Friday, September 28, 2012

[EQ] Using early intervention to reduce inequality

Boston Review - September/October 2012- Lead Essay:

Promoting Social Mobility

James J. Heckman - Nobel laureate and the Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago.  

His article is based in part on his paper “Schools, Skills, and Synapses.”

This article leads off our debate on using early intervention to reduce inequality, with responses from Mike Rose, Robin West, Charles Murray, Carol S. Dweck, David Deming, Neal McCluskey, Annette Lareau, Lelac Almagor, Adam Swift and Harry Brighouse, and Geoffrey Canada.

FORUM Website: -

“…….The accident of birth is a principal source of inequality in America today. American society is dividing into skilled and unskilled, and the roots of this division lie in early childhood experiences. Kids born into disadvantaged environments are at much greater risk of being unskilled, having low lifetime earnings, and facing a range of personal and social troubles, including poor health, teen pregnancy, and crime. While we celebrate equality of opportunity, we live in a society in which birth is becoming fate.

This powerful impact of birth on life chances is bad for individuals born into disadvantage. And it is bad for American society. We are losing out on the potential contributions of large numbers of our citizens.

It does not have to be this way. With smart social policy, we can arrest the polarization between skilled and unskilled. But smart policy needs to be informed by the best available scientific evidence. It requires serious attention to the costs of alternative policies, as well as to their benefits. Close attention to the evidence suggests three large lessons for social policy……...”


Mike Rose                 - Policy interventions in poor people’s lives should address the fact that they are poor.

Robin West               - As family ideals go, Heckman’s model is remarkably unjust.

Charles Murray          - A small number of studies report positive results for early intervention programs; most do not.

Carol S. Dweck         - Interventions for adolescents can be inexpensive and efficient.

David Deming           - Programs vary in quality, but any is better than none.

Neal McCluskey       - Private entities, not government, should study and expand early childhood interventions.

Annette Lareau         - Don’t ignore failing social institutions that compound poor children’s disadvantage.

Lelac Almagor          - We need to know the details of successful intervention.

Adam Swift - Harry Brighouse - Interventions may impose white, middle-class norms, but that shouldn’t stop reformers.

Geoffrey Canada       - Children at risk belong to all of us; we need to start acting that way.

James J. Heckman replies --The right interventions empower people to be what they want to be without forcing them to adopt one way of life over another.



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