hearing the facts and figures on P.C. was startling b/c my memories of the town are only what it was like in the 50s. There were audible gasps in the audience as Putnam recounted both stats and anecdotes. He said the young woman his granddaughter’s age who experienced a not unusual but nevertheless horrific childhood voted for Trump b/c no one loved her and she trusted no one and her response, embodied by Trump, was…….. and he raised his middle finger to the audience. No minorities or other betes noires in her life, just pure shit.

Putnam laid out the realities facing us and then suggested things that might be done to reverse this downward spiral for two thirds of Americans, pointing out we have been here before, at the end of the 19th century, and had reversed it in part by inventing the American high school. That had both economic and social effects for the betterment of America, something economists say cannot be done: you have to choose one or the other, you cannot have both.

Incidentally, I got to talking to an ASU professor of community development who was fascinated that I remember stopping in at a hole-in-the-wall (literally, an office space in a broken down wall of a derelict building on Buckeye Road in Phoenix) chatting with two guys. They were working on a project they called Chicanos Por La Cause. I knew it went on to become a major element in the development of Phoenix, but this professor said their model has spread world-wide. Amazing.
It got us to recalling how strange to look at the house we lived in in the 60s in the segregated area of South Phoenix and how the house is still there, though with the neighborhood more deteriorated than it was then but still with nice homes that were there then. Blacks with money could not build outside of South Phoenix so there would be a nice street and then a more run-down block. But across the street was White and it wasn’t until the late 60s that a few well-off Blacks built nice homes across that road (Roeser Rd.). Then fair housing became law and many of us left. That area across the street is now gentrified with Whites and Blacks living there. These spots are within yards of each other.

Putnam emphasized the need to bridge the social/political gap, something I am unable to do at this point.


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