Class Warfare Blog

March 6, 2017

All Kids Need to Learn is Great Teacher … Right?

Filed under: Education,Morality,Politics,Science — Steve Ruis @ 9:14 am

I strongly recommend you read the article this post is based on (here). It was published in The Guardian (U.K.), translated from a Dutch source.

We have been told by conservatives and Neoliberals that the only thing kids need to learn is a great teacher, well that and a charter school, or a voucher system. All of these claims are not only bogus but they mask their true purpose and that is to extract private profits out of public coffers and, secondarily, to disenfranchise teachers unions and teachers, who tend to be and vote liberal.

For many years educational researchers have been arguing that the real cause of the bulk of the performance gap between groups of students is poverty. That if you were to fix poverty, then the education system would work for all (and it is working well, maybe not as well as we would like, but well).

This Guardian article brought up some new information that applies to this “argument.” (I hesitate to use the word argument to an issue in which one side is simply taking stances with little to no evidence to back them up, maybe disagreement is better.)

Here is a sample of that article:

“It all started when I accidently stumbled on a paper by a few American psychologists. They had travelled 8,000 miles, to India, to carry out an experiment with sugar cane farmers. These farmers collect about 60% of their annual income all at once, right after the harvest. This means they are relatively poor one part of the year and rich the other. The researchers asked the farmers to do an IQ test before and after the harvest. What they discovered blew my mind. The farmers scored much worse on the tests before the harvest. The effects of living in poverty, it turns out, correspond to losing 14 points of IQ. That’s comparable to losing a night’s sleep, or the effects of alcoholism.”

The effects of poverty are substantial and show up quickly. These are not some effects that take decades of poverty to occur.

“A few months later I discussed the theory with Eldar Shafir, a professor of behavioural science and public policy at Princeton University and one of the authors of this study. The reason, put simply: it’s the context, stupid. People behave differently when they perceive a thing to be scarce. What that thing is doesn’t much matter; whether it’s time, money or food, it all contributes to a ‘scarcity mentality’. This narrows your focus to your immediate deficiency. The long-term perspective goes out of the window. Poor people aren’t making dumb decisions because they are dumb, but because they’re living in a context in which anyone would make dumb decisions.”

So, the drop in IQ stems from an evolutionary principle: if you want to survive, you must focus your attention on what you need to do so. If you are very, very thirsty, you can only think about finding water, etc. (Maybe this is another reason conservatives are against these findings; because evolution?)

So, what if people didn’t have the option of being poor by providing a universal basic income? Neoliberals respond to this idea with the claim that the poor will still make stupid decisions; they will fritter away any money we give them, so it is a waste of money. But, what if this had been tried? What really happened? Well it has been tried  … on people just like us up in Canada. (And is being repeated in Scandinavian experiments right now.)

“The experiment had started in Dauphin, a town north-west of Winnipeg, in 1974. Everybody was guaranteed a basic income ensuring that no one fell below the poverty line. And for four years, all went well. But then a conservative government was voted into power. The new Canadian cabinet saw little point in the expensive experiment. So when it became clear there was no money left for an analysis of the results, the researchers decided to pack their files away. In 2,000 boxes.

“When Forget (a researcher) found them, 30 years later, no one knew what, if anything, the experiment had demonstrated. For three years she subjected the data to all manner of statistical analysis. And no matter what she tried, the results were the same every time. The experiment – the longest and best of its kind – had been a resounding success.

Forget discovered that the people in Dauphin had not only become richer, but also smarter and healthier. The school performance of children improved substantially. The hospitalisation rate decreased by as much as 8.5%. Domestic violence was also down, as were mental health complaints. And people didn’t quit their jobs – the only ones who worked a little less were new mothers and students, who stayed in school longer.”

Wow! Just because a universal income worked there doesn’t mean it will work everywhere but it seems to address the problems effectively and is “feasible.” The author concluded with this:

“The costs of child poverty in the US are estimated at $500bn (£410bn) each year, in terms of higher healthcare spending, less education and more crime. It’s an incredible waste of potential. It would cost just $175bn, a quarter of the country’s current military budget, to do what Dauphin did long ago: eradicate poverty.”

I might add that the scales are never loaded correctly in these arguments. The Neoliberals are always loading the costs on one side of the balance and then decrying “We can’t afford it!” These are the same people who talk about the costs of environment regulations but never look at the benefits.

The $175 billion needed to implement this policy in the U.S. is chump change compared to the costs of not doing it. Consider that the U.S. government recently ponied up over 2 trillion dollars to bail out large financial institutions because of their patent malfeasance. We do not have to raid the Defense Department (I am not opposed but Neoliberals are), we can just get the money from the same place that 2 trillion dollars came from. Think about it like this: you get a $500 billion return for only $175 billion. That’s a hell of a discount.

The final point the author makes is “Poverty is not a lack of character. Poverty is a lack of cash.” This is a problem for conservatives because their ideology insists that poverty is a character flaw.

And … just stop with the “all kids need to learn is great teacher” bullshit, please!



  1. Excellent piece, Steve.


    Comment by Arkenaten — March 6, 2017 @ 9:42 am | Reply

    • Thanks, Ark! Praise from the praiseworthy is to be treasured.


      On Mon, Mar 6, 2017 at 9:42 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Steve Ruis — March 6, 2017 @ 10:43 am | Reply

      • Why is it I wonder that, the simple, commonsense answers to so many of society’s woes are routinely ignored or hand-waved away as nonsense?


        Comment by Arkenaten — March 6, 2017 @ 10:46 am | Reply

        • The rich have an ideology that is equivalent to the old joke of a baseball player who was born on third base thinking he hit a triple. Their families riches give them huge advantages. Their ideology sattes that their riches are a sign of their superior (fill in the blank) and being poor is a character/moral failing. Anything that counters this ideology undermines their self-esteem, so they fight back against it. A study of the American 1% showed that the vast majority of them inherited their wealth rather than brought themselves up by their own bootstraps as the narrative goes. Someone calculated that if Donald Trump had placed the funds he inherited into index funds (the most boring kind of stock market investing) he would have four times as much money now as he claims to have (which is probably an exaggeration).

          Remember Mitt Romney and “they didn’t build that”? Romney claimed that he made all his own money, if you don’t count the top dollar education his parents bought him, the $2 million his father gave him to “get started” and the access that Romney had to his famous father’s Rolodex. In 38 years of college teaching I made … wait for it … $2 million, exactly what Romney *started with*. Sure, he made a lot more money, but it is a lot easier to score a run when you are born on third base.

          On Mon, Mar 6, 2017 at 10:46 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:


          Liked by 1 person

          Comment by Steve Ruis — March 6, 2017 @ 11:01 am | Reply

          • Same pretty much everywhere, I’m sure.


            Comment by Arkenaten — March 6, 2017 @ 11:03 am | Reply

            • I suspect that some of the ideology is rooted in an internal feeling of not being worthy or not having earned the wealth inherited, so a defensive stance is built in.

              On Mon, Mar 6, 2017 at 11:03 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:


              Liked by 1 person

              Comment by Steve Ruis — March 6, 2017 @ 11:06 am | Reply

  2. I am always reasonable, and often full of shit. Bad combination. ;o)


    Comment by Steve Ruis — March 6, 2017 @ 11:12 am | Reply

  3. Excellent post Steve


    Comment by lbwoodgate — March 6, 2017 @ 8:27 pm | Reply

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