Sound principles, data should guide how we prepare the next generation

Written by Derek Monson

February 14, 2023

Originally published in Utah Policy.

A principle that unifies Utahns across ideologies is preparation of the next generation for a life of success and happiness. This is an ambition shared by philanthropists, business and community leaders, and elected officials – and with each legislative session we watch the policy debates and hope that the result will create lasting opportunities for our kids.

Disagreement about the best way to accomplish this is normal and healthy. However, there are time-tested principles rooted in sound data that should guide our approach, and such principles often transcend what can be accomplished in any single legislative session.

“America’s history,” wrote American Enterprise Institute scholar Ian Rowe last year, “is rife with stories of African Americans who embraced the institutions of family, religion, education, and perhaps most notably entrepreneurship to overcome dehumanizing discrimination and achieve enduring prosperity.”

Rowe not only researches and writes on education and upward economic mobility, he speaks with the authority of practical life experience. An African American, Rowe both ran and co-founded networks of schools serving low-income communities in New York City.

Rowe’s experience and expertise has led him to advocate for family, religion, education and entrepreneurship as the path to economic mobility and life success for low-income children and families – even for the nation’s most disadvantaged communities.

These principles – forming strong families, educational achievement, and attachment to employment – ought to serve as a rally point for those of us who seek to increase economic mobility and reduce poverty in Utah. Financial support programs are sometimes necessary, of course. But simply paying bills for someone is insufficient for sustainably lifting low-income individuals and families out of poverty and into the middle class.

Rowe’s successful policy and thought leadership is part of the reason that Sutherland Institute will be honoring Rowe with the George A. Sutherland Award next month. This award is given in honor of public service marked by character, respect for differing views, and devotion to our founding ideals.

“We have a moral imperative to encourage young people of all races to adopt a new cultural norm around family, religion, education, and entrepreneurship,” Rowe testified to Congress last year. Utah leaders who support these core principles will do more to permanently alleviate poverty and improve economic mobility than decades of traditional anti-poverty policies have done.

Not only do these principles and institutions correlate with economic success – they also lead to greater happiness – lofty yet attainable goals we all want for the next generation.

Utah leaders in business, nonprofit, philanthropic, and public sectors who feel a resonance with these principles should ask: Given my role in our community, how can I best support efforts to instill these ideals in the next generation?

A statewide consensus on these ideals – paired with sound research and data – will guide better policymaking for our Legislature, and better community outcomes for all. Utah leaders who care about the next generation will be better equipped to make a difference by becoming champions of these ideas. Utah’s children deserve nothing less.

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