A Conservative Poverty Agenda

Posted: Dec 10, 2012 7:30 PM

The Heritage Foundation's Jennifer Marshall recently posted a must-read piece on a conservative anti-poverty agenda that deserves wide readership.  In it, she rightly emphasizes the importance of the right having an anti-poverty agenda and outlines the "5 C's": Communication, Content, Courage, Credibililty and Critical Mass.  Check it out.

As she notes, the "critical mass" component includes working with fellow conservatives to create and advance the agenda.  To that end, it's worth looking at some of the programs -- and theories -- laid out in Paul Tough's "How Children Succeed." The underlying idea is that to help children "succeed" -- especially in the context of escaping poverty and other dysfunction -- it isn't enough (or even the primary task) to teach them cognitive skills.  Instead, they need to develop character traits like self-control, grit (resilience), gratitude and curiosity ("noncognitive socialization," to use a fancy term).  Those traits can be taught, Tough argues convincingly, and developing them substantially increases the likelinhood that children will flourish despite being born into adversity.

I've read the book, and I'm impressed.  It's the first theory (and he includes examples of programs practicing it effectively) that actually seems to have potential for helping children turn their lives around.  It's entirely true that we should be encouraging marriage as one of the best anti-poverty programs, but this offers the potential for effective intervention after that ship has already sailed.

What's more, it's a way that children can learn the skills they will need to lead a life of independence and dignity.  It's worth our attention and discussion -- as are the programs Tough holds up as examples, from KIPP to the Harlem Children's Zone and others.

Yes, of course Tough's approach has its critics, but they seem to be the typical victim-mentality leftists.  

Any effective conservative anti-poverty program is going to have to often something better than the life of government dependence, handouts and hopelessness that the Democrat Party has pushed for too long.  Tough's theories offer the germ of a new, potentially bipartisan approach that allows conservatives to offer empowerment, in line with our beliefs that everyone deserves the chance to become the person God created him or her to be . . . and the development of character is central to that endeavor.