Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Can we or should we ‘help’ the poor?


When rich people “help” the poor by donating to charitable causes, the very act belies its ostensibly good intentions, since the source of that money is likely the abandonment of manufacturing and other job opportunities in the US and the creation of those opportunities in China, an opinion writer in the New York Times suggests.

What happened to those who worked at a now-abandoned factory in Pennsylvania? (Dennis/Flickr CC)

Don’t misunderstand me: I care about the health and well-being of people in China, too. But,

The era of “supercharged growth” over the past several decades had the effect of “lifting more than 600 million people [in China] out of poverty.” From handouts? From Habitat for Humanity? From the Clinton Global Initiative?

No, oddly enough, China has been enriched by American-supplied jobs, making most of the destined-for-the-dump merchandise you find on store shelves all over America, every piece of plastic you can name, as well as Apple products, Barbie dolls or Nike LeBron basketball shoes retailed in the United States for up to $320 a pair.

So writes Paul Theroux, an author whose latest book is Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads, citing an “astonishing fact” in a Times story, here.

Closer to our schools, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has several good programs, like funding research to wipe out polio. But the foundation has also dabbled in—and sent huge sums of tax-deductible donations to—schools in low-income neighborhoods. Some of this “donation” even comes in the form of Microsoft’s own software, but the foundation has also funded initiatives in the Common Core, student data mining, teacher evaluation, teacher mentoring programs, and other questionable education initiatives.

Meanwhile, the schools crumble with dilapidated conditions and infrastructure in communities that have no tax base, because kids’ parents and their neighbors don’t have any jobs. Those jobs are now being performed by people in China. What Americans get, and express amazing gratitude for, are crumbling schools with a teach-to-the-test mindset. What the Chinese get is a lifting of poverty. All this comes thanks to rich people who are “helping the poor.”

Public schools in poor neighborhoods have never been properly funded. This lack of funding has led to stable but stagnant communities, which don’t grow, which fail to thrive in a more global economy. Meanwhile, schools continue to fawn over Gates and its precious money at the expense of the bigger prize: our communities, jobs, real growth.

Scottish political economist Adam Smith (1723–1790) wrote, “The disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition is the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments.

This is precisely what has happened today: our moral sentiments—caring for the poor, truly helping them out, providing equal education opportunities—have become corrupt.

The biggest example I can think of is the charter school movement. The original idea behind charter schools is a godsend to struggling public schools: Set up a small school for a few years that will allow some degree of experimentation with new techniques for teaching and learning. Once you determine in somewhat controlled settings what works and what doesn’t, bring it back into the public schools so everyone benefits.

Unfortunately, rich people got hold of that idea and figured out they could get taxpayer money by setting up “charter” schools. Thus the whole idea of charter schools became corrupt once corporations and their CEOs started worshiping only money and forgetting about the educational mission of our schools.

Charter schools, as originally conceived, would have indeed been great, especially in poor neighborhoods. But that’s not what charter schools are, and it’s because of corruption that they have failed in their mission. What’s worse, we figured this out at least by 1790, when Mr Smith died, and we still let it happen right under our noses.

So writes education historian Diane Ravitch about this corruption of our moral sentiments:

As charters began to open, the original idea was eclipsed by a philosophy not of collaboration, but corruption. Ambitious entrepreneurs created chains of charter schools [such as billionaire and education philanthropist Eli Broad, who just announced a chain of hundreds of charter schools in Los Angeles, enough for half the city’s students].

A new industry emerged, led not by educators, but by savvy lawyers, industrialists, and flim-flam artists. Some charters claimed they were far better than the public schools and showed contempt for public schools. They boasted that their scores were better than the public forces. They want to beat the public schools, not help them. They became a malignant force for privatization and union-busting.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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