Sharon Lerner

Sharon Lerner covers education, work/life, and other issues affecting children and families and conceived of the Prospect's special report on early education. She is a Senior Fellow at Demos, a progressive think tank. 

Recent Articles

Mississippi's Last Abortion Provider

Flickr/kbrookes
T welve years ago, Dr. Willie Parker was at home listening to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I’ve been to the mountaintop” sermon. Parker had heard the words many times before. But this time, he found himself focusing on King’s interpretation of the Bible story of the “good Samaritan,” who stopped to help a man who had been left for dead by robbers. Though others had passed the man by, the Samaritan stopped, King explained, because he didn’t think about the harm that might befall him if he did. Instead, he asked what might happen to the dying man if he did not. Parker, an ob-gyn who had been practicing for 12 years at the time, suddenly felt that King’s words held meaning for his own work. Having grown up in a religious family that was active in the Baptist church (Parker was “born again” and preaching the gospel at 15), he had been brought up to believe that abortion was wrong. Up to that point, he had never provided one. He’d refer women to other providers, but was too conflicted about...

Even America's Safest Places Need Better Gun Control

(AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
Flickr/Doug Kerr A garden in Newtown, Connecticut I f you ever have the chance, you should visit Newtown, Connecticut, a “picture-postcard place in New England, especially in the fall.” Or so urges Sperling ’s Best Places to Raise Your Family , which included the town among its 100 best spots to have kids, ranking it among the top ten where you could “keep your door unlocked.” The guide book for families looking for the ideal hometown also notes that Newtown is among its top ten of its 100 picks in terms of having a high percentage of households—44—that have an annual household income above $100,000 per year. No one could predict the tragedy that would befall this bucolic suburb of Danbury. The senseless murder of 20 six- and seven-year-old children and seven adults at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School has nothing to do with the fact that the town is scenic or expensive, but it is worth noting that a number of the horrendous shooting sprees that have taken place since the nation-...

Pre-K on the Range

Rural, conservative, impoverished Oklahoma has built the nation’s brightest model for early education.

(Flickr/Howard County Library System)
F our-year-old John Kaykay is a serious and quiet boy—“my thoughtful one,” his dad calls him. When the official greeters at the front door of the McClure early-childhood center in Tulsa welcome him with their clipboards and electric cheer—“Good morning, John! How are you today?”—he just slowly nods his small chin in their direction. When he gets to Christie Housley’s large, sunny classroom, he focuses intensely on signing in, writing the four letters of his name with a crayon as his dad crouches behind him. When he’s asked the question of the day—“Do you like music?”—he pauses for a minute before putting his magnetic nameplate in the “no” section. John’s third day of pre-kindergarten will be filled with more questions. Since yesterday was the 20th and tomorrow is the 22nd, what day is today? Can he pick out the card with the number 21 written on it? If the colors go pink, blue, pink, blue, what comes next in the pattern? How many of his friends are in school today? Can he think of a...

How Sandy Saved Occupy

The protest movement's disaster-relief efforts have helped it connect with the “99 percent” it had trouble reaching in its Zuccotti Park days.

(Flickr/Michael Fleshman)
(Flickr/John de Guzman) Volunteers at an Occupy Sandy distribution center on Staten Island H ow did we get here? This is the question occupying “occupiers,” as they call themselves, at their first post-Sandy community-wide meeting. On this cold November night just before Thanksgiving, “here” is the St. Jacobi Lutheran church in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, where at least 300 Occupy Sandy volunteers have crammed into the pews. But “here” is also the uneasy juncture of political protest and disaster relief where this newly formed organization finds itself. Occupy Sandy’s story began in the hours just after the superstorm hit, when “a few of us occupiers were just texting each other at like 2 a.m. seeing how we could help,” recalls Bre Lembitz. A lanky 22-year-old whose blond curls are shaved close on one side of her head, Lambitz suggested bringing meals to the shore, and “everyone was totally down to do relief work.” So the next morning, she and a few others from Occupy Wall Street created...

The International Language of Happiness

At a United Nations conference this week, world leaders look beyond economic output to measure the progress and well-being of a nation.

(Flickr / Navicore)
The Prime Minister of Bhutan, Jigmi Thinley, presided over the United Nations (U.N.) conference in a beautiful gold and ruby striped gho. Thinley is a small man with a broad smile. As he spoke, his demeanor was calm and welcoming, even if his words were not. “Mankind is like a meteor, blazing toward self-immolation along with all other life forms,” he said, gazing evenly at the rapt crowd. It’s not the typical stuff of U.N. meetings, but then the “ High Level Meeting on Happiness and Wellbeing ” hosted by the government of Bhutan on Monday was not your typical U.N. meeting. Sure, Excellencies were graciously thanked. Polite bows were executed. Headsets worn. But the dignitary-studded crowd of more than 600 also heard from experts on meditation, and were invited to contemplate their oneness with the universe. This may have been the only U.N. conference where several speakers referenced both Buddha and Aristotle. This first ever meeting of its kind and caliber was organized with a...

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