David Brooks: It Takes a Generation to Expand Opportunities for Underprivileged Children!

Dear Commons Community,

In his New York Times column today, David Brooks reminds his readers that education is a way out of poverty but only if we look at the entire development of children from birth through college.  He calls for President Obama to think carefully through how to move underprivileged children into the middle class.  Here is an excerpt from his column:

“First, we’ve probably placed too much emphasis on early education. Don’t get me wrong. What happens in the early years is crucial. But human capital development takes a generation. If you really want to make an impact, you’ve got to have a developmental strategy for all the learning stages, ages 0 to 25.

Second, we’ve probably put too much weight on school reform. Again, reforming education is important. But getting the academics right is not going to get you far if millions of students can’t control their impulses, can’t form attachments, don’t possess resilience and lack social and emotional skills.

So when President Obama talks about expanding opportunity in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, I’m hoping he’ll widen the debate. I’m hoping he’ll sketch out a stage-by-stage developmental agenda to help poor children move from birth to the middle class.

Such an agenda would start before birth.”

He then warns that “a significant number of kids stay on track through the early years, but then fall off the rails as teenagers.”

My colleague, Jean Anyon, who studied the issues of poverty in urban schools for decades, would probably support a lot of what Brooks is saying.  Jean argued that many education issues were inextricably linked to larger social ills.

“Attempting to fix inner-city schools without fixing the city in which they are embedded,” she wrote in  Ghetto Schooling,  “is like trying to clean the air on one side of a screen door.”



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