It is appropriate that almost immediately following the Aspen Institute's annual Ideas Festival, Ambassador Andrew Young and I would speak at the Aspen Institute Financial Security Summit, organized by our friend Lisa Mensah and her team. It was a well organized and purposeful meeting, but such is not the point.
Inspired by the Ideas Festival, columnist David Brooks wrote a piece for The New York Times last week entitled "The Opportunity Gap". This piece troubled most people who read it, but it only confirmed what Ambassador Young and I, and our friend Jim Clifton, chairman and CEO of Gallup, already knew; that there was a hug and widening gap not only between the rich and poor adults in this country, but more frighteningly, amongst our children. Brooks article, all backed up by evidence, stats and comprehensive research, also makes the point that my mentor Quincy Jones has made to us repeatedly, and drives his involvement in our 5 MILLION KIDS initiative and the recent launch of the Banking on Our Future, Quincy Jones Edition: that "it takes 20 years to change a culture."
David Brooks states that:
It's not only that richer kids have become more active. Poorer kids have become more pessimistic and detached. Social trust has fallen among all income groups, but, between 1975 and 1995, it plummeted among the poorest third of young Americans and has remained low ever since. As Putnam writes in notes prepared for the Aspen Ideas Festival: "It's perfectly understandable that kids from working-class backgrounds have become cynical and even paranoid, for virtually all our major social institutions have failed them — family, friends, church, school and community." As a result, poorer kids are less likely to participate in voluntary service work that might give them a sense of purpose and responsibility. Their test scores are lagging. Their opportunities are more limited.
This is the way that David Brooks frames this generational crisis of 20 years. I would say that in the last 20 years we have made dumb sexy. We have dumbed-down, and even celebrated it (example: Diesel Jeans and their horribly successful BE STUPID branding and advertising campaign). Now we must make smart sexy again. We must make smart cool, so that kids want to stay in school.
Against this backdrop, we also must look at not only the generational advantages of the wealthy, but the incentive structure that is helping to make engaged and wealthy kids more engaged and wealthy, and so-called poor children more disengaged, disinterested and in the end, opportunity poor. We must look at the educational incentive system itself.