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Academy for Living

July 7, 2014

Personal responsibility is vital to America’s success, but conservatives can easily lean too far towards heartlessness.  A radio host was talking about the expansion of the free breakfast, lunch and dinner program for school kids, pointing out that it was free for them but we’re the ones paying for it.  Yeah, I’m okay with that.  Kids need to eat and eat well.  Doesn’t matter if they’re here legally or not, the next generation must be cared for by all of us (it doesn’t take a village, it takes a broad taxpayer base).

At the same time, liberals can lean too far towards “understanding.”  Re-education and cultural adjustment (teaching poverty stricken families the viewpoint and habits of wealth-building, part of which is getting rid of habits that keep them in poverty), has been viewed as “destroying culture.”  I don’t see how preserving a culture that perpetuates poverty to be worth preserving.

Still, as an instructional designer, I’m aware that learning takes place when behavior changes.  Deeply rooted “poverty culture” has so many tendrils tied into the emotional, psychological, spiritual and physical aspects of a person that it makes overcoming poverty through training a herculean task. 

For someone to change, a person has to want to change.  But in working with the poor, I’ve found that people think money is the problem, not their own behavior and beliefs.  Speaking with one fellow, I found out he spent $20 a week on lottery tickets, $40 for cigarettes and $100+ for “pharmaceuticals” and booze.  That was more than he spent on food and a run-down apartment.  His plan for getting out of poverty was winning the lottery.  He didn’t have a library card, and while he had an iPhone, he spent no time online learning anything.  I asked if he would take a free class in bank processing, learn the back-office skills he’d need to get a job.  He wanted to know if he could smoke during the class and did they have free food.   No, there wasn’t.  He said it wasn’t worth his time.  That is NOT indicative of every poor person.  I’ve found those who would jump at such as chance already work several jobs and spend what little money they have as well as they can.  Invariably, these people have no education, either dropping out of high school or may as well have.  NOTE: This is all anecdotal, not study based.   I suspect there is a third classification: those with an education, even some college, who have the skills to get out, but not the attitude. 

Institutional victimization makes envisioning and gaining buy-in extremely difficult, but this is what I propose:

Welfare recipients must, and anyone else may voluntarily, attend a free, local “Academy for Living.”  Staffed by volunteers, retirees and people willing to work off Federal Student Loans, this academy, which can be take full-time or spread across several years, would include interactive psychology courses to address foundational matters such as victim mentality, anger management and more.  GED prep, financial courses, corporate etiquette, skills training and internships.  The goal for graduates is that they be able to enter the workforce with skills and attitude conducive to advancement, and the ability to plan an exit path from poverty.

I don’t expect this to be a cheap solution, but it is a solution that could build upon itself.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. kverdeck permalink
    July 8, 2014 7:04 am

    This is an idea I could definitely get behind–I’ve always thought that if we’re going to spend money on the lower class, why spend it only on efforts at sustaining them and not on efforts to improve them? As you say, not all are interested in improving, but I would wager many more are.

    The impression I have is that at present, for a myriad of reasons, being born into poverty in this nation is, for the vast majority, a sentence to stay there and perpetuate the cycle. Our lower classes simply do not have the resources to escape their station, for the most part. Their education lacks, the jobs available to them generally pay sub-poverty wages, their health and nutrition suffer, and their family support structures are often inadequate. We can’t fix all of that, of course, but as a society I think we’re beholden to help where we can. The real rising tide that lifts all ships must start at the bottom of the pool, not at the top.

    • July 12, 2014 9:16 am

      Agreed. I’d rather not demand money from the rich, but I’d love to see campaigns encouraging the creation of foundations and giving, one rich-guy to another. Maybe also publicize the giving that’s taking place to spur more. I’ve spoken with people who have tried to work through the government and given up, then done it on their own (nice when you have millions to give away), and they said the return on private programs was more effective on a smaller range of people than a giant program covering everyone. Meanwhile, our government dollars need to be spent strategically for those wanting to improve their place in life.

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