Friday, December 02, 2011

Newt Gingrich wants to fix poverty by making poor kids scrub toilets

I gotta give Newt Gingrich credit for one thing. He's certainly not afraid to stand up for a controversial position:

"Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and nobody around them who works," Gingrich replied. "So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of 'I do this and you give me cash,' unless it's illegal."


"I believe the kids could mop the floor and clean up the bathroom and get paid for it, and it would be OK," he said to applause.

Newt is actually right about this, but here's the thing: rich kids don't have habits of working either. I never worked when I was a kid. I've never been paid for mopping a floor or cleaning a bathroom. But I turned out OK. Why? Because I was fortunate enough to grow up where there were some really good public schools where I got a really good education. And then I went to a public college on a scholarship. And then I went to grad school on a fellowship grant from the Office of Naval Research. And then I went to work for NASA. Until I went to work for Google at age 37 every dollar that paid for my education and my salary came from the government.

So Newt, how about instead of making them scrub toilets we give the inner city kids the same high-quality publicly funded educational opportunities that I had as a white middle-class child of the 'burbs? I turned out OK. Maybe they will too.


Don Geddis said...

Your suggestion seems reasonable, based on simple fairness to kids. After all, being poor isn't their fault!

But I'm glad you acknowledge that Newt has a point too.

I think the problem with your suggestion (high-quality public schools in the inner city) is that it is not sufficient. That approach has been tried many times (lots of money and quality into inner-city schools), and failed.

The problem is, that the home culture (which Newt is alluding to) has enormous (negative) influence on the kids' outcomes. The most successful programs (for the hardest cases) seem to be ones like KIPP, where they basically take over your entire life, and essentially attempt to remove you from the influences of your family and friends.

I think this gets at the conservative vs. liberal responses to this problem. The stereotype of liberals is: "It's an issue of fairness! Just throw money at the problem!" But that approach simply doesn't work.

(To be equal opportunity: the conservative stereotype is: "We have no empathy for these losers, and thus don't care about them.")

Ron said...

> The problem is, that the home culture (which Newt is alluding to) has enormous (negative) influence on the kids' outcomes.

Yes, I absolutely agree with that, though I can hardly think of a more inartful way of putting it than Newt came up with. And when you put it like that, it becomes clear why simply throwing money at the problem doesn't help (and, BTW, why making those kids scrub toilets is probably not going to help either).

MaysonicWrites said...


Take a look at what Harlem Children's Zone is doing. Start with prenatal care and parental education, continue with intensive pre-school and kindergarten, then high-quality charter schooling.

At least as successful as KIPP [IMHO], and not as disruptive of the family.


Peter said...

In Japan, kids clean the school and help prepare and serve lunch -- even at fancy private schools. I don't know if this accounts for Tokyo being so clean and New York being so filthy, but it'd be an interesting experiment to try.

Ron said...

I would have no problem at all with making kids clean the toilets if they all had to do it. But singling out the poor kids to clean toilets on the premise that they are poor because they have poor work habits, and that making them clean toilets will help to fix that, seems to me like a Really Bad Idea.

Anonymous said...

I agree, there may be situations where it would become advantageous to the schools but when you go to a huge high school like mine, it would put a good amount of janitors out of work, putting more stress on things like the job market and unemployment benefits. A few schools doing this would be okay, but if Gingrich wants to change all U.S. schools to this policy then it would just be too much.