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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014

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Newt Gingrich berates poor and black children

In recent statements Newt Gingrich argued that "Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of work and have nobody around them who works ... So they have no habit of showing up on Monday."

Alluding to "43% of black teenage unemployment," he said, "What if they cleaned the bathrooms? What if they mopped the floors? (What) if they had money of their own and didn't have to become a pimp, prostitute or drug dealer?"

Gingrich's implication that poor and black children are lazy and undisciplined is the same racist and revisionist historical argument that was used in defense of slavery, Jim Crow segregation and job discrimination. He adds to this insult that black teenagers should become cheap labor to replace janitorial services.

I wonder how many homes of the "really poor" and working poor Mr. Gingrich has visited.

As an MPS teacher, I served the children and families Gingrich is stereotyping. Since the introduction of W-2 in Wisconsin, I know very few households where no one is working. In fact, in most households more than one person is working, including teenagers, in order to have spending money and often to help support their families. The problem is they are working at low-wage jobs.

I often helped students get jobs. I would help them fill out applications, provide references and accompany them when they went to make first contact with prospective employers. Because of the need to work, many of my students were not able to have a typical high school experience, having no time for sports and extracurricular activities.

Mr. Gingrich, no one wants to be poor. Money does matter.

Yes, Mr. Gingrich, the working poor are poor, but they are working hard to survive with the hope of achieving the American dream.


mikeb | Dec. 19, 2011 at 7:01 p.m. (report)

A few thoughts:

1) We already have Bobby Tanzilo as an apologist for MPS. Do we need this guy? If we have this guy, can we get an education blogger from a successful private high school in the City like Marquette?

2) One of the problems in our country has become liberal white guilt. What I mean by that is we can't honestly talk about any topic regarding race. We tap dance around it and then wonder why we've created a permanent under class in our society. I would agree that Gingrich perhaps could have made his remarks a bit more "sensitive", but the thesis is correct. You learn by watching people around you. If the people around value work and value education there's a reasonable chance that you might pick up on that. If you are surrounded by a 50% unemployment rate and a high rate of people who are high school drop outs, how can we reasonably expect you to do better? Who becomes your role model?

Remember back to your own educational days. If you're like me you behaved and did well in school because that's what the expectation at home was. I did not value education until I got older. I did well because my parents valued it and held me accountable for my performance. My Dad, a MPS 8th grade teacher, gets about 10% of his parents to show up at parent-teacher conferences and he's a guy who visits the home of each student at the beginning of each year. Despite his dedication he can't make the parents care and if the parents don't care good luck reaching the kids.

3) People are probably put off by the types of jobs Gingrich talked about. They were all menial jobs. That said, my first job was a menial job and my guess is that most successful people started out and developed good work habits through doing menial jobs.

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EastSideMKE | Dec. 19, 2011 at 12:35 p.m. (report)

While Mr. Gingrich's phrasing may have been insensitive, he actually does have a valid point. First of all, how can Black unemployment be 50% in Milwaukee AND yet nearly all of the parents of the poor children you taught at MPS were working multiple jobs? Both statements cannot be true. It is a fact that poor children fare better when they attend schools with middle and upper class children because the poor children are able to pick up on the social cues and behaviors of students who come from more affluent backgrounds. In other words, they learn the successful habits of middle and upper class people and are able to imitate them; these are skills they simply cannot learn at home in the dysfunctional environments that most live in.

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