The question my students most often ask me is, "Why do you give so much work?"
The second most often-asked question is, "Got any food?"
Before this last weekend I had never thought to sit and quantify the questions my students ask me. But Paul Ryan made me do it.
Wisconsin GOP Congressman Ryan spoke Thursday at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual meeting of conservative activists that serves as a pilgrimage for any professional conservative with a book or a campaign to sell. You have probably heard that a key anecdote from Ryan's speech turned out to be plagiarized, not by Ryan, but by Ryan's source â€“ Eloise Anderson, Secretary of Wisconsin's Department of Children and Families, an appointee of Gov. Scott Walker.
Here's what Ryan said Thursday, according to the Washington Post's "Fact Checker" Glenn Kessler:
(Anderson) once met a young boy from a very poor family, and every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. He told Eloise he didnâ€™t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch, one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.
Ryan told the story to suggest that "the left," in his words, wanted to offer hungry children not a full stomach but "an empty soul." A free lunch at school, Ryan argued, robs children of the love, acceptance and comfort that only a family, via a home-packed lunch, can provide.
I started thinking about my students' questions of me because I read Kessler's column Friday morning before I left for school, and literally within a few minutes of the start of school that morning, one of my kids did in fact ask me if I had any food. The question came back repeatedly throughout the day.
Some of this I'm sure is standard adolescent rapaciousness; I was fed well in my middle-class home when I was an teenager, but I was very good at sniffing out food from teachers and classmates or sneaking some of those little blueberry muffin things when I worked my shifts at Burger King.
But my school also has a near 90 percent free and reduced lunch rate, meaning the vast majority of kids walking the halls are from families with incomes below, at, or just above the poverty line â€“ and many of the kids are, in fact, hungry when they're asking me for food.
But back to Paul Ryan. As it turns out, the story Anderson told Ryan (during testimony before Congress!) was lifted fromÂ a book by Laura Schroff, and the boy who wanted a brown bag was named Maurice Mazyck. Anderson's spokesperson gave Kessler a statement claiming the secretary "misspoke" in her testimony, but Kessler couldn't verify the supposedly corrected version of Anderson's story, either.
More importantly, I think, is that Schroff and Mazyck are busy living the exact opposite of what Ryan was trying to say by appropriating their anecdote. The two are, according to a news release Kessler links to, working with No Kid Hungry to provide healthy meals to hungry children. Indeed, a key part of No Kid Hungry's mission is making sure that families can access food stamps,Â free school lunches and other soul-sucking methods of getting food to hungry kids.
Ryan's schtick at CPAC, claiming that government help for those in need crushes spirits and steals souls, is a pretty common trope among those on the right eager to curb government spending primarily by cutting programs for the poor. I think that conservatives want to say they care â€“ they just care about your existential well-being much more than they care about whether you go to bed hungry or, for that matter, have a bed or even a home.
"I want you to have love and self respect more than I want you to have a mock chicken leg," they say. You can hear the "It hurts me as much as it hurts you" lurking just under the surface there, and it's no more a consolation from someone like Ryan than it was from your dad before he delivered a spanking.
I think Ryan's schtick would seem more genuine if there were actual solutions behind his rhetoric. In the CPAC speech, Ryan said â€“ rightly, I think â€“ that a growing economy is good for poor families. The trouble is his ideas, like like cutting Medicare or food stamps or Head Start or other programs that primarily help the poor, do the opposite of grow the economy.
It's bad enough that Ryan's recent report on 50 years of America's "War on Poverty"Â abuses the data; it also misrepresents the reality of social mobility in America and the effects of government programs. Food stamps, for example, have ( nearly double) the benefits to the wider economy than their cost. Recent research suggests that the best anti-poverty program may well beÂ just giving people money, no strings attached. The Earned Income Tax CreditÂ does exactly that to great success for America's poor â€“ and that is a program Ryan has a history of trying to slash.
Ryan said at CPAC that "the left just doesnâ€™t understand" the value of knowing someone cares about them, with his purloined tale of the brown bag. "People donâ€™t just want a life of comfort," Ryan said, "they want a life of dignity â€“ of self-determination."
When my students ask if I have any chips or candy or, sometimes, fruit, they're not asking for a life of comfort. They're not handing me their dignity in exchange for Cheetos, their self-determination for an apple. They don't want a speech. They want a meal. They're hungry.
Paul Ryan and his party would rather they stay that way. For their "soul."
The point is that he both plagiarized and lied. Hunger trumps dignity any day. It's good to recognize a lie and even better to hold people accountable for their lies. Please stay on topic with your replies. Political grandstanding is just disgusting. Lyin' Ryan - It's not just a nickname, it's a career.
This is just riveting stuff. Sigh.
The President of the United States of America has been getting up in front of the people of this nation for 5 consecutive years and lying to their face regarding his plan for health care, what it will mean for them, and who, ultimately, will benefit from the legislation. But instead of focusing on the big guy, the one actually in charge, you goofs are chasing down anecdotal quotes from stump speeches at conferences. Earlier this week you had Dan Bice over at the Journal playing keystone cop and tracking down people who appeared in stock online imagery used in a Republican TV ad. Is this really what you've come to? Because your ideas and philosophy have been put on full display as an unmitigated failure, you're going to try and disprove the other side by chasing ghosts? OK. Good luck with that.
3 comments about this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Jay Bullock
Published May 18, 2015
I'm also a teacher in the Milwaukee Public Schools, so for me, the most important topic of any campaign, even for alderman, is education. You can imagine, then, that Ald. Tony Zielinski's surprise proposal last week, which would stop the City of Milwaukee from opening new charter schools, was of interest to me. I like this plan, though the timing seems suspicious.
Published May 12, 2015
There is nothing wrong with being hopeful and keeping your fingers crossed as you try something new. But when hope and magical thinking become not merely your attitude but the entire rationale behind your actions, you should be prepared to be disappointed. After all, magic is not real. Only reality is real, and as Stephen Colbert once sagely observed, reality has a well-known liberal bias.
Published May 5, 2015
I teach high school, so this time of year I hear a lot about prom. This year, in particular, I've about had it with prom. Not because of the tiresome campaigning for prom queen or the incessant classroom distraction, but because it seems now more than any time in recent memory prom has taken destructive cultural influences and turned the amplifier knob to 11.
Published April 28, 2015
Last week, the Washington Post issued its annual ranking of the best high schools in every state around the country. The Milwaukee Public Schools, with six high schools making the cut, including the top two spots in Wisconsin and three of the top 10. But here's a thing: Two of the schools on the Washington Post's list also made a different list, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction's list of the worst schools in the state.
Published April 21, 2015
Based on older data, MPS had the highest suspension rate in the country for African American high school students. Is it because white teachers (like me) are racist? I have been asked this before, casually in conversation with friends or acquaintances and seriously by people trying to get to the root of the problem - even by a fellow OnMilwaukee.com columnist worried that MPS teachers might be setting their expectations too low. I tend to answer no.
Published April 14, 2015
We're well into our second generation of students who have no sense of loyalty or school pride, our second generation of alumni who are leaving the system with no particular connection to their high schools. These young men and women will be of little use in any kind of alumni engagement scheme unless something changes in this city and district to help students -- or force students -- to be more loyal to their schools.
Published April 7, 2015
Today is election day in Wisconsin. Non-partisan elections like today's, especially here in Milwaukee, are usually low-turnout affairs, with few candidates, few ads or debates, and few big issues on the table for argument or discussion. This year is feels like there's been even less of that than usual, since of five school board races on the ballot, three candidates -- including the citywide candidate, Terry Falk -- have no opponent at all.
Published March 31, 2015
A vocal minority of Indiana's Christian population demanded, and got, a so-called "religious freedom" law. Reality tells us that this very vocal minority of Christians in Indiana demanded the law because they wanted the freedom, as individuals, as churches, and as businesses, to discriminate against gays and lesbians.
Published March 24, 2015
This week in 2010, five years ago, President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law. It has not led to a revolution - yet - but if you asked your average conservative which was worse, the oppressive taxation without representation of King George or giving 16 million Americans access to affordable health insurance, they would say Obamacare every time, I'm sure. I do not understand this.
Published March 10, 2015
The right to work law, like Act 10, doesn't hold up to the scrutiny conservatives would apply were it a Democratic bill. Health-care reform was a major campaign item, something promised by Obama. Walker denied interest in right to work and called it a distraction, and it was never a statewide issue during the 2014 election.