Robert D. Putnam's new book is Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis.
From his Q & A with Fareed Zakaria:
PUTNAM: Really interesting studies have been done comparing how important your own test scores, your own intellectual ability is and how important your parents' income is.Read the transcript of the complete interview.
PUTNAM: So it turns out now, smart poor kids, high test scores, but low parental income, are less likely to graduate from college than dumb rich kids; that is, kids who are lower scorers, but their parents have money.
That, Fareed, violates the fundamental notion of what the American dream is. You shouldn't -- your chances in life shouldn't depend upon your parents' income, they should depend upon how hard you work.
ZAKARIA: And what can we do? What are the solutions?
PUTNAM: There -- there are some big things we can do. For example, universal early childhood education is -- we know that that works. We know it works especially for -- for poor kids. It's not yet, despite the debate about the president's proposals here, it's not yet a red/blue issue, because the most impressive early childhood education program in America is in Oklahoma, one of the reddest of states.
So I'm trying to avoid making that become a -- a political issue, because it isn't right now. We -- the facts are that they would help. The other big things that would help, of course, is if we could end this 30 year stagnation of wages for -- for -- that is affect the working class.
But there are also smaller things not quite as powerful in the long run but -- but doable right now.
For example, instituting pay for play for high school activities, that is, nowadays, if you want to play in extracurricular activities, your parents have got to pay about $400 a term.
We know that extracurricular activities have a payoff down the road because employers are willing to pay more for people who've learned those soft skills.
So now to charge people, kids, to take part in those activities has had the inevitable consequence that poor kids are dropping out of band and chorus and football and French club, to their detriment. And that is self-inflicted.
This is not a zero sum game. It's not like if we help poor kids, it's going to hurt my grandchildren. On the contrary. What we know is my grandchildren are going to be better off if we help all the kids, because the country is going to grow faster, we're going to be using everybody's minds, not just the rich kids' minds, we're going to be not having to pay for the criminal justice costs and the -- and the health costs and so on.
This is a -- an easy -- ought to be an easy kid -- easy case. Everybody would be better -- better off if we just invested more of our own love and attention, mentoring, for example, and also of our country's resources in these poor kids.