Reaction Paper to Robert Putnam’s Our Kids and its relationship to Public Affairs


Robert Putnam, Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard’s
Kennedy’s School of Government, is largely regarded as one of the most important and
influential social scientists of the last quarter century. Putnam’s work focuses on the
intersection between public affairs and civil society, ideas that largely serve as the
intellectual foundation for the nonprofit sector. His emphasis on ways to advance social
solidarity, social change, and social capital in an effort to improve civic engagement and
community association is particularly relevant for this course.

In his latest work, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, Putnam explores the social,
economic, and community challenges of achieving the American Dream in the 21st
century. One of the distinctive elements of this work is Putnam’s reliance on the stories of ordinary, individual Americans. These stories illustrate one of the book’s central
themes: the zip code in which you reside is the single, most important factor that
determines economic advancement and access to social capital. Taken as a whole, these
stories provide valuable insight into the economic, social, and demographic challenges
of what it means not only to live in America at the present time buy also how we work
towards achieving stability and security with family, community, and employment.

As part of this course, we will read Our Kids in its entirety. Each student will be
required to present at least one story to the class and discuss the individual and/or
family studied and what that story adds to the concept of achieving the American
Dream. On Class 14, April 19th, students must submit a 5-7 page reaction paper on the
book that answers the following questions:

*Based on Putnam’s work, what does the American Dream mean to you?
*Do we live in a country that rewards hard work equitably?

*Do Putnam’s stories and his accompanying analysis make you feel less
confident or more confident about pursuing a career in public affairs?