Bringing The Poor Kids Into The Rich People’s House

Barack Obama scaring a poor little child at a Head Start school a few years ago. As one child accurately put it, when the President entered his class: "blah, blah, blah." Yep.
This morning, in the New York Times, they ran an opinion piece by Berkeley Professor David L. Kirp, entitled “The Benefits of Mixing Rich and Poor”, in which Dr. Kirp explains that the real problem hindering the success of Head Start, a government program designed to help poor kids do better in school, is that poor kids tend to reinforce their poor kid culture when they hang out with each other, and so they do badly on tests assessing what privileged (mainly white) kids should know.

Or, to put it more bluntly, what do you think you’re going to get with a whole school full of little Kennys, from South Park? The argument is that Kenny would do a lot better being around kids from other economic classes, kids like Stan, and Kyle, and Cartman. As we know, Kenny benefits greatly by being around these children—well, OK—not really.

Well, that's satire. Let's try to look at some facts—which nevertheless end up sounding like satire.

So, the American society, that has failed the poor, by not giving a rat’s ass that people are poor, wants to sound a little less like barbarians, and would like to feel warm and fuzzy about extending a helping hand to poor kids.


Well, let’s see, you could do a program like Head Start, which alleges to promote “the school readiness of children ages birth to 5 from low-income families by enhancing their cognitive, social and emotional development.”

That sounds good, huh?

Only problem is it doesn’t work so well.

One government study on the effectiveness of Head Start concluded:
“The advantages children gained during their Head Start and age 4 years
yielded only a few statistically significant differences in outcomes at the end of 1st grade for the sample as a whole.”
Another study explained:
“The evidence is clear that access to Head Start improved children’s preschool outcomes across developmental domains, but had few impacts on children in kindergarten through 3rd grade.”
While defenders of Head Start have pointed out that poor children do get some modest cognitive and emotional improvements from the program, the problem is that these benefits often do not last, and so the actual goal of the program, to provide lasting improvements in the educational experience of poor children, is not being achieved.

Why not?

That isn’t so clear, but one thing the program administrators were intent on insisting is that the failure could not be anything they did wrong.

In 2011, President Obama, adjusting to his new normal, where funding for things like Head Start was getting much harder to obtain and maintain after the Republican takeover of the House in 2010, announced a new funding approach that would demand increased “accountability” on the part of individual schools involved in the Head Start program. Essentially, this amounted to a cut in funding for the schools that were showing poorer results. Exactly how that was expected to make things better for the kids was not explained.

By last year, with the Sequester cuts affecting many programs, the cuts to Head Start were much more widespread, with almost 60,000 children being thrown out of the program, and many local programs having to do fundraisers just to keep going.

One Indiana Head Start administrator said “For all of us, as a nation, this should be heartbreaking.”

But when it comes to poor kids and their welfare, the USA doesn’t have much of a heart, or much of a head either.

And so, when we read this morning Professor Kirp essentially blaming poor kids for not being well-off, and let's face it—white (Kirp uses the euphemism “middle-class” to describe the good, privileged, children and their families), we should not be surprised.

Kirp argues:
"Head Start, a survivor of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s war on poverty, enrolls only poor kids. That’s a big part of the problem—as the adage goes, programs for the poor often become poor programs...the sorry truth is that “we” don’t like subsidizing “them.” Head Start is no exception. It has been perpetually underfunded, never able to enroll more than half of eligible children or pay its teachers a decent wage. If Head Start is going to realize its potential, it has to break out of the antipoverty mold. One promising but unfortunately rarely used strategy is to encourage all youngsters, not just poor kids, to enroll, with poor families paying nothing and middle-class families contributing on a sliding scale."
See, if you encourage the rich, white, kids to go to Head Start, then the rich, white, families, will demand that the programs are properly funded and provide excellent instructional environments for their rich, white, kids. And then you just stick the poor kids in there, and they get the additional advantage of just being around what Kirp admits are "the junior plutocrats". In other words, by being around decent, rich, white, children, the poor children have a better chance to overcome the crappy environments supplied by their awful, poor (add black and Hispanic) cultures.

You might call this the House Negro theory of educating America's poor. If we can just get the poor children into the master's mansion, even though they are still slaves, they will sound better being around the master and the master's children. And won't everybody—that matters—be happy about that? Why, you can point to your poor and be able to say: see, they sound just like educated people, almost.

This goes to a substantial, disgusting, subtext of the article, and to the whole discussion of course, which raises a question, one which seems already firmly answered: If poor kids are influenced by being around rich kids, is the same true the other way around? And, will rich kids' parents want their precious little plutocrats going to school with what those parents view as out-of-control, doomed-to-be-trash, poor kids? White Americans escaped from cities to white suburbs by the zillions in the decades since the 1960s to illustrate their resolve to get away from poor people and from black people especially. And the resounding answer to the question of some kind of economic-educational integration has so far been on the part of the alleged "middle class", and the people richer than them, a solid FUCK NO!!

Another question is raised by this fact: why should the parents of poor children wish their kids to be poisoned by an educational system—i.e., that favored by the ruling classes for their little plutocrats—that so regularly produces such awful people as these wealthy Americans condemning poor children to be victims of such intense hated?

Until the underlying assumptions of the ruling classes in America are examined, and critiqued with an eye to substantively challenging them morally and politically, the poor and working class majority of the USA will continue to be denied any real head starts, or any just finishes either.