We have, in recent months, responded, as best we can, to the current levels of distemper in our world, thinking more about social and human capitals as foundations for moral outcomes – social, political and economic.
The outcome of better social and human capitals, on an individual level, is more effective agency for individuals. Agency, we might say, is the manifestation of human dignity, moving it from norm to fact. It also provides each of us with the capacity for freedom. Without agency, how inert would we be?
Individual agency, in fact, is the cosmos’ way of bridging between norms and facts. Human agency possesses norms and thoughts and at the same time, lives with facts.
I recently read that in the state of Mississippi – long derided for having the lowest achievements in education and the most child poverty among all the 50 American states – over the past decade has committed its educational system to having every child able to read by the end of third grade. As a result of this community effort, Mississippi children no longer test at the bottom of all American children. They now demonstrate abilities closer to the average, no matter their family’s economic circumstances. Among poor families, Mississippi children are now tied for best performers in the nation on one standard test for reading, while ranking second in math.
The abilities of high school graduates have also grown. In 2011, only 75% of students graduated, 4% below the national average graduation rate, but in 2022, 88% of Mississippi students graduated high school, when the national average for graduation was 87%.
The lesson to be learned from this is that poverty is not an insurmountable obstacle to developing our agency capabilities. It is the person incubating the divine spark, not life circumstances, which can make all the difference for the quality of our life outcomes.
Does that fact not argue for setting high standards for ourselves and others and persevering in living by them?
Robert Browning insisted that a person’s “reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”