Growing divide between affluent and poor students

  • Robert Putnam speaks at the opening Monadnock Summer Lyceum on "Our Kids: he American Dream in Crisis" on Sunday, June 26 at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough. (Ashley Saari / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, June 27, 2016
Up nextJuly 3 at 11 a.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough: Alan Hirshfeld on “Starlight Detectives: How Astronomers, Inventors, and Eccentrics Discovered the Modern Universe” on the early exploration of the use of cameras and spectrosc

The growing gap between the rich and the poor hurts us all, and especially our kids, said Robert Putnam, during the inaugural program of the 2016 Monadnock Summer Lyceum. And that’s the key word, noted Putnam – “our.”

“These are all our kids,” said Putnam. “Our economic future.”

At one time, when people would talk about the benefit of “our” kids, they were talking about a community of children. But increasingly, said Putnam, it has begun to mean only those we are biologically related to. But an insular attitude is damaging to everyone as those in the middle class and below get increasingly overlooked.

There is a growing gap between those children from affluent families and those from impoverished or even middle class backgrounds, said Putnam. And as that divide grows, it has become less common for neighborhoods to be a mixture of incomes. When the housing becomes divided, so do the schools, said Putnam. As schools become divided, classes cease to mix, and kids become increasingly isolated within the class they were born into.

“Increasingly, who we marry is based on income,” said Putnam.

Along class lines comes a distinct difference in one thing, said Putnam – opportunity. Those that come from affluent families usually have much more family interaction, family dinners, more extra-curriculars and things such as summer camps, and are far more likely statistically to have a two-parent household, all things which give measurable boosts in academics and, down the line, income. And a high-testing poor student is less likely to go to college than a low-testing affluent student, pointed out Putnam.

“Smart poor kids are less likely to graduate than dumb rich kids. And that’s totally wrong,” said Putnam. “I am pretty worried about these smart kids that are left behind, not because they couldn’t hack it, but because they ‘chose’ the wrong parents.”

But what can solve this dilemma?

Something drastic, said Putnam. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, there was a similar huge class gap that was only bridged when the country began to implement four free years of secondary education – high schools. It was not an inexpensive endeavor, said Putnam, but it provided a solution.

Putnam said he isn’t sure what the solution is for the 21st century. But it will have to be drastic and it will have to be more than a single community heading it up.