Former U.S. Labor Secretary Refutes Right-Wing Lies About Poverty

Poverty vs. Wealth

As a teacher in high poverty schools, I care for children who face poverty every day. I have students who wonder what they're going to eat over the weekend, students who live in neighborhoods where it's not uncommon for someone to get shot, families where one or more member has been murdered recently. I see families who need mental health and medical help, and financial assistance. I see parents who have tried everything they can think of, but who are at a loss as to how to discipline their young teenagers.

In spite of these difficulties, which make it next to impossible for some children to learn, corporate reformers, led by a cabal of billionaires, millionaires, corporations, and money managers, tell us that the best way to improve the educational of these children is to fire the teachers who care about the students when high stakes test scores aren't up to an ever-changing par.

According to Education Policy Analyst Diane Ravitch:

This coalition–whose leaders include Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, ALEC, and others associated with corporate reform, know that it is lots cheaper to blame teachers than to do anything that will really reduce poverty.

Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich calls out this “reform” for the lie that it is in his article, The Three Biggest Right-Wing Lies About Poverty.

According to Reich, the three big lies are:

  1. Economic growth reduces poverty. Tell that to the working poor, whose incomes remain flat in our economic recovery while the 1 percent's wealth increased significantly.
  2. Jobs reduce poverty. This would be true if you can get a job making enough money to join the ranks of the ever-shrinking middle class. But for many workers, this is not possible. People, including teachers, frequently work multiple jobs to make ends meet. For example, one of my colleagues, with 11 years experience, delivered pizza in the evening to pay the bills. He is married with no kids. Several families in my community have two working parents, but because their jobs — in retail, fast food, or small convenience stores — only pay minimum wage, they are still barely making it.
  3. Ambition cures poverty. You can be as ambitious as you want, but if you don't have opportunities, you will go no where. People are held back by race, gender, and sometimes even age. Another colleague's husband served as a middle manager for an automotive corporation making more than $100,000 a year. He was laid off when that corporation underwent restructuring, and he spent more than two years looking for a job. In one of my former jobs, I helped train a male colleague, who was then given plum assignments — ones similar to those I've won awards for — by our male boss. The colleague later left to work for a larger company making more money. At that same company, I have seen many male workers leave for greener pastures while female workers stay for decades. Ambition is clearly not enough if you aren't the right color, gender, age or connected to the right people.

What do you think needs to happen to “fix” American education and reduce poverty?

About the author 

Michelle Boyd Waters, M.Ed.

I am a secondary English Language Arts teacher, a University of Oklahoma student working on my doctorate in Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum with an concentration in English Education and co-Editor of the Oklahoma English Journal. I am constantly seeking ways to amplify students' voices and choices.

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