Robert Putnam and the Cost of Relativism

By The Editors Published on March 20, 2015

A new book by noted sociologist Robert Putnam, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, has sparked a renewed discussion in both the mainstream and conservative media about a growing class divide in American society.

David Brooks reflected on the work in a recent New York Times op-ed:

One of America’s leading political scientists, Robert Putnam, has just come out with a book called Our Kids about the growing chasm between those who live in college-educated America and those who live in high-school-educated America. It’s got a definitive collection of data about this divide.

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.

Putnam’s findings also inspired two noted conservative writers who appear weekly on The Stream. In his piece discussing Our Kids titled, “Class Not Race,” Rich Lowry argues:

In contemporary America, “the conversation about race” never ends. It fuels political debate and cable chatter, and practically every week some new outrage — real or imagined — is fodder for the hungry maw of the interminable conversation.

We don’t talk about class nearly as often, even though the bifurcation of American life along class lines continues apace, with distressing consequences for the state of the American Dream.

It’s a theme also picked up by Kathryn Jean Lopez’s essay on Putnam’s work, “Saving the American Dream.”

“Giving every child a fair chance in life is not just morally right, but economically,” (Putnam) writes. But his argument is not simply a matter for politicians. If everyone mentored one child of a different background, we could be the bridge that works to fill the gap, Putnam’s wife, Rosemary, tells me.

Putnam has taken an opportunity to challenge the conscience of a distracted country. He shows us the numbers, and reminds us that we need to be involved. Because we want to be good, sure, but it also happens to be smart and productive for everyone, all that time and sacrifice.

Robert Putnam’s Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis is now available at Amazon.

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