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Is Education Reform the Solution to Poverty?

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No.

Robert Mann speaks some truth:

Arguing that education is the key to curing poverty is like saying swimming will prevent drowning. Of course, but could the best instructor in the world teach a child to swim if the student showed up for lessons wearing 20-pound weights on each arm?

That weight – the onerous burden of poverty – is what holds back many Louisiana children. It’s what makes the efforts of even the best teachers so challenging. When a child arrives at school unprepared or unable to learn because of circumstances beyond the school’s or its teachers’ control, why would we blame the school and its teachers?

Surely, those seeking public office, especially many now running for governor and the Legislature, understand this. They know that (on average) a sick child, an emotionally or physically battered child or a hungry child cannot learn, in the same way, at the same pace, as a child without those enormous challenges. So, why do so many of our leaders respond to questions about poverty by tossing off mindless, simplistic answers like, “The solution to poverty is a good education”?

I suspect they know it’s evasive and naive, but what else can the average politician tell you? The truth? Imagine a candidate with the courage to say the following:

“Look, I could give you the usual boilerplate answer about poverty. I could blame it on substandard schools and lazy teachers, and you’d nod your heads in agreement. That’s what you want to hear. You want to believe that if our teachers would just work harder, all our problems would disappear.

“Blaming poverty on our teachers and the schools is a cop out. It absolves us of our collective responsibility for the scandal of poverty. We’re scapegoating teachers, which is very much like blaming doctors for an outbreak of the common cold. They are only dealing with symptoms of a problem that existed before the patient arrived.

You know what the primary solution for poverty is? Good jobs in the places where people live. Of course saying that we need well-paid jobs in this country is the equivalent to being a moral monster if you are a centrist Democrat. It’s a lot easier to just bust teachers’ unions and send idealistic 22 year old recent college graduates into impoverished schools without any training. That will solve our problems!

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  • Murc

    Surely, those seeking public office, especially many now running for governor and the Legislature, understand this.

    Mr. Mann is being very, very generous to people here. Many people do not understand this at all.

    • joe from Lowell

      I agree, Murc.

      It’s so easy to dismiss these market-fetishist principles as dishonest, and I have no doubt there are plenty of people who deploy them dishonestly.

      But there are a lot of actual true believers out there. Those kids can get ahead if they work hard. If the teachers aren’t producing good test scores (like assembly workers producing push brooms), then economic carrots and sticks will give them the right incentives. People – a lot of high SES, well-educated people – actually, genuinely believe these things.

      • JL

        There’s also a decent number of people, smart people, from poor communities and communities of color who genuinely believe that the education reform stuff is a major part of the solution to schools failing poor kids of color.

        The other day on Twitter, I saw an argument about this going on between major Black Lives Matter organizer Deray Mckesson (who is a TFA alum) and some dude. I have no doubt that Mckesson was very genuine in his support of TFA and charter schools. I have no doubt that he understands that addressing injustice in this country will require addressing poverty and racism and mass incarceration (especially seeing as how he’s an organizer in a movement that addresses those things), that school is not an all-encompassing solution.

        IME, most people just do not frame this issue in terms of neoliberal privatizers vs the public sector (whichever side they’re on). It wouldn’t occur to them to frame it that way.

        • Murc

          There’s also a decent number of people, smart people, from poor communities and communities of color who genuinely believe that the education reform stuff is a major part of the solution to schools failing poor kids of color.

          Well, those people are absolutely correct.

          The problem is that a lot of people think education can be a silver bullet to all of societies ills. It is true that having a well-educated populace is an excellent social good, and that more is almost always better; if it were up to me everyone would have a legal right to a postsecondary education the way they current have the right to a 1-12 education.

          But it isn’t going to solve all our problems. You educate your populace because an educated populace is a good thing in and of itself.

          • joe from Lowell

            Well, those people are absolutely correct.

            Well, for certain definitions of “the education reform stuff.”

            Having a common set of grade-level curriculum objectives for school districts across the country isn’t meaningfully similar to, say, eliminating tenure, but they both get lumped under “the education reform stuff.”

        • joe from Lowell

          I like your overall point. I argued the benefits for Lowell Public Schools of having a common curriculum, despite that innovation being swept up into the list of horribles by people who talk about “neo-liberal education deform.”

          There’s also a decent number of people, smart people, from poor communities and communities of color who genuinely believe that the education reform stuff is a major part of the solution to schools failing poor kids of color.

          If the purpose of the term you chose was to lump together support for charter schools among parents in poor neighborhoods with the mindset I was describing, it runs counter to your point about their framing being different from, say, Erik’s.

          It is only through that framing that their support for charter schools can be said to have anything in common with a lack of awareness of the detrimental effects of poverty on learning.

          • JL

            In both cases, people genuinely believe that teacher failure is some large part of the problem and that “disruption,” for lack of a better word, of public education, is a good way to address that. I thought that was what all the various references in this thread to market fetishism, TFA, teacher-union-busting, and charter schools were about. The different sets of people in question are coming to those ideas from different starting points, and with different levels of awareness of other factors that may be detrimental to student learning.

            I’m reading two intertwined issues in this post. One is the issue of what role education plays in alleviating poverty. The other is the reforms commonly promoted by people who think the education system is not doing its job regarding the first issue.

            • joe from Lowell

              My point is that those different sets of people certainly come to share some ideas in common, but not nearly as many as the Michelle Rhees of the world like to claim.

            • In both cases, people genuinely believe that teacher failure is some large part of the problem and that “disruption,” for lack of a better word, of public education, is a good way to address that.

              When kids disrupt a classroom, the cops get called. When people in the “education industry” do so, they get six-figure salaries. Go figure.

  • Malaclypse

    We could have the best educational system in the world, and shitty jobs will still need doing. How this became something that needs to be pointed out baffles me.

    • Paul Campos

      It needs to be pointed out (over and over again) because it’s a point of faith across the American ideological spectrum that educational credentials have essentially magical qualities.

    • CP

      We could have the best educational system in the world, and shitty jobs will still need doing. How this became something that needs to be pointed out baffles me.

      This is the big delusion at the heart of what the “American Dream” has become. Our substitute for any kind of social policy has been to tell people that they don’t need to worry, because in the Land Of Opportunity, the important thing is to become the guy at the top who doesn’t need social policy.

      Those like me who have enough foresight and enough respect for life’s twists and turns to ask “what about the people at the bottom,” because we know we might end up there, are simply told “well, they’re just losers. Why would you worry about them? You’re not a loser, are you? If they’re at the bottom, it’s simply because they’re lazy and unproductive. So they deserve what they get. But you don’t need to worry about that. You’re not like that… Are you?”

    • Murc

      We could have the best educational system in the world, and shitty jobs will still need doing. How this became something that needs to be pointed out baffles me.

      You know how conservatives decry people working as garbage men or working a register as lazy dumb losers who deserve what they get?

      Many ostensible liberals don’t feel exactly the same way, but if you scrape at them enough you’ll discover that they’re not against people doing shitty jobs for bad pay; they’re against the wrong sort of people doing shitty jobs for bad pay, which should only be done by people who are actually lazy dumb losers.

      A good warning sign of this belief is whether or not they think that teenagers working part-time should be paid commensurate with the value they provide or if they regard a persons first job as some sort of hazing ritual which they need to progress through until getting a “real” job.

      • Mac the Knife

        This gets at something important. A brief anecdote about a recent conversation with a conservative:

        For the most part, he sounded surprisingly good on a living minimum wage indexed to inflation. He actually understood that working a low-paying job is a struggle. The back and forth of the conversation was about what you’d expect, and it mostly went well. The strange part was that he wouldn’t let go of an arbitrary distinction between “ditch diggers” (worthy) and “burger flippers” (unworthy). I tried for a long time and couldn’t make sense of what the difference was.

        For a LOT of people, the need for society to have lazy people to look down upon and serve as an outlet for their ideas about punishment is…foundational.

        • Rob in CT

          “ditch diggers” (worthy) and “burger flippers” (unworthy).

          That is an interesting distinction and I could interpret that uncharitably if I wanted to.

          • Mac the Knife

            and you probably wouldn’t be entirely wrong to do so. This person definitely got Mr. Atwater’s memo.

            • Rob in CT

              Yeah, that’s where I went with it.

        • joe from Lowell

          One of my college roommates started a rant about lazy moochers, which had two of my other roommates nodding along, until he finished his sentence with, “…like the people who work in toll booths.”

          Umwut?

        • Lee Rudolph

          The strange part was that he wouldn’t let go of an arbitrary distinction between “ditch diggers” (worthy) and “burger flippers” (unworthy). I tried for a long time and couldn’t make sense of what the difference was.

          Did you try “manly” versus “not manly”?

          • Rob in CT

            This too.

            You’ve got the likely hue of the workers, the likely gender of the workers, and also too the likely age (I could be wrong here but I’m thinking that FF worker skews a little younger? Maybe not).

            More benign possibilities include ideas like working outdoors > working indoors and construction > service work (why? I don’t know, Because).

            • Mac the Knife

              Age was an explicit concern of his. I don’t see the justification, but whatever.

              I think all of these other factors played into it to varying degrees too. And he wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of telling you honestly what the proportions were…self-awareness and all.

              • altofront

                These days I would think that ditches are mostly dug by skilled operators–often unionized municipal employees–using heavy machinery. It’s not exactly comparable to an entry-level fast food job.

      • tsam

        I would think that one of the cornerstone tenets of liberalism is that no matter what job you work, you should earn a living wage, even if you’re not a privileged white boy.

        The term “real job” is an invitation to get punched in the fucking mouth, I think. Anything you have to go do for pay is real.

        • guthrie

          Which liberalism? Not the 19th century kind. Not neo-liberalism. Maybe whatever you americans call modern sort of moderate liberalism?

          • tsam

            I don’t know what to call it. The ones who hang out here?

      • mds

        Many ostensible liberals don’t feel exactly the same way, but if you scrape at them enough you’ll discover that they’re not against people doing shitty jobs for bad pay; they’re against the wrong sort of people doing shitty jobs for bad pay, which should only be done by people who are actually lazy dumb losers.

        Possibly relatedly, plenty of otherwise liberal sorts got on board with the “Take Back New Haven” movement, based on the principle that union-backed politicians had gained too much control over city government … starting with the last election two years previously. It’s interesting how corruption only became a thing when SEIU candidates took a larger role. Apparently, they should have let white upper-middle-class liberals decide what’s best for them.

  • DrDick

    I agree with everything you and Mann say, but we also need to massively upgrade and improve the educational opportunities for poor children by equalizing the distribution of public resources.

    • Certainly.

    • Well, yeah. Education reform is a small part of government and ed-school thinking about schools, not the whole thing. And we’ve had “education reform” for a few decades now, so leaving ill-advised changes alone in the name of being against reform’s extremes isn’t obviously the best choice, either. But no one is saying making sure schools that need extra aides have the money to pay them, and don’t have to take the money from building maintenance, is bad for the poor, because throwing money at a problem that’s the wrong problem anyway.

  • Davis X. Machina

    The Boston Globe had a long piece this weekend on a grandmother and her grandson who live in the woods out behind the Oxford, Maine, tribal casino.

    The Life and Times of Strider Wolf.

    Ten miles from here. When this kid hit elementary school, I know who his teachers are, most likely.

    It’s sad beyond words. Punishing children for their choice of parents is not the habit of a great nation.

  • Quite Likely

    The way to fix poverty isn’t education reform, the way to fix education is to reduce poverty.

    • wca

      Came here to say exactly this. It’s not a coincidence that poorly-funded schools in areas with lots of poverty are always the schools that need “reform”.

    • DrDick

      It will actually take rather more than that to fix the educational system, as my links above show, but it would certainly make a marked improvement.

  • CP

    It’s a lot easier to just bust teachers’ unions and send idealistic 22 year old recent college graduates into impoverished schools without any training.

    Ever since I’ve graduated and gone job-hunting (international relations degree), it’s always amazed me when people tell me “have you thought of going to be a teacher in [insert random third world country here] – there’s a lot of demand, I know someone who did that!” So casually, you’d think they were saying “hey, Mrs. Phillips needs somebody to watch her dogs this weekend if you want to make a few bucks.” What the hell do you think I know about teaching? You really think it’s something so simple that I could just show up and wing it for the few days it takes to become an expert?

    • wca

      You really think it’s something so simple that I could just show up and wing it for the few days it takes to become an expert?

      They really think that, yes. They will then go on to tell you about how teachers only work a few months out of the year, and that once they’re out of the classroom they’re not “working”.

      • so-in-so

        It’s the classic old American bromide, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach”. The business community still thinks this, so if you can’t find a job, just teach for a while to make ends meet, then find REAL work.

        I suppose as evidence they point to the fact that there are few rich teachers (despite them being over paid), so obviously it’s a career for losers.

    • Rob in CT

      There are a lot of people who think teaching is fairly easy: they just didn’t wanna but coulda.

      It’s bullshit.

      There are a lot of us who “coulda” but for one or more showstoppers. Like, say, having a temperament compatible with working with kids (not your own) all day long without having a psychotic episode…

    • Murc

      What the hell do you think I know about teaching? You really think it’s something so simple that I could just show up and wing it for the few days it takes to become an expert?

      A lot of people also seem blissfully unaware of the credential requirements to teach. Getting a teacher’s certificate is not trivial if you didn’t graduate with a degree that more or less includes it. Many public school teachers hold a masters in education. For the majority of people, the folks educating their children are far better educated than they will ever be, as it should be.

      • CP

        A lot of people also seem blissfully unaware of the credential requirements to teach.

        I assume that’s part of why people say “hey, go teach in Random Third World Country XYZ.” Presumably it’s some place where the need is so dire that the credentials requirements are dramatically lower.

        But the fact that the admissions standards are lower doesn’t actually make the job any easier, so…

        • yet_another_lawyer

          It’s true, although in the third world it’s quite possible the options are “fresh college graduate” or “nothing.” I’m not endorsing going to teach in the third world as a career path, but if you’re cognizant enough to be aware of how daunting the task is, it strikes me as unlikely that you’d be worse than nothing.

          • Gregor Sansa

            See below. I was worse than average and still better than nothing. I was certainly better than the alcoholic we hired for a while. But “better than nothing” is no panacea.

      • Davis X. Machina

        Some states now require a masters, after 5 years it’s up or out.

    • njorl

      When you have a populace with almost no subject matter expertise, and a group of highly motivated, intelligent students with motivated parents, a new American graduate with no teacher training can make a difference.
      A friend of mine joined the Peace Corps and taught high-school calculus in Swaziland. But he wasn’t teaching the underclass; he was teaching the brightest children of the upper-middle class. He didn’t need to know how to motivate them. His job was more akin to a college teaching assistant than to a high school teacher.

      Such situations are probably increasingly rare in the world today. I think even the poorest countries can provide knowledgeable people who are not necessarily good teachers to teach their brightest, most motivated children.

    • Gregor Sansa

      I actually did that. That is to say that, when my wife’s visa didn’t come through and so I couldn’t be in the US and get my masters in education, I went to Guatemala, and ended up being asked by a rural community to found and run a public middle school for them, which I did for a few years. I was a good enough teacher to get my students to place locally at the math and science olympiad, proportionally as well as the richer private schools in the city; but I was a long way from being Michelle Pfeiffer in “Stand and Deliver”, and the kids I taught were not miraculously lifted from the life of poor Guatemalan campesinos.

      I was actually not as good as the average teacher I myself had in a rich public school in the US, which means I was a long long long way from being as good as the best of those teachers. (My wife, who never had intended to get a masters in education, was better than the average of those teachers, though still not as good as the best of them.)

      Being a good teacher is really hard.

      • Linnaeus

        I was a long way from being Michelle Pfeiffer in “Stand and Deliver”

        Pedantism: Michelle Pfeiffer starred in Dangerous Minds, Edward James Olmos starred in Stand and Deliver.

        • Gregor Sansa

          I was also a long way from being Tarmok at Niagara when the falls, well…. you know.

          • mds

            Temba, his arms wide.

            [Hands GS an internet]

            • yet_another_lawyer

              Shaka, when the walls fell.

              [Unable to improve upon the above exchange.]

              • Lee Rudolph

                [Unable to improve upon the above exchange.]

                Slowly it turned …

    • J. Otto Pohl

      If you know the subject matter you should be able to teach it to young adults or maybe even teenagers. The younger the students the more difficult the task is going to be. But, just about every American should be able to teach English as a second language to 17 and 18 year olds. The big problem is that for the most part teaching in the former second and third worlds pays very little. But, it isn’t difficult. Just like it would be in the US the teaching part of my job is a lot easier than the research and writing part.

      • Barry_D

        “But, just about every American should be able to teach English as a second language to 17 and 18 year olds.”

        And you have just what to back that up?

        • J. Otto Pohl

          Personal experience in Kyrgyzstan. The private English language teaching institutes consider native language ability to be sufficient expertise. But, nobody has ever had any difficulty lacking a pedagogical degree.

          • DrDick

            Knowing people who actually do that for a living here, no. You can muddle through, but that is very different from effectively teaching.

      • Captain_Subtext

        I disagree. Without a foundation in linguistics and effective language skills, you are at an extreme disadvantage at teaching ESL. My father taught these classes for many years and it required knowledge about how language works in addition to the contextual information that is implicit in the English language. Furthermore, it’s also useful to know where the words in English came from so that the students you are teaching can learn to help themselves.

        • J. Otto Pohl

          Trust me you don’t need that crap to teach a reasonably intelligent Russian speakers how to speak basic English. You just need to know how to speak English yourself. More importantly they have to be willing to put in the effort to learn. But, linguistics has very little to do with whether somebody can teach their native tongue to foreigners.

          • tsam

            I don’t believe it’s possible to teach someone ESL without being fluent in both languages. You have to understand their language to teach them yours.

            • J. Otto Pohl

              Knowing Russian certainly helps, but I knew plenty of effective English teachers who spoke very little Russian. Which in Kyrgyzstan is a second language anyways. Almost no foreigners ever master Kyrgyz and certainly not people working for $3 an hour.

              • tsam

                Ok–well you can teach them to speak some English, or you can teach them to communicate in English. The latter requires the ability to translate idioms, and that requires fluency.

                But yeah, holding up a pencil and saying “pencil” is teaching a language, for whatever that is worth.

        • joe from Lowell

          And especially, how language acquisition – acquisition, which isn’t the same thing as learning – works.

      • Murc

        But, just about every American should be able to teach English as a second language to 17 and 18 year olds.

        I find it profoundly disturbing when university professors are completely dismissive of the need for effective pedagogy or the need to be conversant with their subject matter.

        • J. Otto Pohl

          If the subject matter is the English language then a native speaker is by definition conversant with the subject matter.

          • Matt_L

            then why do universities bother with Teaching English as a Second Language degree programs?

            Mastering the content of a subject is a prerequisite to teaching that subject, but it is not sufficient. You need to have some grasp of pedagogy. Even though American and British universities turn loose newly minted History PhDs without a passing acquaintance with pedagogy and educational practices on the undergraduates, it doesn’t mean that it is a satisfactory way to teach the subject.

            • Murc

              Even though American and British universities turn loose newly minted History PhDs without a passing acquaintance with pedagogy and educational practices on the undergraduates, it doesn’t mean that it is a satisfactory way to teach the subject.

              I’ve always thought doing this is tantamount to educational malpractice. It’s literally the university telling its students that it doesn’t give a shit about them.

          • joe from Lowell

            Okay, but we can double or triple the importance of “the need for effective pedagogy” when it comes to ESL.

            And beneath effective ESL pedagogy, you need a good understanding of how human beings acquire language. Language acquisition is an entirely different process than learning the subject matter in any other course. It’s not like learning math, and it’s not even really like a class full of American students taking a class in Mandarin.

          • Murc

            If the subject matter is the English language then a native speaker is by definition conversant with the subject matter.

            This is very, very narrowly true. A native speaker is (usually) conversant with the everyday, conversational spoken form of their language.

            They may know shit about both formal usage or teaching someone how to actually write and spell in that language, both of which are rather essential parts of teaching somebody a second language you actually expect them to be able to leverage effectively.

            And that’s if we’re completely ignoring pedagogy, which we should not.

            Learning another language is generally considered to be one of the very hardest things an adult can do. You can just toss a native speaker at them and expect it to work well. It’s better than nothing but that’s a low bar to clear.

      • Matt_L

        Yeah, I don’t think so at least as far as teaching English as a second language goes. Maybe its the case in some parts of the developing world, but in other industrialized countries, that is not the case.

        If you are being hired as an English teacher in a Korean High School, for example, you are there as a glorified speaking partner so that the students master the right sort of American accent and idioms. You are not providing meaningful instruction in grammar, mechanics, reading, or the other foundational aspects of language instruction. Some other teachers, mainly Koreans with a masters degrees or better have been drilling that material into the pupils since they were in grade school.

    • guthrie

      The big secret is that lots of jobs are easy and you could show up and wing it for a few days.

      However, to actually do a good job you feel happy doing, takes a lot more thought and practise. Which is why countries which do well seem to pick as teachers people with degrees and lots of trianing in how to teach. Countries which don’t do that, don’t get well taught.

      • J. Otto Pohl

        No teaching is a lot easier than working as a barrist. But, I seem to have been doing okay winging the teaching of history for eight years now with no pedagogical training. I just have a PhD in history.

  • wca

    send idealistic 22 year old recent college graduates into impoverished schools without any training. That will solve our problems!

    Let’s just start making idealistic 22-year-old recent college graduates NFL quarterbacks without any training. It will work out about as well as TFA.

    • Rob in CT

      Possibly stupid question:

      What if TFA was for teacher aides? Almost like apprenticeship?

      • Crusty

        If TFA was for teacher aides, almost like apprenticeship, it wouldn’t be prestigious.

      • Are you saying a recent graduate of Harvard could potentially have to take advice from a 50 year old graduate of Southern? Outrageous!

        • Rob in CT

          Heh.

      • NonyNony

        The problem with TFA is that it’s almost like the opposite of an apprenticeship. The people in TFA are not (generally) people who are looking at a lifetime career in teaching. They’re recent college graduates looking to pad a resume out with some “charity work”.

        Basically as soon as they’re trained they’re out. This is exactly the opposite model that you want to have with teachers – you don’t get good at it until you’ve done it for a while. Because it’s a skill like any other. And so even if they were supplying warm bodies for teacher aides you’d still have the problem that as soon as they’re trained and might be able to do a good job of it they’re done and off to start their “real” career.

        • Linnaeus

          This. TFA is more about “leadership training” than it is about creating career teachers.

      • CP

        Apprenticeships in general would be a nice thing to have more of.

        There are a lot of jobs where unpaid internships are marketed as being the equivalent of this – “hey, you work for us for free for a few months and learn the job and we’ll let you in the door.”

        Of course, in practice that’s often not how it works – the unpaid internships are just a revolving door for unpaid labor to do the bottom-of-the-barrel work that none of the “real” employees want to be bothered with. Once the intern’s been around for long enough that you can’t justify not paying them any more, they’re let go and in comes the next one.

        Which isn’t entirely dissimilar to the TFA model…

      • JL

        There are existing programs – the urban teacher residencies – that provide a year-long classroom apprenticeship combined with intensive teacher training/education (much more so than TFA, it often includes a MEd) to idealistic college grads. They seem far less sketchy to me than TFA, and the one around here, at least, is very selective, so you don’t have to lose the prestige factor.

        • Rob in CT

          Cool.

      • Murc

        What if TFA was for teacher aides? Almost like apprenticeship?

        Ultimately, the way to get good teachers to the places that need them is to make that work attractive to teachers.

        People keep acting like teaching should be some grand calling that you’re willing to sacrifice everything for because The Children, and that just isn’t the case. Teachers have needs just like everyone else, and sometimes one of those needs is “to not be working in a school with a nonexistent tax base, enormous class sizes, limited political support, and where I’m expected to be a social worker as well as an educator. That stress will cause a literal physical breakdown before I’m forty.”

        So they decamp for a nice suburban district instead. And that’s okay. Because it isn’t their job to produce a stable working environment, that’s managements.

        • DrDick

          Exactly. If we want better teachers, we need to pay them much better and treat them like responsible professionals instead of a bunch of lazy slackers. Also we need to stop all the endless insane and totally pointless standardized testing.

          • wca

            As always, we can look to Kansas for a guide on what not to do.

          • StinkinBadger

            This, a million times this.
            It will it relieve stress and indicate to everyone that being a teacher is a valued and respected position.

            I pointed out to an associate during the kerfuffle in Wisconsin in 2010 that we don’t expect doctors to get shit pay and do their job out of the goodness of their heart or for moral good feelings. And they’re saving lives.

            Teaching is one of, if not the, only professions in which we expect people to deal with shit because they should just be happy that they get to help the next generation grow or something.

            • Brett

              I think childcare and certain kinds of health care tend to be grouped into that category too. Not coincidentally, they were and are often jobs done predominantly by women – stuff that gets slotted into the “women’s work” category often has less pay and worse working conditions on the job.

        • Gregor Sansa

          You forgot “ridiculous tests and mandatory curricula and other outside interference preventing them from actually teaching half the time”.

        • Linnaeus

          People keep acting like teaching should be some grand calling that you’re willing to sacrifice everything for because The Children, and that just isn’t the case.

          You can’t buy groceries, pay rent, or take your kids to the doctor on a psychic wage.

          • Bill Murray

            Miss Cleo begged to differ.

            Wait that was a Psychic’s wage. and of course she eventually was stopped.

            • tsam

              Just DAYS before I got my hands on those lottery numbers. FOILED AGAIN

  • ArchTeryx

    This all is such a familiar song.

    One of the few films that Morgan Freeman starred in that I absolutely will not recommend is Lean On Me, from the late 1980s. It tells the story, sort of, of Joe Louis Clark, a principal that inherited a failing school. You know the drill: Gangbangers and drug dealers running the joint, test scores at the bottom of the state, New Jersey threatening to take over the school (as if!).

    Joe Clark essentially invented the charter school. When he took over, the first thing he did is toss all the gang-bangers, drug dealers and drug users out, culling the student population down to what he wanted. Then he promptly fired all the teachers that didn’t immediately hew to his disciplinarian style, or that he deemed ineffective. Screw tenure! Screw the unions! Clean house!

    When the gangbangers threatened to come back and attack the students at the school, he essentially turned the school into a locked fortress, showed up at a press conference waving a baseball bat, and declared himself The Batman! When the teacher’s union filed a lawsuit for breach of contract and unlawful termination, he said Bring ‘Em On!

    Of course, his disciplinarian methods work wonders, give the kids pride in themselves and in the school, and test scores rocket up, to the point that the state no longer is threatening to take over.

    It’s like an education reformist wet dream, and it’s about as unrealistically Hollywood as it gets. I wonder if Morgan Freeman, a rather avowed liberal nowadays, regrets making a movie as profoundly illiberal as this one was. It’s all cheap, feel-good solutions that did absolutely nothing to address the root of the problems at an inner-city school like Eastside High. And modern education reforms are using it as a template.

    • Murc

      Morgan Freeman is from the Michael Caine school of movie roles. He takes what he’s offered and cashes the check. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.

      • ArchTeryx

        Well, it was earlier in his career, too. His general attitude and politics might have changed – it happens!

        As a moviegoer, though, I reserve my own opinion of this movie. It’s just way too familiar a song to me to ever recommend, feel-good or not.

    • CP

      Yeah, I’ve come to really dislike the “idealistic teacher in inner city hive of scum and villainy” line of movies – it usually ads up to this eighties cliche of “if only the teacher can inspire the kids to rise above their environment!” Green Lanternism. Can’t think of any one movie that offends me in particular (I hadn’t heard of that one), but in the aggregate, the message gets real old, real fast.

      • Hogan

        All you need is a Nice White Lady.

        • Linnaeus

          Once again, the Onion nails it.

        • joe from Lowell

          I like the guy sharpening his knife on his handgun.

      • ArchTeryx

        This movie more or less took the whole thing to the next level, and was, to say the least, extremely right-wing in its messaging. You don’t see a lot of blatantly right-wing movies featuring left-wing starring actors, but as was pointed out, when you’re in the acting business, a paycheck’s a paycheck. So I don’t take it out on Morgan Freeman, I just take it out on that wretched movie.

        It did have one really unusual sight that almost made it worth seeing just as spectacle: Morgan Freeman, the calmest of the calm, *completely losing his shit* as part of the role.

      • nixnutz

        I liked Class of 1984, it was basically Blackboard Jungle + The Warriors + Death Wish. I didn’t see Lean on Me but it seemed like they were treating the same basic premise as if it were real, it’s one thing when it’s over-the-top exploitation and something else when it’s based-on-a-true-story uplifting. I guess Jim Belushi’s The Principal was the happy medium.

    • joe from Lowell

      I once heard someone laud – genuinely compliment, as he was trying to talk the guy up – former MA Lt. Gov Tim Murray by saying that, when he was Mayor of Worcester, “He helped a lot of kids get out of the city.”

      Grrrrrrrrrr…..

    • tsam

      And chained the exit devices so that the kids can’t get out. But the evil fire department was blind to Batman’s vision of the pristine prison learning environment.

      I wonder if Morgan Freeman, a rather avowed liberal nowadays, regrets making a movie as profoundly illiberal as this one was.

      Sometimes a huge bank account can erase regrets.

      • Does Michael Douglas regret Falling Down?

        • tsam

          No idea. I certainly hope so. The sympathetic take on a mass murderer was kind of gross, I thought.

          • Per my comment below, was it sympathetic? It didn’t seem so to me.

            • tsam

              It’s not that it endorsed his views as much as tried to present this scenario that would drive “any man” to commit these acts. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, so I might feel differently watching it today.
              There was an escalation line that got dumber and dumber. He begins by shooting bullets in the ceiling of a McDonald’s because the poor abused snowflake can’t have his breakfast food, murders a white supremacist POS, then blows up a construction site because he thinks the guys there aren’t working hard enough.

              Of course it all turns out that his ex wife was trying to take his daughter away from him with a restraining order. This was the driving factor for his rampage.

              So I guess I’d call it a messy sack of sympathetic and shockingly horrified observation?

              • Linnaeus

                I went in to the movie thinking it would be something like “good man pushed to the edge” and came out thinking of it as “emotionally disturbed man who thinks he’s being pushed to the edge.” So it’s possible that the movie missed its mark because of flaws in the script. Falling Down could have been much better than it was, and Douglas’s performance kept it from being worse than it was.

              • And it ends with a newly masculine Robert Duvall ordering his wife to serve his chicken with the skin on, damn it you castrating bitch!

                I don’t actually hate the movie but the politics of it are pretty awful.

                • ArchTeryx

                  Considering how utterly unsympathetic his wife’s character was, I couldn’t blame him. Just upped the sympathy quotient more. It’d be hard NOT to end up misogynic if you were married to someone like that.

                  He was the only damn character in the whole damn movie that wasn’t a caricature of one kind or another, and that included his wife. That being said, it wasn’t a fourth enough to keep the movie grounded.

                • tsam

                  I thought there was an undercurrent of “we all being emasculated by wimmins and our only choice is GUNS GUNS GUNS” to it. No idea if that was an incorrect perception on my part (your comment indicates probably not) or if it was script/story arc flaws or what.

                  I’m a little over-sensitive to the portrayal of divorced mothers persecuting fathers since I’m a divorced dad and had to accept a bunch of things I didn’t like, but also had to force myself to not make it all about me instead of about the kids. So I may have criticized it a bit harshly.

                  I didn’t hate the movie, but it was never one that I would watch again.

                • joe from Lowell

                  Considering how utterly unsympathetic his wife’s character was, I couldn’t blame him. Just upped the sympathy quotient more. It’d be hard NOT to end up misogynic if you were married to someone like that.

                  Yeah, but, the writers and directors set up the movie so that she’d be the sort of woman who’d make that response reasonable, so that Duvall could behave that way and it would be ok. That really doesn’t get the movie off the hook.

                  I mean, in Birth of a Nation, there really were black people attacking that house. Of course it’s a good thing to stop a mob from attacking innocent people in a house!

              • ArchTeryx

                One of his lines very late in the movie, just before he commits Suicide By Cop, was “I’m the bad guy?”

                By then most of the audience, the ones with their heads not completely up their asses, would respond, “Yes, D-FENS, yes, you are.”

                I reserved my sympathy for poor Prendergast, the detective who, on the eve of his retirement, is assigned to track down this maniac, and who is forced, at the end, to help him commit the aforementioned Suicide by Cop.

          • Linnaeus

            I didn’t think Falling Down was all that sympathetic to Douglas’s character, but it was trying to be and failed.

            ETA: What N_B said.

            • That makes sense.

              • Linnaeus

                That should have read, “maybe it was trying to be and failed.” I’m actually not sure.

        • Did Falling Down endorse his character’s views? Serious question – I don’t think it did, but I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it.

          • ArchTeryx

            It didn’t know whether to do it or not, so it ended up a muddled mess. A whole lot like D-FENS was, in fact, besides “stalker” and “spree killer”.

      • ArchTeryx

        Most actors will confess to having an Old Shame of one sort of another (there’s even a tvtrope for that!) and I had to wonder if this was Morgan Freeman’s.

  • Anyone who says X is the solution to poverty is playing blind men and elephants.

    Poverty (even when it isn’t aided and abetted by bigotry) is not a single source problem so there isn’t a single solution. Good education, good jobs, good health. Affordable child care. Decent transportation networks.

    Hey, how about a society that doesn’t tolerate bigotry? It would help, too if there were severe punishments for bad bosses and corporations that tend to prey on people with a lower income or education level.

    • DrDick

      Agree completely with this, especially with the need for social support programs that enable people to take good paying, productive jobs.

    • joe from Lowell

      The solution to poverty.

      The cure for bruising.

      “Hey, nurse, I just invented a cream that cures bruising! You know that woman who keeps showing up in the ER with bruises? Next time, we can just give her a tube and send her on her way.”

      “Why, doctor, that’s brilliant! You’ve found the solution to bruising!”

    • Rob in CT

      I wonder some days how much of our economy is based on picking on people, basically. Taking advantage of people in a tough spot, taking advantage of people with less than stellar impulse control, and so forth.

      I mean… I see these ads for loans you take out so you can go on vacation. Really, bankers? At long last, have you no decency? [I know the answer]

      • joe from Lowell

        Do you have a structured settlement and really love cocaine? Call J.G. Wentworth.

        • Karen24

          In late October of 2004 I had a severe case of pneumonia, compounded by bronchitis and reactive airway disease. My doctor told me to stay home from work for two weeks. Those two weeks coincided with the end of the 2004 election season. I went back to work after 5 days because I could no longer tolerate the steady beat of JG Wentworth and campaign ads, alternating like a particular evil version of the Ludovico Process.

        • tsam

          You don’t happen to remember that number, do you?

          • joe from Lowell

            What’s that supposed to mean?

            No. No. What the fuck is that supposed to mean?

            I’M JUST KIDDING WITH YOU!

        • Damn it, that mouthful of water was nearly my last.

          And on the subject of predators

          A review by The New York Times of several dozen cases, and interviews with lawyers, prosecutors and others knowledgeable about fraudulent deed transfers, suggest they are accelerating even as officials struggle to address them. The city’s Department of Finance said it was investigating 120 cases, many of them hard to crack because of the role played by LLCs, officials said. Underscoring the rising alarm over the problem, the state attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, and the Brooklyn borough president, Eric L. Adams, held a forum last month to warn property owners about it.

      • njorl

        Mortgage loans for more house than you need, auto loans for new cars when a used car will run fine for 10 years, student loans for worthless degrees from for-profit schools etc etc. When the wealthy accumulate as much excess as they have, investment opportunities become scarce. Their money is supposed to be earning them more money. Ideally, it would be creating wealth, but creating poverty seems to work just as well.

    • Steve LaBonne

      I dunno. Why isn’t the solution to poverty giving people money, as in guaranteed minimum income? Some people will have other issues that will still keep them in the shit, but then is that residual really a poverty problem rather than a (mental illness, addiction, etc.) problem?

      • njorl

        If you give people a guaranteed income, they won’t work shitty jobs for peanuts.

      • Davis X. Machina

        My old Jesuit moral theology used to say the way to stop poverty was to give poor people money.

        Any other argument was about something else. And given the popularity of having those other arguments, no one actually wants to stop poverty.

    • tsam

      FAIL
      No good guy with gun anywhere on your list.

  • CP

    ETA: double post deleted.

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