Sunday, September 16, 2012

Poverty and the Right Wing Frame

The video below is a must see. It is about a 10 minute segment from The Melissa Perry-Harris Show on MSNBC. The video is so important because it displays the right wing’s personalization of poverty. The argument from the right is simply that people are poor because of the choices they make. The right denigrates the context that those choices occur within and assumes that the parents you were born to, their education and socio-economic status, and the neighborhood you grow up in are all far less important than the choices you make.  In other words, if you are poor, it’s your fault.  The unspoken corollary of this is that rich people are rich because of the choices they have made, and thus these choices should be rewarded. Mitt Romney’s wealth has little to do with the the context his choices were made in, and much more to do with his choices as a businessman. George W. Bush’s wealth was accumulated the same way, in spite of the evidence, and the support his context provided him.
Before watching the video, I encourage you to read “No Excuses and the Culture of Shame” by Paul Thomas, who I believe is the most important writer on the issue of education and poverty in America. This will provide a whole different lens through which you can view the video. In his article, Thomas quotes Nick Baez, who writes, “Most of us judge poor people, viewing them at worst as lazy, at best as suffering from deficient financial behavior. We’ve gotten used to thinking that being poor is their fault: If they were smarter or more industrious they surely would have overcome their poverty [emphasis added].” Isn’t it easy to blame the poor for their choices, which thus allows us to punish them through “market driven” disincentives which also conveniently reward the rich for their choices?
Need I say that whole corporate ed reform movement follows the same logic? Schools “under-perform” not because of the context of poverty, but because of their people issues. The need for reform is personalized, and we can blame the people involved. The solution? Rid the schools of “under-performing” teachers, rid the schools of the unions which “protect” these under-performers, and then hold the new people accountable to metrics (i.e. tests). Or just offer charter schools, which does all of this in one fell swoop.
Now see the video

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