Monday, April 20, 2015

Robert Putnam's "Our Kids": Compelling Argument Poorly Argued

There’s an epidemic out there. Poor kids these days don’t have a chance, and it’s getting worse.
Robert Putnam, with the help of an uncredited assistant (on the cover, at least), gathered storied of young adults and melded those stories of haves and have-nots with larger statistical trends to tell the story of how the educated class is ,moving away from the uneducated class. There are copious charts and graphs.
I really wanted to like this, since it covers a lot of the same ground as the recent Charles Muarry Book “Coming Apart,” and for ideological reasons I don’t want to read Muarry. The problem is that there’s no hook. The kid’s stories should be what grips you and pulls you into the text, but it doesn’t work. I think there’s too many so I can’t fully live their stories, or perhaps Putnam and company are better analytical thinkers than storytellers for generating pathos. Whatever it was, I was unengaged. It was good enough to finish, but it did not compel me to write marginalia. If you have to read this for a class, it will be readable but it might not pull you in if it is leisure time reading.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Forces of Capital Are Strong: Micah Uetricht's "Strike for America"

I didn’t read this when it first came out. I figured that living in Chicago and participating in the rallies  and being on the CORE Facebook group gave me a sense of the strike that would be hard to replicate in a little book. I was wrong. Uetricht lays out the background and the events of the strike in the first half of the book in a depth that I was unfamiliar with. For that I’m grateful that I read it

                He then lays out the future of CTU and unionism as a whole, and I wish I didn’t read it now, because with Rauner in office in Illinois, the strike now feels like a high-water mark of what is possible in respect for the service professionals in Illinois – this book is a reminder of what could be with proper unity (and voter turnout) against the forces of “reform” that want to marketize every personal transaction.

                Structurally, there are some issues. Uetrucht likes to repeat scenes, which is odd, given the brevity of the book. There are multiple events given paragraph-length treatments more than once. Since It only takes a couple of hours to read, perhaps that should have been more heavily edited. There’s also three separate points where the reporting turns to first person. Since so much of it is not in first person, the inclusion of the authorial “I” is a bit jarring. I do get it though. I was at rallies for the teachers as a former teacher (nonunion though) myself. I felt solidarity with them, and the feeling around town was electric. I had my own red shirt that brought cheers and fives from strangers. It is that feeling of unity and solidarity that I wish we could feel all the time, and not just as teachers fight for respect from an elected government. In spite of those flaws, this is a worthy read.