About the Blog

I will post a new entry every few weeks. Some will be new writing and some will be past work that has relevance today. The writing will deal in some way with the themes that have been part of my teaching and writing life for decades:

•teaching and learning;
•educational opportunity;
•the importance of public education in a democracy;
•definitions of intelligence and the many manifestations of intelligence in school, work, and everyday life; and
•the creation of a robust and humane philosophy of education.

If I had to sum up the philosophical thread that runs through my work, it would be this: A deep belief in the ability of the common person, a commitment to educational, occupational, and cultural opportunity to develop that ability, and an affirmation of public institutions and the public sphere as vehicles for nurturing and expressing that ability.

My hope is that this blog will foster an online community that brings people together to continue the discussion.


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Thursday, July 26, 2012

The War On Poverty... One Person at a Time

Earlier this year I wrote about ordering a gift basket by phone, only to have the call veer quickly toward a quite personal conversation as the agent unburdened himself about the difficulties he’s had getting a teaching position. Well, I don’t know if it’s a sign of the times or simple coincidence, but I just had another routine call turn unexpectedly into a revealing conversation – though this one had a happy ending.

            I was calling about phone service and was routed to a technical unit. The young man on the other end had to conduct various tests, some involving other units, so there was down time that he gradually began to fill with questions: “So how’s the weather in Santa Monica?” and “Have you been to Venice Beach?” As we talked, it became clear that he knew the area, said he had grown up in Southern California. “Where are you now?” I asked. Utah. “Oh,” I ventured, “are you a skier?” No, he said, though he’s done some snowboarding. “I’m not much of a skier,” he added with a slight dip in his voice… then energetically, “I really like the beach.” I said there’s not a lot of beaches in Utah, and we both laughed. This was the back and forth for a few minutes, interrupted by him performing another test or getting a reply from another unit.
Dead time. Then he asked, “So what do you like to do for fun?” I felt a little grip of caution, but told him that I like to do what I’m about to do – and this was also a nudge to move the transaction along – and that is to go out to dinner with friends. “And you,” I asked. “Snowmobiling,” he said. “It’s a blast.”

            Another pause. Then he started talking about the beaches again, this time nostalgically… and with a gentle shift he added, “I kinda had to leave. Things weren’t working out for me. So I came up here to enter a program – Job Corps, have you heard of it?”

            He credited Job Corps with giving him the skills to get the job he has now. And it was in the program where he met his fiancĂ©e. His voice, youthful and casual, got even lighter when he mentioned her.

            The last test completed, things wrapped up. I congratulated him on getting his life together and on his engagement. He ended the call by saying he hoped I had a nice time with my friends.

            It’s become commonplace – and not only in conservative circles – to describe the War on Poverty as a failure or at least to emphasize its failures. This simplified version of a complex history is in line with current cynicism about the role of government and the celebration of market- based solutions to social and educational problems. The Job Corps was founded in 1964 as part of the War on Poverty, and its most recent funding comes through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the “Stimulus Bill”). Modeled on the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, it provides free education and job training for low- income youth. For one affable young man caught in the underside of Southern California beach life, the program provided a fresh start, a job, the beginnings of a family.  It didn’t take much for him to tell the story, and we certainly need to hear such stories now. 

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