Yes that was the Gingrich plan unveiled in a firestorm of comments surrounding the former house speaker’s willingness to go the NAACP and tell African Americans they should demand paychecks not food stamps. This was followed by a town hall in New Hampshire where he accused the media of distorting his ideas and how the resistance to his plan to give kids in the poorest of neighborhoods habits of working came from “the left” specifically an article written by someone 20 years ago stating it traps kids into being janitors; then, according to Gingrich, another person with the same left agenda came out saying janitors do hard work, why are you trying to kill children? Candidate Gingrich scoffing at how ridiculous that was, going on to say schools could keep a head janitor, grossly overpaid, commented on New York city schools who pay janitors more than teachers, hire 20-30 kids per school to work in the cafeteria, the front office and “yes push a broom.” Next he spoke about his daughter who reminded him her first job was scrubbing toilets in a church, his granddaughter who wrote him on her new i-pad she saved everything she earned, doing chores, until she could afford it. There was of course a story from right there in New Hampshire about a boy named Ian and his wickedly good doughnuts. Newt Gingrich then gradually worms his way around to shouldn’t we be a nation of work at the center of our country and for that to be so, the culture conversations that must take place, to work you have to be educated then the idea that to compete with China North Korea you have to learn something, that school is to be about education not socialization and it’s to be about discipline and better to bruise Bobby’s psyche now and get him to read rather than him graduating not being able to read, us having ruined his life.

The whole town hall was like that simplifying urban poverty and the welfare problems we face by saying kids need to know how to work, we need to be a nation that works, as in holds a job, pledging that if he is the nominee to campaign as the paycheck president calling Obama the most successful food stamp president in history. It’s difficult to know where to begin dissecting the problem with the Gingrich philosophy on a working America but perhaps commenters on the food stamp story that went viral said it best when they pointed out Obama is not the “food stamp president” that that came in the 1960’s and the food act was passed in 1970; or another who asked a should be striking question about does Mr. Gingrich have a plan for after the checks stop and the malnutrition, starvation of, particularly children, sets in? Even though defenders of Newt claim he believes this stuff, passionately believes it will change our nation for the better, purporting it’s not about race, the implied argument it’s about neighborhoods, the media perhaps need to be more discerning, less simplistic; it is the candidate who is over simplifying issues. And Gingrich did target blacks with his comment about the NAACP, further targeting them saying they should demand paychecks not food stamps. Or as he corrected, they should not be satisfied with food stamps; however The Huffington Post quickly pointed out how a candidate shouting about telling the truth, in terms of going negative on opponents when necessary, mangled his facts on food stamps. Facts based on the most recent data are that the majority of receiving households are white, at 33% dwarfed an entire 10 percentage points are blacks with 22% and Hispanics at slightly over 16%; despite whites increasingly becoming the minority in many areas. Mentioned data also informed readers that 47% of the recipients are children, who, by the way, are not to blame for their parents’ mistakes, 28% are comprised of those disabled or elderly, exactly the people who can’t work or are passed working age. The Huffington Post going on to say, “Moreover, there is no contradiction between earning a paycheck and receiving food stamps.”

Worse is his mangled facts stating that they give it away as cash and people could use it to go to Hawaii; which is utterly false seeing as they put it on a type of debit card only usable for food and liquor of any kind is excluded from the things you can purchase. Claims of fraud that include giving stamps to millionaires are unsubstantiated; despite the shouting, program abuse is at an all-time low. He has obviously confused food stamps with TANF (temporary aid to needy families) and general relief, but by all means lets prevent poor people from buying their kids diapers, bottles, themselves toothpaste, shaving cream, mouthwash, socks. How they are ever supposed to get a job minus those basics defies common sense, and no matter how they hoard said stipends, it is completely unrealistic they could afford to go to Hawaii. Such ignorance coming from someone hell bent on reform how this nation works is an insult to the 5 million food stamp recipients who are working what the Huffington Post described as an explosion of low wage jobs and simultaneously are eligible to received stamps, not because they are so extravagant, but because the wages truly are that low compared to costs of living. Also characterized, more than 4 million are actively looking for work or the millions who have joined the droves of discouraged workers no longer looking after months, years, of trying as jobless Americans have continually outnumbered jobs 4-1. Gingrich has no help or solution for the 10 million Americas comprising the working poor making minimum wage at slightly over 15,000 a year, which is still below the poverty line for a family of three. In the interest of telling the truth, Gingrich has a long history of attempting to repeal minimum wage and using the rhetoric above to lead his crusade against food stamps, against feeding people who, no matter how hard they try, can’t feed themselves.

Returning to the town hall and the concept that what keeps Americans from working now is not enough work as children, no working habits, let’s look at how his examples don’t translate into poorer neighborhoods. Ian’s Wickedly Good Doughnuts never would have come into being because the father of a poor kid wouldn’t have had the time or money to be at the trade show and bought the doughnut maker. Neither would either of the parents had time to drive Ian to deliver his doughnuts once the business expanded, if the family even had a car; since Gingrich commented that Ian’s dad was excited he was now 16 and could drive to deliver his own doughnuts. Secondly you’re dealing with a pretty remarkable 11 year old, the age Ian started, if he can go out and convince restaurants to become customers at an age no one is likely to take them seriously; meaning they likely had an inherent talent for business, something all kids aren’t going to possess. Business talent aside, it doesn’t mean people in the neighborhood, small shops can afford the product. Thirdly kids from poor neighborhoods participating in the Gingrich work program, earning that 3,000 over the school year aren’t going to learn the saving attitude of his granddaughter, because the money quickly goes from theirs to their family’s and the $60-80 a week is spent on food for everyone, socks for little brother, sissy’s baby formula, rather than money for supplies to take a school jewelry making class or the required camera for high school photography class or saving for a toy, computer or i-pad. Lastly it becomes discriminatory when the white poor kids are shuffled into the library, food service and the black poor kids end up pushing brooms, scrubbing toilets. Added to that, the ones who did well young, continue to do well today are the ones who had a product or service to sell, not just ones who worked before everyone else. Ian’s Wickedly Good Doughnuts is a perfect example, so are the sisters with a million dollar locker magnet business, the teens who have sold video/ computer games.  

Having given kids a work ethic Gingrich’s plan still ignores the key hurdle to reaching the goal of an America that works, an independent America vs. a dependent one, one that earns paychecks, not relies on food stamps, opportunity. Going back to our GOP candidates comments on education; school is about learning and socialization; he should know since his generation created the concept of it’s not what you know but who, a job system based on the friend or acquaintance who can recommend you at their workplace. He can tout education reform all he wants, but it’s less about parents seeing their kids as special and not wanting to bruise their psyche saying they are not good enough, a trend more likely started in the 1990’s not the 1960’s, less about self-esteem as a gift and more about not ripping away self-esteem and self-worth unduly. Self-esteem that can be earned in doing art or sports or wood shop, landscaping, not just pure academia, things schools slash for budget reasons or don’t even offer to begin with.  The Gingrich diatribe on cultural conversations needing to be had about education, his examples surrounding reading and homework do nothing to address why the child can’t read, are we dealing with dyslexia, other complex learning disabilities, developmental delay, things that won’t be cured by a parents nagging, berating them into “doing better.” 

If understanding urban schools, poor neighborhoods were a class he would fail, because he ignores the fact more and more kids come to kindergarten not having held a pencil or writing utensil, because parents couldn’t afford crayons and paper to doodle on, have spent their pre K years in homes without books, being read to because parents can’t afford to buy them, are working 2 jobs and have no time to use the library. Preschool programs in these areas are either hit or miss and often carry long waiting lists. Likewise, the reason some kids aren’t doing their homework is they lack the physical means to do so in terms of supplies, they don’t have computer or internet at home, can’t stay after school to use them or other library materials to do their report on Abraham Lincoln, because they ride the bus and they either don’t have a local public library or can’t walk to it to do the work. If we are going to have the cultural conversation, then we need to talk about teachers, school administrators who write off minorities, those from poor neighborhoods caring less if they can read, are grasping classroom concepts, instead focusing on the rest of the students, actions that have a more profound effect that student work ethic, parent involvement, whether homework is assigned or not, completed or not. To say nothing of the results of homework intensive nations like us, China doing no better on standardized tests than non-homework intensive nations like Holland, studies that have concluded homework does not reinforce concepts or boost information retention. Further keeping up, competing with places like China may mean leveling the playing field in an entirely different way, leveling it back to what we thought it was, if the ABC News report exposing hackers and business spies from China taking US  information on major companies is any indication. A phenomenon Mr. Gingrich is likely unaware of, involves kids who get straight A’s but have no success outside of school, basically flunk at life.  Again the kids, the people who do so well are the ones who buck the system; Bill Gates, Steve Jobs who dropped out of college, John Mayer who had to go to summer school to get his diploma now a Grammy winning singer.      

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He has nothing to say about the kids who graduate high school, have no problem reading, whose work habits would be perfectly acceptable if only they were given a chance to demonstrate them, who  garnered the average amount of knowledge they were supposed to get, not excellent, not poor just average and want to work, but have no opportunities. He has even less to say to those who perhaps did excellent, at least go on to college, get degrees and still can’t find jobs, who have done everything right and have nothing to show for it, except thousands of dollars in debt they subsequently can’t repay. For those who read my work regularly or who saw my piece Newt Gingrich Momentum to What– it detailed the dangers of kids working these type of jobs and so young, the social danger of taking us back to an 1800’s mentality on education. However another danger is giving already at risk kids false hope because, assuming the programs is a glowing success, that $3,000 a year isn’t going to be enough to go to college, as Ian thinks his doughnuts might do for him, even if they were able to save all of it. While it would give work experience it could quickly turn into, you don’t know quick books, don’t have accounting experience, driver’s license, your own vehicle we can’t use you. Don’t have a food safety course under your belt, a food safety certificate, we can’t use you. If you didn’t get at least the textbook knowledge of the chemicals, industrial, commercial cleaning machines used in janitorial work, incidentally why janitors are so “over paid compared to teachers, oh we can’t use you. Further employers won’t take long to get wise looking at applications, résumés and say oh you live there, you were part of that program, you must be poor, probably a delinquent; we don’t want you.  So these young people come out of the program, out of school eager to work, ready to join the real working world only to discover they don’t have the “right” education, the “right” experience, ironically just like their middle class counterparts, and quickly succumb to the negatives of a bad neighborhood, are that much more likely to get into drugs, prostitution; rapidly turn to illegal activities, reckless behavior because they feel the straight and narrow betrayed them.

Yes it is past time we were an America that works, as in an America that first and foremost, FUNCTIONS; if Newt Gingrich was going to demand something, the demand should have gone out to businesses to cease and desist all discriminatory practices. No more throwing applications in the trash of people with corn rows or dreadlocks in their hair, no more tossing of applications submitted by people who live in certain areas. Neither should it take a “special” boss, who believes in second chances, to hire someone trying to get off welfare rolls, lumping said persons in with parolees, former prisoners, people with felony rap sheets. Demand an end be brought to judging people’s fitness for employment based on size, weight, condition of teeth, walking gate, Facebook page, legal activities they choose to do outside work; put simply, if they are qualified for the job or have adjacent job experience, training, education, aptitude for learning hire them, regardless of ethnicity, where they live, where they went to school or what program they did or didn’t get their skills from. Instead what we have currently transpiring is employers who won’t hire someone with too much education for the job, are likely to question why you are applying with them considering your former position, who will blatantly tell you, you will get bored with the job, even if you are just trying to work so you, your kids can eat, making Gingrich’s comments on learning something all the more invalid. George Caril got it in one when he said they, the employers, people in power don’t want smart, educated, well informed people; they want people, who are just smart enough to run the machines, fill out the paperwork and not notice they are being controlled. And that is why, according to Carlin, the education system will never be fixed; sadly there is truth in that. Schools are exercises in conformity and little else.

Instead of the fantasy world our former speaker lives in, where everyone can, could work, if only they had the proper work ethic, we have employers who won’t hire anyone 18-25 for positions, because young people aren’t to be taken seriously; won’t hire anyone of child bearing years, especially women, because they will want maturity leave and the employer will lose productivity from them as they take time off for sick offspring, show up late because of school and daycare issues. People 40 and over are a risk because, along with child bearers, they might use their medical coverage, take their retirement from this job. When it’s not this reality potential workers are up against it’s some sort of nepotism, in which employers will hire their relatives, relatives of acquaintances, the child of a friend, ahead of any qualified applicant. Demands need to be made to stop disqualifying applicants by the way in which jobs are structured. Clerical and administrative assistant positions that require a driver’s license, your own vehicle not only ruling out someone who made a mistake and is trying to get their life back on track, but younger workers not yet able to afford a car; the same sorts of positions not inside the city limits, requiring, nights weekends and holidays, excluding bus services in the former case and costing someone a potential job in smaller towns containing limited bus service in the latter. And before the diatribe begins about obese America and walking to work; walking across town, across major highways in high vehicle traffic areas, walking in extreme cold or heat is unsafe; no job is worth your life. In that same vein are the kitchen sink jobs that want accounting, book keeping, business/marketing school, web design software, office specific PC programs to again push paper, fork lift operation, ability to lift 20-40 pounds, even 20/20 vision are not off the table again for clerical work.               

Opening the conversation on reforming these things makes a lot more sense than an obviously well fed white guy, making thousands of dollars per speaking engagement riding on the coat tails of once being speaker of the house, getting a 1.6 million dollar paycheck from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for a historian position, marching into the NAACP and demanding black people, just black people, not be satisfied with food stamps, instead start demanding paychecks. In other words, the new way of saying, get a job you bums. But never the less that’s what Newt Gingrich said.  Added to the insult, is the pure fact these are people so busy surviving they don’t have time to sit and ponder am I satisfied with food stamps; every day is too much of a struggle. They are too busy being grateful they have something to feed their kids and move on to other basic needs not so easy to get. Better solutions exist than diatribes on social ills, the laziness, apathy of poor people; for the Gingrich, get more people working plan, to have any hope it would almost have to be made into an after school program, as not to infringe on classroom learning combined with a bussing system for that after school program so that it could be made available to all students who wanted to participate, not just the ones picked up by their parents or who walk home. So if you are going to bus children home after this work program, why not bus students home after all extracurricular activities, giving them the chance to participate in writing club, art club, acting club, science club, nature club, sports learning something about themselves, possibly gaining information about activities they can later turn into careers, instead of just priming them for minimum wage, medial work. Work many agree, in the great debate about school curriculum, format and structure there isn’t enough of, for all of the kids coming out of high schools still based on 1950’s models, not teaching in demand technology skills.

Once again it’s the conversations we’re not having that could do this country harm; it’s the issues candidates refuse to address in any meaningful way, instead engaging in finger pointing, blaming the poor, the less fortunate, blaming current holders of office.  We’re so busy either trying to make president Obama a one term president or so desperate for things to change, we, the American people, are willing to let almost anyone talk us into almost anything. And that anything includes working our children instead of educating our children, elongating school years, school days instead of maximizing classroom time already spent, understanding children from dysfunctional neighborhoods and the unique challenges they face, adapting school accordingly. That anything includes taking personal responsibility to an extreme unrealistic level when it comes to healthcare, retirement, working ages while we, the people, say nothing. It means stereotyping people who need help just to survive and cutting them off from it to, make them work, make them understand work ethic, instead of having a serious discussion about business culture, wheat employers really need and need to be legally made to do to make America, all of it able to work again. Whether people like Newt Gingrich is irrelevant, whether he is going to be the nominee is irrelevant, the fact that what he says resonates with more and more US citizens is what should be frightening, what we have let ourselves believe.