21 votes

Pete Buttigieg lies about education disparities

8 comments

  1. kfwyre
    Link
    One of my roles in the low-income high school I worked in was to help students plan for their post-secondary life, whether that was college or a career. When I talked with freshmen, their plans...

    One of my roles in the low-income high school I worked in was to help students plan for their post-secondary life, whether that was college or a career. When I talked with freshmen, their plans were usually the sort of obvious "do what you love" answers that they've been giving since they were little: veterinarian, astronaut, basketball player, YouTuber, etc. It's a product of their age and development. They were still insulated from what jobs and careers were like (this is NOT a criticism: it took me far longer than my freshman year to have any sort of worldly view on these kind of things).

    By their sophomore year, their outlook had more lived, real-world texture to it and was focused on more immediate concerns. It was no longer "what do I want to do years down the road?" but "what do I want to do soon?" primarily because most of the sophomores were on the cusp of turning working age, able to be gainfully employed for the first time in their lives.

    Many jumped at this chance. To them, education had been a long, difficult slog that had yet to pay off. In fact, in high school, it was harder than it had ever been. A job had the promise of giving them money, right now, for their eight hours of effort a day, which is something school had not yet given to them. Furthermore, I was taken aback whenever I would talk with them, because the allure of getting money was rarely driven by a sort of greed or personal desire for cash. Instead, almost every student I talked with mentioned wanting to be able to help out their parents and family members. Their desire to work was mainly motivated by altruism.

    What I came to realize was that, in the community I worked in, money was a lot more fluid than I was used to. I've lived my life where all of the income I've ever received has gone into my own accounts. I have and maintain ownership over it. Anything I've given from that has been mine and mine alone, and there's always been enough to cover what I need, and then some.

    But for my students, money seemed to be community-owned, particularly because nobody had enough to cover everything. An aunt might be behind on the rent, so everyone would funnel some money her way to make sure she could pay it. Then someone's car might break down, so the money would funnel that way -- a little bit from person A, a little bit from person B, and so on and so forth. The people who received these windfalls would pay it back later, by directing some of their own money to others when they had a surplus. No one person had enough to stay on top, so people stayed afloat by helping each other as needs arose -- a sort of community GoFundMe based on relatives and trust. The bag of money that the author talks about, and how they hired someone to drive him to college, are a great example of this phenomenon. He didn't have the means, but those around him all gave up a little of what they had to get him what he needed. It's a beautiful story of human kindness in the face of undeniable adversity.

    This was the model of money that my students grew up under, and once they became working age they were strongly motivated to start contributing to this financial system. They understood how it worked, were grateful for the times it had helped them, and wanted to give back to the parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who had all taken turns helping out. At times, talking to students, I would be nearly moved to tears as I listened to them selflessly talking about wanting to give back to others, knowing that they still wanted to do so despite having so little. My students were a constant and powerful reminder of the wonders of kindness.

    Turning 16 was the dropout cliff over which so many of our students would fall. Almost every (and I do mean every) one of our students would start working shortly after turning 16. So many of them were already exhausted by school, and working only exacerbated this. Though many employers would only hire students for weekend hours as a way of avoiding stepping on schools' toes, many wouldn't and would take workers whenever they could make it. Thus, I had students who were trying to work weeknights at a retail place while working days at school. Furthermore, for those that only worked weekends, they'd often work double shifts Saturday and Sunday, cramming in 20+ hours in two days. And then they'd be back in school, sitting in my class at 7:30 AM Monday morning. No rest for the weary. Schoolwide we institutionally deprioritized homework for our junior and senior classes, knowing that so many students simply didn't have the time. If you were getting home at 10 PM on a Tuesday or working non-stop all weekend, there was no way you were then spending 30 minutes on pre-calculus, much less another hour on an essay.

    Few students could keep up this relentless and patently unfair pace. The ones that did are some of the strongest, most resilient people I've ever had the privilege of knowing. The ones that didn't, I didn't blame. If you and your family have little money, and you work sixteen hours a day, you're going to prioritize the eight that pay you right now. It has nothing to do with role models and examples of success in the community -- it has everything to do with the dire economics of the situation. I worked during summers in high school, but it wasn't because I had to. I spent those paychecks on videogames and Taco Bell. If I'd been poor, this would have been trotted out as an excuse for my living situation, but because I wasn't, it doesn't even come under scrutiny. I was able to put in maximal effort in school only because I wasn't living a life that required extensive sacrifices just to get by. I never once had to help out my parents, extended family, or neighbors financially. My minimal grocery store wages didn't pay for the electrical bill, a family member's medical debt, or food for the week. I didn't have to juggle being on the clock as a student and as a worker, because the two were never in conflict for me.

    While I don't love the title of the article nor some of its word choice, and I also have issues with dredging up years-old quotes to berate someone with, I will affirm that what the author speaks here about himself, education, poverty, and racism is truth. This is a truth that needs to be heard and understood in the depth of our beings, because so much of our discourse is wrapped up in waving away stories like his. Finding reasons to paint them as one-offs or exceptions to the rule. One of the most insidious lies in American culture is the idea that poverty is a character problem. This does double duty, because it not only allows us to use that as a reason for why it exists ("if only they worked harder"), but it also allows us to ignore any self-advocacy offered up by people who have lived through it. This leads to us forming our opinions on poverty by listening to the voices of people who have never known it over those who have.

    Even worse, it allows us to characterize people like Harriot as a "success story." He's one of the "good ones!" Not like everyone else in poverty, the character argument says. But he "made it", right? He went to college and made something of himself, so it's possible to rise out, right? So then what's wrong with all those other people still in poverty? This is the character argument that has been circling for decades and will continue to do so as long as the character lie lives.

    Poverty is not a character problem. Though we can certainly point to people of poor character in poverty, that's both a misdirection and an unfair characterization. Not only are there plenty of people of outright amazing and admirable character living in poverty (my students were hundreds of examples of this), but the conditions of poverty can actually be causal to the sort of ill character that people decry. A given person likely isn't living in poverty because they're a terrible person; they're far more likely a terrible person because they're living in poverty. Continued existence under chronic stress and without your basic human needs being met can break anyone, no matter who you are. If it happens early, in your childhood, you often don't even get a chance at normalcy, stability, or peace.

    Merely working in low-income schools broke my spirit, and I went home to a warm apartment in a working car of my own, enough food that I could gorge myself, and my choice of whatever comfort I wanted, be that material or entertainment. My students had far less than that and showed far more resolve on a daily basis. And while I find the ones who did inspiring, I also don't begrudge the ones who couldn't. Giving up, checking out, or folding in are understandable human responses to the perpetual unkindness of the world. The problem is this perpetual unkindness, not the people who yield to it.

    39 votes
  2. [2]
    moocow1452
    Link
    There was a follow up as well. https://www.theroot.com/pete-buttigieg-called-me-heres-what-happened-1840055464
    19 votes
  3. Diet_Coke
    Link
    I was going to post the first one here but couldn't think of how to word the title to be more Tilderino-like. Props for that, and thanks for posting the follow ups!

    I was going to post the first one here but couldn't think of how to word the title to be more Tilderino-like. Props for that, and thanks for posting the follow ups!

    9 votes
  4. [4]
    Loire
    (edited )
    Link
    This sort of thing is too be expected. Whichever Dem candidate is rising at the moment is going to suddenly find a bunch of other Democrats trying to tear them down. It happened on Buttigieg's...

    This sort of thing is too be expected. Whichever Dem candidate is rising at the moment is going to suddenly find a bunch of other Democrats trying to tear them down. It happened on Buttigieg's first rise, it happened to Harris, it happened to Warren, it's happening to Buttigieg again, and it's been a constant for Biden.

    The only person it hasn't really happened to is, surprisingly, Sanders likely because he's been floating in that second/third place spot consistently for months now. Fairly typical primary behaviour. I'm sure we will see a number of other candidates face the firing line before the nominal candidate takes the lead in March.

    Kids need to see evidence that education is going to work for them,” Buttigieg explained whitely, when he was running for mayor in 2011. You’re motivated because you believe that at the end of your education, there is a reward; there’s a stable life; there’s a job. And there are a lot of kids—especially [in] the lower-income, minority neighborhoods, who literally just haven’t seen it work

    How is this somehow the wrong thing to say but starting off the tale by simplifying educational disparities for minorities to having to cross a ditch is #woke? The article goes on to suggest black kids are dropping out of highschool because they make 80¢ to the dollar a white college grad makes, or because they have the foresight to see they will rack up more debt than a white student?

    The article plucks a single comment from a candidate eight years ago and acts as if that is his entire perspective on the problem. That by not mentioning systemic racism he is denying it occurs. Ironically, by misrepresenting someone is an incredibly negative light in order to drum up controversy for their article, the author is the lying motherfucker they accuse Buttigieg of being.

    8 votes
    1. [3]
      moonbathers
      Link Parent
      It's not the wrong thing to say, but it's incomplete. Without commenting on any of Buttigieg's other statements or policies, the quoted statement is incomplete because there needs to be an...

      How is this somehow the wrong thing to say but starting off the tale by simplifying educational disparities for minorities to having to cross a ditch is #woke?

      It's not the wrong thing to say, but it's incomplete. Without commenting on any of Buttigieg's other statements or policies, the quoted statement is incomplete because there needs to be an acknowledgement of why things don't work and specifics on how to make them better, as the author said. The author mentioned the ditch because the alternative was walking 15 minutes around it. The ditch isolated his neighborhood, and that sort of isolation is pretty commonplace across the United States. Neighborhoods are cut off by highways, or train tracks, or other similar things, and no, walking an extra 15 minutes each way isn't the end of the world but it's that much more time and effort you have to put into something that a lot of other people with a better environment / more money don't have to deal with.

      10 votes
      1. [2]
        Loire
        Link Parent
        It was apparently wrong enough to be called a "motherfucking liar" which is more to the point of my comment. The hyperbolic attacks go to ridiculous lengths. I'm sorry I just don't buy the ditch...

        It's not the wrong thing to say, but it's incomplete

        It was apparently wrong enough to be called a "motherfucking liar" which is more to the point of my comment. The hyperbolic attacks go to ridiculous lengths.

        I'm sorry I just don't buy the ditch story. I bussed/trained/bussed again for over an hour each way to get to my highschool instead of going to the neighborhood highschool that was only marginally worse. The reason I was willing to put in the, frankly insane, amount of extra commuting time was because of exactly what Buttigieg said: I had role models in my life that subconsciously convinced me of the importance of academics at all costs.

        There are significant racist forces creating socioeconomic disparities but African Americans in poverty aren't facing educational disparity because of the metaphorical "ditch". The "ditch" is the excuse masking the culturally internal causes for poor academics that aren't as easy to address as the external causes.

        3 votes
        1. moonbathers
          Link Parent
          Not everyone is able to do that though, which is the author's point. No one should have to either. You're being unfairly dismissive of the author's environment. A lot of people aren't even allowed...

          I bussed/trained/bussed again for over an hour each way to get to my highschool instead of going to the neighborhood highschool that was only marginally worse.

          Not everyone is able to do that though, which is the author's point. No one should have to either. You're being unfairly dismissive of the author's environment. A lot of people aren't even allowed to go to the better high school an hour away, if there is one.

          What are those culturally internal causes for poor academics? There are so many other causes that blaming it on culture is ignorant at best.

          7 votes