Extracurriculars for All Kids, an Economic Argument

On Tuesday March 24, I was honored to attend a lecture and discussion with Dr. Robert D. Putnam hosted by The Chicago Community Trust and the Chicago Public Library. Dr. Putnam was introduced as “the poet laureate of a civil society” with a laudable career that has brought him to the oval office on several occasions as an advisor on the socio-economic health of our country. On Tuesday, he spoke about his new book, Our Kids, which makes the case for a growing socio-economic crisis driven by class isolation: an “opportunity gap” tied closely to education.

So why the economic case for extracurriculars? Dr. Putnam described the social and community environment of poor youth in America as one that is increasingly isolated, that breeds a lack of trust in society, and that is significantly limited in learning engagement opportunities when compared to wealthy peers. Driven by extensive research and data, Dr. Putnam makes a clear case that the educational affordances granted to wealthy children by their higher-income parents result in major economic advantages as they age and graduate from college. The result is a self-perpetuating socio-economic inequality.

His solutions include policies that increase the interactions between young people and adult role models and provide community spaces for young people to socialize and practice “soft skill” development that is essential to their future economic success. Amongst those many policy choices, Dr. Putnam stressed the importance of abolishing “pay to play” school policies and making extracurricular opportunities available for all children.

I wanted to thank Dr. Putnam for reminding me why I am proud to work for Hive Chicago, a network of local youth-serving organizations aspiring to transform the learning landscape and provide more equitable access to innovative, interest-driven, learning pathways for all young people in Chicago.

Check out the Twitter Storify below to learn more about Dr. Putnam’s work from the attendees to Tuesday’s event.

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