I have mentioned in several blogs that before entering the teaching profession, I worked in retail for nearly fifteen years. I worked in Loss Prevention starting part-time in college, then full-time when I couldn’t afford to continue my graduate studies. I eventually became loss prevention manager, and eventually a department manager. During that time, I witnessed everything from desperate mothers hiding a ham between their legs to feed their family to high profile socialites slipping jewelry in their purse because they suffer from kleptomania. I have seen a career employee ring up false returns to get money to pay their mother’s medical bills, and another who just needed to buy a loaf of bread and lunch meat to feed her kids. I have chased kids for blocks and carried them all the way back to the store out of breath and ready to pass out. I have wheeled a disabled person to my office in their wheel chair because they stole shoes, and I have walked a blind person to my office, with their guide dog, for stealing a watch.
I bring this up because of the tweets, shown here, made by Senator Conrad Appel of Metairie. Now, it’s not my intent to flame Appel. I follow him on Twitter, and while we have completely different views on many issues, especially education, I can respect that he has done well for himself, and his family, and can’t discount the fact that his constituency likes him enough to reelect him multiple times. This about the policies that he advocates for.
Appel’s comment on October 6th is in reference to an article in a NOLA area publication that was tweeted by Jeff Asher. The article basically questions what really separates the hard-working employed people from unemployed people who engage in crime? Is it simply a lack of jobs, or is it a deficiency in values? The author clearly believes the latter, and I agree, but Appel seems to suggest that values are a product of financial security. In the tweet on October 4th, in response to Will Sentell’s statement that nearly 1/3 of the children under 5 years of age, live in poverty, he implies that by electing the right people to pass laws that grow the economy, and in turn, poverty will be reduced.
I understand Appel’s thought process. It comes from the belief that lower taxes on businesses will create more jobs, which will stimulate the economy, which will lower the poverty rate, which will, of course, make crime go away. A growing economy doesn’t guarantee a lower poverty rate. Decades of research have shown that while there is a correlation, the effect of economy on poverty is greatly dependent on the wealth, or rather lack of wealth, of the country in question. Another component of that theory is that education will pull people out of poverty. Even if this were true, if every person living in poverty were to suddenly become highly educated and employable, no economy in the world could create enough jobs to employ them all with salaries above the poverty level.
Now, I have a pretty decent paying job and a family to support, and while I have never resorted to stealing, I have had to rob $10 from my child’s piggy bank for gas, or eat peanut butter sandwiches a few nights because payday was a week away. The federal poverty level for a family of four is $24,600. Most social welfare programs determine eligibility using a factor of poverty level; usually 250%. My total household income is just barely $5000 above the line. It is hard for me to imagine that Appel has ever been in that predicament, nor do I believe that he would resort to crime if he were. Money comes and goes, but values? You either have them, or you don’t.
I do not believe that you can definitively point the finger at a lack of jobs being the catalyst for crime, or poor educational outcomes as a product of bad schools and bad teachers. Crime rate and education quality are not a product of poverty. They are the product of multiple deficiencies in a system of support that every individual possesses. This system of support consists of values, morals, self-esteem, determination, self-worth, and many other non-tangible qualities. Poverty is associated with crime and education statistics because life in a state of poverty creates barriers that prevent many of the components of the system of support from fully developing. These are developed through social interactions, bonding, modeling, relationships, etc.
Some would say that these can be developed in the school setting. To an extent, this is true; however, to reach their full potential, they must be learned, practiced, and applied in a family, family-like, or community setting that has some sense of permanence. That is not the role of the school. The school’s job is to educate. It is a family’s responsibility to send the child to school ready to learn. This is where the issue lies. In poverty stricken areas, there are so many reasons a child can’t develop their system of support to the level needed for success.
For decades, we have been twirled around in a vicious circle trying to find the fix for education. Millionaires and billionaires fund educational advocacy organizations and stack elections to realize policies that they believe will fix education all to accomplish the goal of not paying more taxes that could fund programs that could remove the barriers that reduce educational outcomes and increase crime rates. It is time to change the strategy.
Here’s a strategy that I’d like to offer up. What if instead of philanthropists donating all of their money to the cause of fixing education, how about they donate to programs designed to preserve the family unit, or retrain displaced workers, or provide healthcare? Can you imagine the result if all of the millions of dollars that have been wasted over the last decade were donated to churches and outreach programs, instead?
The education system is not broken. The family system is broken.