Welcome to Our Kids

By: Peter Segall



Welcome to the Our Kids series blog.

Here we want to share with you some of the novel ideas that have helped communities around the country. These ideas arrive in all shapes and sizes, are developed by individuals, community groups, non-profits, and local governments, all working together to make their communities a better place. The goal is to help close the opportunity gap that has left so many of our kids behind.

In this blog we hope you'll find ideas that can be used in your own community. We hope that you'll share your ideas with us.

In producing this series, we visited communities across the country, each working in their own way to provide a better future for their children.

As this blog evolves, we're joined by students from the Detroit area who will share their own ideas and experiences of working together to try and close the opportunity gap.

We hope to be joined by more communities as the blog expands, and we hope that you'll join us as well.

The four-part series uses the research of Dr. Robert Putnam, and his book of the same name as a “springboard” into new content. As filmmaking story-tellers, we look at several communities around the country and how kids, often just  blocks or miles from one another, live in completely different worlds.


Dr. Putnam grew up in Port Clinton, Ohio, and in 1959 when he graduated high school, it was a close-knit community where the children, all the children, were thought of as "our kids". Rich and poor went to school side by side, and there was a sense of humility about one's wealth. Though his class only had a few black students, they, too, were thought of as "our kids", even in a time of vicious racism and segregation. Members of the community helped all these kids go on to live better lives than their parents, to live the American Dream.

 But in the years since, a division has occurred in American society. We no longer think of the children in our communities as "our kids" but more in terms of "us" and "them". Communities have segregated themselves economically. The result has been a widening gap in the opportunities afforded to children from rich and poor families. Dr. Putnam's book looks into how and why these divisions started to happen.

The causes are varied and extremely complex, and surely open to debate. But the series--- and this blog---want to focus on the positive, and what we all can do to narrow this gap. Our goal is to try to think of the children of America as "our kids".

This project has been several years in the making, and it's not done yet. Harry Wiland, co-director of the series,  tells the story of how he came to "Our Kids".

"In 2015, I started by reading a review of Robert Putnam’s new book release of "Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis." Of course, the New York Times review was highly salutary. Its theme was that, according to Putnam, there was an ever-widening opportunity gap between rich and poor children in America. The purpose of the book was to make Americans aware of the disparities of opportunity between those on the opposite side of the poverty line and, with 30 million children on or below the poverty line, the country was failing these poor kids.
His conclusion was that these kids were an important natural resource and their failure to
succeed is a loss for all of us. For, after all, these are all our kids.

"We had already worked with Dr. Putnam on another project. We had interviewed him during the making of our 4-part series "Edens Lost & Found". That PBS series was about the need to improve the quality of life in our urban communities by improving public facilities, especially our public parks and recreational facilities, in all of our neighborhoods. In 2000, Bob Putnam had written a book about the fragmentation of our communities called "Bowling Alone" that also spoke about the alienation of our communities. Unlike most academic treatises, it became an instant bestseller. (Note: Bowling Alone is being re-issued by Simon & Schuster in 2020 to commemorate its 20th anniversary.) He graciously agreed to be interviewed and appeared in the series.

 "The trait that makes Dr. Putnam unique is his ability to take seemingly mundane
issues and articulate their importance. Certainly, that was what Our Kids meant to us. By coincidence, the week after I had read his book, Putnam was to appear at UCLA to talk about his new release. With underlined book in hand, as well as, a short treatment that my co-founder of MPC Dale Bell and I wrote, I attended the seminar and spoke to Bob afterwards. He appeared to be interested in turning Our Kids into a public television series. We found out from his agent that we were not alone in wanting to secure the rights to his book. We were told that there were nine other entrants in the competition. After several months, we won the competition with our “solutions-oriented treatment," and were awarded the option to proceed.

 "We met with Bob, starting in 2016, to begin to shape the series, select the communities and plan the R&D, fundraising phase which stillcontinues. From a list of over a hundred communities that Putnam had visited and studied, Bob, Dale, and I first reduced the list to 20, and finally chose a short list of 12 communities to actually visit. I went out on the road to visit these communities to see if their efforts to narrow the gap would translate to film. As a result, nine communities were eventually selected, and Dale and I next began the production phase which took place from 2017-2018. The communities we filmed in are: Riverside CA, Springfield MO, Nashville TN, Seattlen WA, Boston MA, Manchester NH, Duluth MN, Detroit MI, and Columbus OH.

“The goal of the series is to present grass-roots programs in development or in existence in these communities that could be emulated by other communities across the country, to narrow their opportunity gap. The criteria were that these programs were affordable, transferable, scalable and community based.

“April 2019 is the premiere broadcast date on 300 public television stations nationally. We are now in the post-production phase preparing for the broadcast and outreach portion of the media project. To find out when the series will air in your community please visit our project website at: www.ourkidsseries.org, or inquire with your local PBS station. The National Educational Telecommunications Association, or NETA, is the distributor of the series."

Thanks for joining us.

-Peter Segall

Media Policy Center


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