Tired of watching scruffy little urchins laggarding around the place, “reading” … “going to school” and begging their parents for meal, after meal, after tiresome meal? President Gingrich shall solve this festering cancer on America (and then, he will divorce it) …
Promising “extraordinarily radical proposals to fundamentally change the culture of poverty in America,” Newt Gingrich said Friday that he would fire school janitors and pay students to clean schools instead.
Speaking at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, the Republican presidential candidate and former speaker of the House challenged laws that prevent children from working certain jobs before their mid-teens.
Gingrich blames “the core policies of protecting unionization and bureaucratization” for “crippling” children.
“It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in, first of all, in child laws, which are truly stupid,” he said.
”I tried for years to have a very simple model,” he continued. “Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they’d have pride in the schools, they’d begin the process of rising.”
Gingrich, who over the weekend said Occupy Wall Street protesters should “get a job” and “take a bath,” suggested during the Harvard appearance Friday that poor children need to build a work ethic. …
Because lying around wailing about “my belly hurts, it’s empty!” … is sooo 19th Century. And Newt and Missus Number 3 have far too many important vacation haunts to visit to have to waste their precious time listening to the warbling of the little people. Jordan Weissman? Your witness:
This suggestion is, on its face, insane. It sounds like a bad Stephen Colbert joke. But if you stop and consider its merits for a minute or two…well no, it’s still quite insane. And if you spend an evening researching the nitty gritty of what public school custodians actually do for a living, it turns out to be downright cruel.
It’s not really worth engaging Gingrich’s idea as a serious policy suggestion. I just don’t see the buckets-and-books plan getting much traction in Congress. But his comments are worth dwelling on for a moment, because it’s a jarring illustration of Gingrich’s casual disdain for American workers.
My assumption is that Gingrich disagrees with the critics who quickly called his plan “Dickensian.” Instead, he probably believes that janitorial work is a relatively safe, mindless occupation on par a paper route or neighborhood car wash. Otherwise, there’s no reason to think a child could handle it.
So what do janitors actually do? It’s a lot more than mopping. To get a sense, look over this job description for a New York City public school custodial engineer–a “master janitor,” as Gingrich would put it. He and his team of cleaners and handymen are responsible for cleaning, yes. That part involves hazardous chemicals like hydrochloric acid. They also operate the school’s heating system, do electrical repairs, maintain the school grounds, take care of the HVAC equipment, and handle basic plumbing fixes, among other assorted jobs. I ask: What parent wants a nine-year-old, or even a thirteen-year-old, toying with the HVAC in her school?
None. Because this is hard. It’s adult work. It can also be brutal on your health. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, janitors miss work due to on-the-job injuries more often than almost any other occupation. They rank in the top seven on that statistic, along police officers and construction workers. Janitors get splashed with corrosive chemicals. They injure their backs bending over mops and toilets all day. These aren’t concerns you take lightly.
It would be easy to chalk Gingrich’s comments up simply to his well-known animus towards unions. But I don’t think that quite explains it. Rational people can argue about how much someone should be paid to clean. An average school janitor makes $12.45 an hour. It’s not an extravagant amount, but it approaches a living wage for a single person living in some areas. In some places, the unionized janitors may well be making too much. There are plenty of school districts that outsource their cleaning to private firms. But that decision starts from the respectful assumption that maintaining a school is something worthwhile for an adult to spend their lives on.
That’s not the case in Gingrich’s worldview. Forget that an adult might need that job to put food on the table for their own children. Forget that he’s suggesting we flood an ailing job market with part time, minimum-wage-earning students. This isn’t about labor economics. It’s about respect, and the fact that the leading Republican presidential candidate doesn’t have a spit’s worth of it for manual labor. In his eyes, a janitor’s job just doesn’t mean much. It’s so easy, a child could do it.
This would be funny if it weren’t for the fact that Newt is far from the only conservative looking to sweep aside the inconvenient laws that keep poor children out of the fields and the mines (well, the non-immigrant children, anyway.) The Kochs are right there with them, fighting to weaken those laws in Maine and Missouri and wherever else they can drum up a tea party legislative caucus, led by their ideological godfathers, the Koch brothers.
Welcome to the 19th century all over again.