The Opportunity Movement

Devoted to closing the Opportunity Divide

Lessons From Across the Pond

The general perception about the events in London over these past few days is that they have been perpetrated by a group of uncivilized, amoral thugs who occupy the lawless underbelly of English society.  Normally reserved British politicians have expressed outrage at this criminal element, claiming the moral high ground from which judgment is so easily passed.  The police have cracked down with equal and opposite ferocity (click here and have a look).

It seems that we are easily falling into a simple explanation for the whole thing – good versus evil, moral versus immoral, right versus wrong.

However, is it really that simple? What should we be hearing from this “call” across the pond?

No rational person can condone what we are seeing, nor justify the riots as an appropriate response of those on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder (which often takes the form of a mass of marginalized urban youth).   However, we are missing the point if we cut our thinking short, and don’t ask why this is happening, and what led to it.

It’s no surprise to anyone that inequality has widened significantly over the past thirty years, our public education system is under-performing, and we are facing the highest levels of youth unemployment since the Great Depression.  Couple that with an economy that is demanding higher and higher levels of skill, and you have the perfect storm for marginalizing huge swathes of our young people.  And, sorry folks, but given the current state of public investment in discretionary programs, it is hard to project that this will get better before it gets worse.

So… what are we to do?

Peggy Noonan made the bold assertion in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend that “the problem, at bottom, is love”, or rather, the lack of it.  I don’t disagree with Peggy at all, although her cure is too abstract.  To me, the problem, at bottom, is about opportunity: opportunity to gain a good education, to pursue a job that pays livable wages, and to take proper care of yourself and your family.

Here is my suggestion:  Let’s create a new agency – part public, part private, part non-profit-  and call it the “Opportunity Agency”.  Anyone can participate by being an “Opportunity Provider”.  There are countless ways to do this – read to a three year-old, mentor a child, tutor a student, help someone learn to speak English, donate time to a homeless shelter, assist someone with getting financial aid, provide someone a job shadow experience or internship, hire someone who has been incarcerated, etc, etc.

The goal is simple – to provide people with more opportunity.  We could measure this pretty easily, and track the results.  To make this work, two things are required:  First, people have to believe that each of us – regardless of zip code, race, income level or education – deserves opportunity. Second, we have to believe that given the chance, the vast majority of people will take honest and sincere advantage of this program.

Bottom line: people are good, they want to do good things, and given the chance, they will.

Imagine a “flash mob” that comes together only to provide opportunity for others.  Now that’s a flash mob I like!

2 responses to “Lessons From Across the Pond

  1. Casey Martner August 25, 2011 at 6:18 am

    I am interested in what effect you solution, or something like this, could have. I read numerous blogs and news articles which cite increasing economic difficulties for the the younger generation as a large factor inciting the riots. Interviews with rioters expressed anger torwards conditions which are keeping them from finding work and earning living wages; problems amplified when they are unable to obtain higher education or technical skills. Many felt, rightly or wrongly, that it was a way to express this to society and demand change – admittedly though some participants in the unrest may have done so with much different motivations. Regardless, it is a tough situation for many in an economy they are largely unable to control, and measures should be taken to change things for the long term.

  2. safrisri October 10, 2011 at 12:09 am

    I agree with certain caveats. I have worked in inner city schools for the past 13 years and I have learned how the effects of poverty, perceived dis-franchise and absent parents can effect the whole persona of children. My only point of disagreement is that along with the opportunity somehow we must also awaken motivation to take that opportunity or we must frame it in such a way as to make it more palatable than the dysfunctional alternative. i know from experience that this is difficult… I called my on personal opportunity program for these youth Phoenix but alas when i left only the ashes remained. On the upside I found that some will seize the opportunity. As a teacher trying to expand horizons you are like a fisherman looking for the right bait to get the fish on the line so that you may reel them in as part of a benevolent catch and release program.

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