Counting Out More Social Capital

10 10 2006

So – maybe diversity is more what’s WRONG with public school, than its raison d’être?

Seems all of Professor Putman’s work on “social capital” relates to earlier discussion about what works in home education and schooling to create good citizens. Here is the shocking yet apparently scholarly claim that connections and community are NOT created by social diversity, as insisted in the court-ordered rezoning schemes under which I was schooled in the 70s.

In this alternate reality, connections and community are mindful tools to rise above the destructive chaos and distrust bred BY demographic diversity, tools to accommodate and overcome its problems?

How many times have you heard the “S” word (socialization) evoked as Big School’s sole remaining claim to sovereignty?

Maybe the concept of “social capital” is the root of that tenacious weed, since social capital in our culture depends on the same relevance and relationships being recognized as education success factors — if so, could we cut through the rhetoric, stop thinking of school as public education and see schools more cynically but clearly, as the “social capital centers” they really are?

Hmmm, our school accountability measures would have to be dramatically different . .

Better Together book cover . but this view could also take some of the hype and pressure off School as responsible for “fixing” all social, cultural and economic problems:

“We must learn to view the world through a social capital lens,” said Lew Feldstein of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and co-chair of the Saguaro Seminar. “We need to look at front porches as crime fighting tools, treat picnics as public health efforts and see

choral groups as occasions of democracy.
We will become a better place when assessing social capital impact becomes a standard part of decision-making.”…

Take it from a public education policy specialist, School could sure use a big dollop of THAT! This Culture Kitchen comment last spring bears witness:
“Florida Rep. Richard Glorioso, R-Plant City, a retired Air Force colonel, is proposing legislation to make studying the Declaration of Independence a graduation requirement.

“We want to try to get civics back into the classroom.”

And out of the streets? Well, at least he’s honest.

Nationally, 63 pieces of legislation to add or mandate civics courses have been introduced and about 12 have passed. . . The biggest challenge for states is finding a way to fund testing; it can cost up to $50 million just to develop a test.

If freedom falls in the forest and no one’s paid to test its rate of descent or measure the amplitude of the crash . . .
Ignorance of the basic principles of freedom is dangerous all right – especially in lawmakers . . .”



5 responses

10 10 2006

Putnam’s latest conference report on America’s Civic Health is here.

11 10 2006
Scott W. Somerville

Amen! This is something I’ve been pondering for about 15 years. The best way to create social capital for underprivileged kids would be to foster intimate and meaningful “patronage” with somebody who is a “success” in some way. Instead, we take MONEY from the rich and give to the poor without ever establishing a bond of human concern.

11 10 2006

I think about this too, a lot. I’ve never been down on academics and schooling except as a weapon against the unready, unwilling, unable.(Campuses and intellectual communities are among my favorites places on the planet when everyone there wants to be there and is happily engaged.)

So in my mind, the challenge in Putnam’s ideas and data is successfully combining the downside and upside of cultural diversity. It’s been done SO destructively in my lifetime and yours, but if there ever was a critical need to do better, the moment is NOW.

If the downside of diversity is distrust (of everyone, including family, neighbors, potential mentors and role models) that extends to distrust-disaffection for our partisan and polarized government (peaking at the moment, according to news polls) then why would we expect redoubled enforcement of punitive policies to IMPROVE that paralyzing distrust?

Isn’t that more likely to just make young people distrust diversity itself, make them regress to homogenized gang-cult-tribal enclaves violently purged by their own actions of all suspicious differences?

11 10 2006

Scott, Nance, Paul and all — maybe it’s time to revisit the “systems theory” concepts with which we once began cooperatively educating ourselves at NHEN and PDE?

Say we conceive of neighborhoods and schools as self-organized systems within which each node possesses free will and the power of self-determination — then what is the proper role for outside engineering to assign tasks and location, pair master and slave functions, set outcomes and expel nodes for falling short, etc?

11 10 2006

Or if minors really are “dependent nodes” then how can we do better by them in our systems of governance?

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