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Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), a Republican candidate for the 2012 presidential nomination, says that schools should save educational expenses by firing all custodians except for one “master janitor” and have the children do the rest of the maintenance work for their schools. Gingrich recommends this particularly for schools in poorer areas.
Attacks Unions, Child Labor Laws - Child labor laws prohibit such actions; Gingrich blames these laws, and the unions to which many maintenance workers and custodians belong, for causing “unnecessary” expenditures and for what he says is blocking poorer children from bootstrapping their way to economic success. “This is something that no liberal wants to deal with,” he tells an audience at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. “Core policies of protecting unionization and bureaucratization against children in the poorest neighborhoods, crippling them by putting them in schools that fail has done more to create income inequality in the United States than any other single policy,” he continues. “It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in, first of all, child laws, which are truly stupid. You say to somebody, you shouldn’t go to work before you’re what, 14, 16 years of age, fine. You’re totally poor. You’re in a school that is failing with a teacher that is failing. I’ve tried for years to have a very simple model. Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor, and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they’d begin the process of rising.… You go out and talk to people, as I do, you go out and talk to people who are really successful in one generation. They all started their first job between nine and 14 years of age. They all were either selling newspapers, going door to door, they were doing something, they were washing cars. They all learned how to make money at a very early age. What do we say to poor kids in poor neighborhoods? Don’t do it. Remember all that stuff about don’t get a hamburger flipping job? The worst possible advice you could give to poor children. Get any job that teaches you to show up on Monday. Get any job that teaches you to stay all day even if you are in a fight with your girlfriend. The whole process of making work worthwhile is central.”
Proposal Called 'Absurd,' 'Insane' - Gingrich, who in 1994 proposed placing children whose families were on welfare into state-run orphanages, is quickly targeted for criticism by experts and observers. Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), calls Gingrich’s proposal “absurd,” and says: “Who in their right mind would lay off janitors and replace them with disadvantaged children—who should be in school, and not cleaning schools? And who would start backtracking on laws designed to halt the exploitation of children?” Gingrich says he has a number of “extraordinarily radical proposals to fundamentally change the culture of poverty in America and give people a chance to rise very rapidly.” (Haberman 11/18/2011; Gabriel 11/19/2011) Jordan Weissman, an associate editor of The Atlantic, calls Gingrich’s proposal “insane.” He writes: “This suggestion is, on its face, insane. It sounds like a bad Stephen Colbert joke [referring to a popular political satirist]. But if you stop and consider its merits for a minute or two… well no, it’s still quite insane. And if you spend an evening researching the nitty gritty of what public school custodians actually do for a living, it turns out to be downright cruel.” He says the proposal is “a jarring illustration of Gingrich’s casual disdain for American workers.” Weissmann refers to a job description for a New York City public school custodial engineer: that job requires the worker to use hazardous chemicals such as hydrochloric acid; repair heating and air conditioning systems; do electrical and plumbing repair; and other potentially dangerous tasks. Weissman asks, “What parent wants a nine-year-old, or even a 13-year-old, toying with the HVAC in her school?” Custodial jobs are among the most physically taxing of all jobs, causing workers to suffer an unusually high number of on-the-job injuries and causing long-term physical debilitation. Weissman concludes: “It would be easy to chalk Gingrich’s comments up simply to his well-known animus towards unions. But I don’t think that quite explains it. Rational people can argue about how much someone should be paid to clean.… But that decision starts from the respectful assumption that maintaining a school is something worthwhile for an adult to spend their lives on. That’s not the case in Gingrich’s worldview. Forget that an adult might need that job to put food on the table for their own children. Forget that he’s suggesting we flood an ailing job market with part time, minimum-wage-earning students. This isn’t about labor economics. It’s about respect, and the fact that the leading Republican presidential candidate doesn’t have a spit’s worth of it for manual labor. In his eyes, a janitor’s job just doesn’t mean much. It’s so easy, a child could do it.” (Weissman 11/21/2011)
Former Custodian: Gingrich 'Doesn't Even Know Why' He is Wrong - A diarist for the liberal blog Daily Kos describes himself as a former “custodian for a very large child care center.” He writes: “I was the guy mopping up vast amounts of wet, sticky rice from the floor, sanitizing the tables, chairs and high-chairs, and washing the dishes. I sanitized doorknobs. I filed down jagged parts of metal that somehow, every once in a while, stuck out from steel door jam[b]s and bathroom stalls. I hauled out dozens of bags of dirty diapers Every Single Day… and yes, I cleaned up an unholy amount of poop from a dozen itty bitty toilets. [T]hese are many of the things Newt Gingrich believes should be jobs for poor children in our public school systems. Cleaning up vomit. Cleaning feces off of toilet seats. Handling cleaning solvents that can eat right through latex gloves. Washing dishes with an industrial dish washer that heats the water over 180 degrees, enough to scald young skin.… Plunging toilets plugged with diarrhea and toilet paper, then sanitizing the toilet seat for the Non Poor students. Newt Gingrich wants our children cleaning blood, mucous, feces, urine, dried snot, vomit loaded with God-Knows-What pathogens from floors and walls and door knobs with chemicles [sic] that can eat the skin right off your arm or cause permanent blindness if it splashed into the eyes or loss of smell if some Janitor Kid jammed his finger up his nose… which kids never do, right? Never. Because an eight-year-old is going to observe strict safety regulations, right?” The diarist concludes: “[Gingrich] should be embarrassed for suggesting we make poor children clean our schools. There is SO much wrong with that statement and the most irritating thing is, he doesn’t even know WHY.” (Daily Kos 11/21/2011)
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