Put Poor Students to Work

A poor child learning the work ethic (Photo by Lewis Hine, c. 1910)

In his speech on Friday at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich offered an imaginative plan to lift poor students out of the cycle of poverty: Have them clean their own schools for money. Not only would the students earn income, they’d build a strong work ethic. The only thing holding us back from following through with this truly terrific idea are child labor laws, which Mr. Gingrich called “truly stupid.”

Mr. Gingrich’s plan, although morally and economically sound, unfortunately doesn’t go far enough. To instill a true work ethic in poor students, they need to double up on cleaning schools. I propose that after cleaning their own schools, squads of them be sent out to clean rich kids’ schools—especially prep schools. Not only would they earn even more money, they’d be inspired by having to mop the bathrooms where rich kids relieve themselves after studying non-stop in their school libraries in preparation for eventually going to Harvard, Yale, or Princeton.

Come to think of it, we could inspire poor inner city students even more by busing them out to the suburbs to clean suburban schools. Seeing those hard-working suburban high school students would make them move those mops with speed.

The truth is, to instill a solid work ethic in poor people, we need to practice early intervention. If small and young poor students would be assigned those jobs in the fields and slaughterhouses that people say Americans won’t take, they’d not only get off to an early start in improving their work ethic, they’d help put a stop to illegal immigration. An additional benefit would be that they’d learn the power of efficiency, which they could explain to their lazy older brothers and sisters. Why use an old, tired adult who’s paid minimum wage to pull up lettuce or gut a cow when you can use an agile little kid who’s much closer to the ground?

Mr. Gingrich would like to see those dirty, whiny OWS folks take a bath. Darn right. Speaking of cleanliness, what can be dirtier than a chimney? There are a lot of chimneys attached to all those McMansions America has built. We’re wasting true national resources by waiting for poor kids to turn old enough to learn the work ethic by cleaning schools. As we know from Victorian London, small poor children can learn the work ethic by squirming into extremely tiny places, which is why they make perfect chimneysweeps. What with obesity having become an especially big problem among poor children, a little chimneysweeping would not only teach them a good, strong work ethic, but force them to slim down a little so they wouldn’t get stuck inside.

And another thing. Putting poor students to work in all sorts of places where youth and agility count would be helpful to the whole economy. Aren’t we always talking about needing jobs for the young? For example, poor students would make excellent workers in car washes because their youthful energy would let them clean under the driver’s seat of, say, a Bentley, extra well. As a side benefit, hanging around the mist of the car wash would make them cleaner.

Wal-Mart could use a few poor students as workers—again, the smaller the better. They could be put into the shopping carts as handlers who grab stuff off the shelves for the poor people who shop there and sometimes, because of obesity, age, or some sort of handicap or other, have trouble reaching what they need. Working in a cart at a Wal-Mart would not only instill a strong work ethic in students, but would teach poor students to have a little empathy for poor people.

I’ve got one more idea to help those poor students learn a little of the work ethic that got people on Wall Street where they are. After cleaning their schools, and the schools of rich kids, and maybe doing a little chimney work or cow-gutting, they could scoot on over to Tiffany’s. There they could use their young fingers to deftly hook the clasp of a shiny new diamond necklace around Callista Gingrich’s small neck—something that would pose a challenge to Mr. Gingrich, what with his large fingers.

Of course, we wouldn’t want poor kids competing for jobs with poor adults, so we wouldn’t be able to pay them government-mandated minimum wages. Merely what the market will bear. And since there are a lot of poor children around, the market would do its miraculous work of keeping wages nice and low. And if the poor students came from big families, having them work would cut the welfare rolls and lower the taxes for the rest of us hard-working folk. And if we could only get a constitutional amendment declaring zygotes are persons, we’d be able to guarantee that a lot of poor people would be born in the future, all of whom would be able to learn a good work ethic.

Some people say Republicans don’t offer any real plans for America’s future, but I, for one, heartily disagree.



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