An Open Letter to Robert Putnam

Dear Professor Putnam,

I write as a long-time fan on the right who shares your deep concerns about our county splintering along class lines.  I’ve written two books about it in recent years, From Family Collapse to America’s Decline: The Educational, Economic, and Social Costs of Family Fragmentation (2011) and Broken Bonds: What Family Fragmentation Means for America’s Future (2014).

The immediate reason for this note, in addition to thanking you for Our Kids, is to respectfully take issue with your comments about school choice at the Fordham Institute last week, which I just watched on Fordham’s website.  I would argue that enabling more poor children to attend religiously animated schools, via vouchers or tax credits, can play a much more beneficial role in their lives than you allowed at the end of your conversation with Mike Petrilli.

I ask myself the question: What words come quickest to mind when I think about the kind of education that might work best for many (not all) kids who have holes in their hearts where their fathers should be?  Or where their mothers should be?  Or sometimes both?  Two such words are “nurturing” and “nourishing.”  And while there is no question that secular teachers in public schools can be wonderfully nurturing and nourishing, I do believe that for many kids in pain, schools in which teachers can assure them that God loves them and wants them to succeed just might work best.

Yet beyond any speculating on my part, gold standard research over the last decade and more – much of it conducted by scholars with one kind of connection to Harvard or another – has demonstrated the real benefits of vouchers to real live kids, especially African American boys.  As you may know, our friend and colleague Paul Peterson has conducted and overseen a fair amount of this invaluable work.  At the risk of presumption, I would urge you review what he and others have found if you haven’t already.


Mitch Pearlstein, Ph.D.
Founder & President
Center of the American Experiment

A version of this letter was sent to Robert Putnam by Mitch Pearlstein on May 19, 2015

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