Other people’s children

All of the greatest advances in our society have come when we’ve invested in other people’s children.

Attributed to Robert Putnam

That was Tim O’Reilly quoting Robert Putnam on the same After On podcast episode I quoted earlier.

I can’t find it elsewhere in as many words, but this appears to be the gist of Putnam’s book, ‘Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis’.

In this interview on PBS, Putnam unpacks the idea:

When I was growing up in Port Clinton 50 years ago, my parents talked about, “We’ve got to do things for our kids. We’ve got to pay higher taxes so our kids can have a better swimming pool, or we’ve got to pay higher taxes so we can have a new French department in school,” or whatever.

When they said that, they did not just mean my sister and me — it was all the kids here in town, of all sorts. But what’s happened, and this is sort of the bowling alone story, is that over this last 30, 40, 50 years, the meaning of “our kids” has narrowed and narrowed and narrowed so that now when people say, “We’ve got to do something for our kids,” they mean MY biological kids.

The evidence suggests that when in American history we’ve invested more in the education of less well-off kids, it’s been good for everybody. My grandchildren are going to pay a huge price in their adult life because there’s a bunch of other kids, in principle just as productive as them, who didn’t get investments from their family and community, and therefore are not productive citizens. The best economic estimates are that the costs to everybody, including my own grandchildren, of not investing in those “other people’s kids” are going to be very high.

Robert Putnam

Of course, we should invest in ‘our kids’ – the ‘our kids’ that includes other people’s kids – simply because it’s the right thing to do. But it’s good to be reminded that part of the reason we should do it is because of what we will lose if we don’t.

What contributions of art or science, what service, what funny stuff, what friendships and possibilities will we and our kids miss out on by allowing other people’s kids to be left behind?

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