Schooling Needs to Begin Early in Life

In his new book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, Robert D. Putnam asserts that the social mobility afforded to previous generations is at risk in the current political and fiscal climate. Early on he proclaims the subject of his book to be the “widening of the class-based opportunity gap for young people.”

In the brave new world of communication by soundbite, we witness talking heads that suggest that the poor should simply stop being poor while the political elite expend tremendous energy in keeping the Minimum Wage at decades-old levels. When discussing education, the media frequently portray statistical anomalies as the norm and demagoguery inevitably ensues. “Laziness“, however, is not the primary mover on the issue of poverty.

Poverty tends to be intergenerational. According to Putnam, upward mobility is proving ever more difficult to achieve as society has drastically increased the goals for public education and student achievement without providing the resources to achieve those goals. We are confronting economic segregation of our society into enclaves of the wealthy, neighborhoods of the poor and an ever declining middle class. 

For the sake of clarity

  • Newborns do not choose to be born to poverty.
  • Infants do not choose under-stimulation as a lifestyle.
  • Toddlers do not choose unlicensed daycare or parents toiling for too many hours at minimum wage.
  • Children do not choose to arrive in school already lagging in literacy and numeracy.
  • Students do not choose to attend overcrowded, inadequately-resourced and under-staffed schools.

Poverty and societal indifference to its hardships inflict these circumstances on the most vulnerable among us and too many of the affluent among us fail to recognize their needs. Politically, it is far easier to blame, shame and cast aspersions on the character of the destitute who live among us.

Nationally, one-in-five children live in poverty. In Prince George’s fully two-thirds of the children live at, or significantly below, the demarcation for poverty. Our incremental improvements in scholastic achievement of the last decade need to be taken to scale, and expansion of early childhood education is a moral imperative if our goal remains optimal outcomes for every child.

So, when it comes to support for full funding of the Board of Education budget proposal, remember the words of former NEA President Reg Weaver, “Education reform without resources is just rhetoric.” Not one more cohort of children should be denied adequate and equitable school facilities.


[The original version of this Commentary appeared in the now defunct Prince George’s Gazette on April 2, 2015. It has been expanded for this blog. Image from ] 

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