Have you ever tried to bake a cake but had it flop because you took it out of the oven too early? Underbaked cake is mushy and gooey, difficult to correct, and hard to swallow. That is my mental model of Presidential hopeful and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrinch's idea on teaching poor children a work ethic. But it's even worse than half-baked; it's outrageous, and offensive.
First, who determined that poor children as a group lack a work ethic? Some might argue that rich children, who often have their every whim catered to, might be a group that lacks a work ethic. Either argument is wrong because it paints both groups of children with such a broad brush. All children should develop a work ethic by understanding that going to school and learning is their work. Good grades are their reward.
To suggest, as Mr. Gingrich did, that poor children learn everything they need to know about work through criminal activity is outrageous. As a teacher of poor children for more than 20 years, I can vouch for the work ethic of my students. To earn extra money, they delivered newspapers, washed cars and dogs, babysat for younger children, raked leaves, shoveled snow off sidewalks, and sold candy. They earned money the same way middle class children did.
Mr. Gingrich also suggests that poor children take the place of "unionized" janitors. Really? Our school custodians are professional individuals who handle toxic waste and chemicals, monitor indoor air quality, assure a clean and healthy environment, recycle, as well as monitor hallways and bathrooms for potential problems. It is not a job for a child. And laying off adult janitors, unionized or not, doesn't improve the unemployment rate or the economy.
All children should be taught good stewardship and citizenship. They should certainly pick up liter, recycle, clean up after themselves, and keep their classrooms clean, but in no way should they be expected to take on an adult's job.
If Mr. Gingrich could ever admit he is wrong, I would suggest that he advocate for every child to value and respect work and understand financial literacy. But what is more important is that every child understand that the first job is to be a great student.