(Image Credit: icsd.k12.ny.us)
From the L.A. Times:
"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."
He said he favored putting children to work in paid jobs at the schools they attend "as early as is reasonable and practical."
Gingrich initially drew criticism for the idea after an appearance at Harvard last month, when he promised "extraordinarily radical proposals" to change America's "culture of poverty," such as allowing children as young as 9 to replace adult janitors at schools.
Since we already know that Mr. Gingrich can't stay faithful to a wife I had been wondering what he, as the latest Republican fad, would do to self-destruct.
I congratulate him on his creativity. This really is a first-class FAIL. There is so much stupid to unpack here that it's difficult to know where to start. A few brief points:
- Replacing adult workers in schools with children means throwing more parents out of work. How does this give children the example of working adults?
- Replacing adult workers with children is the starting line of a 'race to the bottom.' The introduction of cheap child labor would have the same impact within the U.S. as it currently does outside the U.S.- job destruction and a rapidly disappearing middle class. On the other hand, why should we compete with child labor in places like China and the Phillipines when we can just institute it at home? Our kids can outwork their kids any day!
- Will someone please bitch-slap this man for winning first prize in the Bad Optics contest? Think about it: A rich white guy in a country with a history of slavery, running against the first black president, is advocating child labor. He's going to face Obama in a debate and tout the benefits of child labor? And Republicans think that will sell? Seriously?
- A new meme has quickly emerged in response to Mr. Gingrinch's remarks: Japanese children clean their schools, so child janitors can't be such a bad idea. The practice this meme is referencing is known as "o-soji." It is also a red herring and a dodge in this context.
- O-soji is a specific "cleaning period" that is part of every Japanese child's school day, just like recess or math class. It can be as short as 15 minutes. All students and teachers participate, performing cleanup activities as a group. This is a far cry from what Mr. Gingrich is proposing. First, no one is paid for the cleaning. Second, cleaning activities only take up a small part of the total school day and do not constitute even a part-time job. Third, everyone in the building- teachers and all students- participates equally. No one is singled out as a low-wage "worker" being taught a "work ethic." O-soji is simply viewed as part of learning community values of teamwork and good stewardship. Students in all schools, rich and poor, participate.
(There's some cynical pushback against the idea of o-soji and the overblown reputation of Japanese schools here.)
There have been many comments that "liberals" are getting "hysterical" about Newt's comments and taking them out of context. I disagree. Mr. Gingrich may claim that he is outlining a very narrow and specific program, but the end result of his idea would be the normalizing of child labor. Once the shock of seeing 9-year-old children working in schools has worn off, it is likely that other employers would begin to lobby for expanding the child workforce. After all, many U.S. companies seem quite comfortable with- if not outright envious of- the labor policies in 3rd world countries. Of course, their demands would all be framed as being "in the best interests of the child." You know- teaching values, keeping kids off the mean streets, that sort of thing.
Mr. Gingrich's ideas also betray a complete ignorance of the lives of the working poor. My husband has spent the better part of his teaching career working with "at risk" children in some pretty scary neighborhoods. Yes, there are some multi-generation welfare families, but there are also plenty of parents living "on the other side of the tracks" who work two and three minimum-wage jobs to get by and want their kids to concentrate on school so they can get ahead in life. And he has seen plenty of those kids go on to earn MBAs or qualify for medical school. The idea that they have no positive influences and no work ethic is something peddled by television drama, not reality.
And finally, I should point out that I am writing as the granddaughter of a man who was forced to drop out of school at 14 to help support his family. My grandfather was a very bright and hardworking man who began his working life in a coal mine and eventually became a self-taught mechanic. He managed to carve out a working-class life for his family, but his opportunities remained limited. I have always wondered what he might have become if he had been able to apply his intelligence and initiative to further schooling.
He never voiced any bitterness over his lot, but the day I was born he opened a bank account dedicated to funding my college education. Sometimes actions speak louder than words.