Monday, June 29, 2015

Our Kids

Our Kids

Adult Nonfiction
Saturday I was in Bangor to march in the annual Pride Parade.
While we were being placed in marching formation and then after the
parade while I looked at the booths of organizations I was approached
by people with clipboards asking me to sign a petition for raising the
minimum wage which is not enough to sustain life and health,
especially if children are in the picture. One woman spoke especially
poignantly. She, herself, as a teacher, earned plenty enough.
However, her choice of vocation gave her intimate knowledge of the
lives of children in families with at least one working parent who
were crushed by the burden of family poverty. We talked about this
economic brutality. I reached into my backpack. Did I have a book
for her...
...and for you, too, dear Reader. I will assume that if you
choose my blog you care about children's futures. Robert Putnam,
author of Bowling Alone, which is also a must read, gives us dire
warnings about the future in his Our Kids: The American Dream in
Crisis. Not only are the childhoods of the poor increasingly
precarious, but their futures and those of their unborn progeny are
We have this Horatio Alger American Dream belief, epitomized by
the once popular song that stated that every little boy [sic] can grow
up to be president of the United States. At some points in our
nation's history it was a fairly feasible (although not universal)
expectation that kids from all family backgrounds could get good
educations and, if not the Oval Office, decent careers through hard
work and perseverance. At other times, including the one we live in,
this adage has been a myth used to blame those in need of help. Just
look at Maine Governer Paul LePage's obsession with eliminating
welfare cheating and keeping "able bodied" adults from getting
Medicaid rather that seeking to ameliorate the conditions under which
there is so much need for both.
Putnam, a child of the '50s, grew up in Port Clinton, Ohio.
"Though small and not very diverse racially, Port Clinton in the 1950s
was in all other respects a remarkably representitive microcosm of
America demigraphically, economically, socially, educationally, and
even politically." In his youth neighborhoods and schools were mixed
class wise, income inequity was low, civic engagement was high, and
the socioeconomic ladder was not out of reach for the relatively
disadvantaged. Not surprisingly, most of his classmates who graduated
high school in 1959 went on to prosper, many doing better than
previous generations.
Today's Port Clinton is quite the contrast. In the intervening
years the decently paying manufacturing jobs disappeared for the most
part. At the same time social solidarity was dying out and the ultra
rich were discovering the natural beauty of the region and snapping up
their little bits of lakeside paradise. Increasing residential
segregation (as in adjoining census tracts with child poverty rates of
1% and 51%) has led to seperate neighborhoods and schools. A child
from a disadvantaged family with the desire to improve his/her lot
would have much more of an uphill struggle.
In Our Kids Putnam explores the complex ways in which in
contemporary America impoverished childhoods lead to vastly diminished
opportunities. (I would do a grave disservice to his work if I tried
to cite a few). In doing so he undercuts the beliefs of up-by-the
bootstraps cherished by conservatives like the aforementioned Mr.
LePage. He combines meticulous national research with candid
narratives in a way that makes the book eminantly readable. I would
recommend it to all people who work with children and families in any
capacity and elected and appointed officials at all levels. In
particular I would challenge conservatives to try to reconcile it with
their cherished Horatio Alger beliefs.
On a personal note, the parade was awesome. The marchers and viewers
were jubilant, not surprising on the day after the Supreme Court's
landmark ruling in favor of marriage equality. In addition to floats
and people there were plenty of dogs (all agreeably sharing space) and
even a ragdoll rescue cat (I kid you not) in a rainbow tulle dress
riding regally in a pillow topped wagon (I could not make this up)
directly behind a St. Bernard who probably outweighs me clad in a
purple tutu. Even the weather, sunny with a breeze, could not have
been more perfect. It was a privilege to have been invited to march.
Great big shout outs go out to the many people who worked so hard to
attain marriage equality, those who strive to give throw away animals
like the ragdoll cat decent lives, and those who write about and fight
for the futures of children living in poverty and precariousness.
Have you ever noticed that the people who argue against raising
the minimum wage are those who don't have to try to survive on it?
Julia Emily Hathaway

Sent from my iPod

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