January 31, 2012
David Brooks' recent op-editorial in the New York Times discusses the great divorce between two tribes in America.
Although the divergence he discusses is distinct from the class distinctions bandied about by politicians, it is a major problem. According the the author, members of the upper tribe have low divorce rates, work hard, and are productive. Members of the lower tribe also work hard and dream big, but live in 'disorganized, postmodern neighborhoods in which it is much harder to be self-disciplined.
Mr. Brooks calls for a National Service Program that would force members of the upper tribe and lower tribe to live and work together. By this means, he opines, the two groups would work together to spread out the 'values, practices, and institutions' that lead to achievement.
I'm not sure that a national service program would be the best answer. I would argue, instead, for a movement away from the segmentation of public education by virtue of magnet schools, charter schools and the like. For much of America's history public schools served as the cauldron for spreading and sharing the values, practices, and institutions that led to achievement. This impact has been muted in recent decades by the growth of charter schools, magnet schools and the separation of students into standard and honors classes. As as former teacher I understand the impetus behind these trends, but - as pointed out in the article - separating out the tribes has put a rent into the American fabric that has long been characterized by a 'melting pot' or, more recently, 'a salad bowel'.