This is a guest post from Allison Traylor, NCTL's amazing Knowledge Management & Strategic Development Intern.
Last week, I attended The Boston Foundation’s first in a series of forums focused on examining Boston's growing inequality gap and charting Boston’s course to greater income equity and opportunity. Robert D. Putnam discussed his new book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, an examination of the impact of the opportunity gap for the nation's children.
Robert Putnam delved into the topic of class disparities in the United States by contrasting the story of his college-aged granddaughter with the granddaughter of a peer from his high school. It’s a story of families which began the same way and are now drastically different, mainly because of the decision of one set of grandparents to attend college and the other to take a well-paying factory job in small town Ohio. His story painted a clear picture of how different the world looks for children with college educated parents and students with high school educated parents. This stark contrast is very different from the gap in Putnam’s generation.
Putnam pointed to an increase in individualism, lack of early childhood education, and the emergence of “pay to play” for extracurricular activities as some of many barriers to children born to poor or high school educated parents. These children not only have low college attainment levels, but also develop deep psychological scars over the years. Overwhelmingly, their level of trust in others is abysmal.
Often when I read books or articles or attend events like Putnam’s, I leave frustrated or sad. The problems often feel insurmountable, and I vaguely miss my ignorant and selfish bliss. This event made me feel optimistic. The difference? Instead of leaving alone with my thoughts, I left with a group of colleagues who work 40+ hours a week to give equal educational opportunities to low-income children, and who have maintained an “our kids” outlook in life as opposed to the “my kids” mindset many of their peers have developed.
NCTL’s mission, vision, and work attack Putnam’s points head on. Pay to play? NCTL works to bring engaging enrichment programs to schools, giving kids who would not otherwise be able to afford after school activities the opportunity to participate in drama, band, or karate. Individualism? NCTL has a staff that devote their lives to “our” children. The growing class divide in America is one of the greatest problems my generation will face. NCTL’s work to bring both educational and enrichment opportunities to low-income students may seem small, but each of the hundreds of students we have impacted add up, and I have faith that the efforts of our and other like-minded organizations can slowly, but surely, narrow that divide in my lifetime.