Common Ground is the College of Liberal Arts’ first-year-student reading program, to create a learning community among incoming freshmen based on a shared reading experience. The books are provided to students at their summer new student conference, and they are encouraged to read and prepare to participate in Common Ground events throughout their first year at Texas A&M.
2016 Reading Selection
Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, by Robert D. Putnam
In the highly anticipated Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis (Simon & Schuster; March 10, 2015), Robert D. Putnam, Harvard professor of public policy and bestselling author of Bowling Alone, offers a groundbreaking examination of why fewer Americans today have the opportunity for upward mobility.
The rising inequality gap in America will be the major issue leading up to the next election. In a recent speech, Jeb Bush said “The opportunity gap is the defining issue of our time,” echoing earlier remarks by President Obama. Robert Putnam is the leading expert on the topic—politicians as disparate as President Obama, Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Paul Ryan have all consulted with him on this issue.
It’s the American dream: get a good education, work hard, buy a house, and achieve prosperity. America was a nation of opportunity, constrained only by ability and effort. But during the last 25 years, we have seen a disturbing “opportunity gap” emerge. Americans have always believed in equality of opportunity—the idea that all kids, regardless of their family background, should have a decent chance to improve their lot in life. But now, Putnam argues, this central tenet of the American dream seems no longer “self-evident.”
In Our Kids, Putnam offers a personal but authoritative look at this crisis, beginning with the story of his high school class of 1959 in Port Clinton, Ohio. The majority of those students—“our kids” to everyone in town—reached greater success than their parents, and raised their children with the same expectations. But those children – and their children – have not fared as well in an age of fragile families, crumbling communities, and disappearing jobs.
Putnam then looks at various cities and suburbs around the country, showing the decline of opportunity through poignant life stories of rich and poor kids, drawing on a formidable body of research done especially for this book. The result is a rare combination of compelling first-hand narratives and authoritative evidence that David Gergen calls a must-read “from the White House to your house.”
Dr. Putnam will present a lecture on Monday, September 26, 2016, at 7 p.m., at the Annenberg Presidential Conference Center on the Campus of Texas A&M University. The lecture is free and open to the public.
- Why did we create Common Ground?
Research on student learning in higher education has emphasized several themes that are addressed by a program such as Common Ground: the importance of first-year experiences; the engagement of students in their undergraduate education; the effectiveness of integrating in-class and out-of-class experiences; the significance of intellectual challenge. The College of Liberal Arts believes that Common Ground provides opportunities for all of these important learning experiences in enriching undergraduate learning, especially for the first year.
- Do other universities have programs like Common Ground?
Yes, many other universities have had a common reading program for several years and have successfully documented these efforts as educationally sound ways to enhance undergraduate education.
- What do we hope to accomplish with Common Ground?
The College of Liberal Arts seeks to create a community that fosters intellectual and social development within the context of our large and diverse university campus. Through Common Ground, students can expect to become sharper readers; to have a greater understanding of diversity; to experience the camaraderie that comes with a shared reading experience; to gain a greater appetite for intellectual challenge; to participate in a national educational movement; and to experience first-hand the excitement of hearing a nationally-recognized author of a book they have studied