Missing Mayberry - December 27, 2015
State Representative David Perryman
Rascal Flatts’ 2003 release “Mayberry” laments our society’s constant toil and unmoderated pursuit of more, which is really less. It reminisces of a slower time where houses had porches that were actually used to visit with friends and neighbors.
Most of us remember parents who toiled to make things better for us and society’s structure and shared values actually directed us toward social mobility and the American Dream.
Today, our culture faces an economic and societal crisis that places those goals at risk, but this is not the first time in our nation’s history that young Americans have been cut-off.
A bedrock principle of America is equality yet our history shows that we constantly migrate away from actions that provide equal access to opportunity and often need to be redirected.
America was relatively young when it became apparent that our republic would not survive if our citizenry did not possess the educational skills to be effective citizens. Class divisions and regional interests threatened the fabric of this young nation. Horace Mann argued that universal, non-sectarian, free public education was essential to turn the nation’s unruly children into disciplined, judicious republican citizens.
Mann’s vision produced a cohesive society by convincing the American people that education must have a goal of social efficiency, civic virtue and character, and not merely involve learning or advance purely sectarian ends.
Leading up to the 20th century, unchecked industrialism imposed income inequalities to a degree that social order was threatened by stagnated social mobility. Again, through the collective courage of civic minded Americans, universal and free high schools were established and the dream was restored.
Now, in the second decade of the 21st century, income inequality is higher than at any time in Oklahoma’s 108 year history with data from the Economic Policy Institute showing that the average income of the top 1% of Oklahomans is 26 times greater than the average income of the other 99%.
In the 33 years between 1979 and 2012, while the top 1 percent’s income grew by 143.2% and the top 0.1 percent of Oklahomans saw their average income swell to $28,439,334, the average income of the entire rest of the state grew by just 8%, placing many parents in a situation to be more concerned about making ends than mentoring or guiding their children.
Robert Putnam, author of “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis” and who will be speaking next month on the campus of the University of Oklahoma asks, “When did poor kids stop being “our” kids?”
Dr. Putnam’s extensive research is focused on the web of formal and informal supports that help students in poverty succeed academically and in life. His premise is that income inequality, poverty, and a generation or more of lost dreams are intractably interwoven into what he refers to as a “connection gap” resulting in the intense isolation of poor children who are robbed of the ability to function at any productive level in our society because there is no resource to put them “back on track.”
We all have our own version of Mayberry. Mine involves loving parents who frequently helped “adjust my direction” and never for a moment left me without a vision for the future.
When the “life guidance” that occurs without fanfare in wealthier homes is absent in the lives of poor children, they are left without second or third chances and doors that were never functionally open are slammed in their faces.
Your comments are welcome at 1-800-522-8502 or at David.Perryman@okhouse.gov