Jeff Neal for C.U.R.E. - Certain Unalienable Rights Endowment

What should we teach poor kids? Let’s try teaching them what is FREEDOM.

In Opinion on December 4, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Newt Gingrich has taken a lot of heat for suggesting that we pay [poor] kids to work, some at their schools as janitors.  Some critics have used the occasion to remind us that some years ago Mr. Gingrich suggested that some orphanages would be better places to raise some children than were some really bad homes where the parent (singular) is doing a lousy job.

Some of the criticism is based on the (intentional?) mis-characterization of his comments.  He didn’t criticize the ‘working poor’ and he didn’t say that all orphanages would be better than all poor households.  He said some things that are more nuanced than that.  (Why was ‘nuance’ a good thing in describing John Kerry vis-a-vis George W Bush, but is not in anyone’s vocabulary when they discuss complicated policy questions that are raised by some of Mr. Gingrich’s statements?)

Query: In the case of the orphanage, which would Mr. Gingrich’s critics prefer – lousy parents or good orphanage?

More importantly and on the topic that requires a little more nuance-ing, consider this:

There are two variables in Mr. Gingrich’s hypothetical situation surrounding poor kids.  One is WORK vs. NO WORK and the other is PAY vs. NO PAY.  Those variables taken two at a time produce four scenarios that are not meaningless (i.e. choosing NO WORK & WORK is not a scenario that makes sense).

The four scenarios are:

1.  Pay the poor for work.

2.  Do NOT pay the poor for work.

3.  Pay the poor for NOT working.

4.  Do NOT pay the poor for NOT working.

Let’s look at these in reverse order.

Option 4 is reasonable, but not likely to change much in poor communities by itself.

Option 3 looks a lot like the current “War on Poverty” which has been very expensive yet not very helpful, or else we probably wouldn’t be having the debate, right?

Option 2 is immoral, illegal and downright disgusting if you ask me (unless you’re attending Brentwood Academy – see below).

And, Option 1 is essentially the Gingrich recommendation that has generated so much criticism.  Which of the other three are his critics silently supporting?  If they can’t be in favor of #1, what do they prefer instead?  I can’t combine the variables in any other rational two-some, can you?  Makes me wonder what their objection is – Mr. Gingrich’s presence on the stage or his idea?

And, if you’ll bear with me so I may be complete, I’ll address the “Yeah, but Newt said the kids should be janitors.  How insulting!”

First, why is it insulting to learn a little bit of work ethic in the role of janitor.  As a practical matter, what else would the critics propose – the NO work, NO PAY option, or do those critics want the kids to sit in for the principal, or maybe head football coach?

Second, a biographical point.  From 1975-1981, grades 7-12, I attended a prep school in Nashville, Tennessee – link here > (Brentwood Academy).  Tuition at BA for the 2011-2012 academic year is $18,100.  It ain’t cheap (Thank you, Dad!).  For the last 20 minutes of EVERY school day all 350 of us reported to various rooms or wings for clean-up period.  There were no janitors.  NONE.  Punishment for infractions of school rules that were not punishable by expulsion was attendance at “Saturday School” during which major projects – scrubbing all the garbage cans or cleaning the football stadium after Friday night’s game – were completed.  That bunch of (mostly) rich kids were taught that only they could keep their school clean.

YES, our parents PAID our school a lot of money to enforce the “do NOT pay the [kids] for WORK” option.  Damn, at least Newt Gingrich isn’t that evil!  And, the place was spotless, by the way.

Let’s teach poor kids the same thing those rich kids at Brentwood Academy were (are?) taught.

At BA, we were taught that nothing is free, work is part of, indeed the essence of, living and WE are free to make our lives better or worse.

And, we learned, most importantly, no one else can make your life better or worse unless you let him own you.


  1. My parents were teachers. They sent me to Brentwood Academy. 30 years later the couple of dozen of employees under my supervision have seen me pick up a broom, empty trash and even seen my do emergency plumbing cleanups. It has beena great example to other employees. No only did I learn about cleaning, I learned about keeping things clean. When your job for a six week period has been to clean toilets and stalls in the bathroom. You make sure that people dont misuse those facilities. Americans need to learn again resposibility that cleaning and work in general creates. Paying people to work that is a novel idea. Most everybody can do something. Let them. No more money for nothing. It is a mistake to do that to our children and to our friends and neighbors.

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