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The Thirty Cent Solution

November 10, 2013
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la luz 5The other day, in Dickinson, Texas, a 6th grade boy had his breakfast tossed because his meal account was 30 cents low.  Yes, the kid forgot to tell his mother he needed money in the account.  The system, where the child was humiliated in front of his class, does not allow for a child to be fed if their account is empty, so their food is thrown away, in the trash.  It is a fairly frequent event.  In another Texas school, last March a 14-year-old girl had hear lunch thrown out because she needed 70 cents in her account.

First of all, kids are NOT going to starve by missing a school lunch.  By the time I was in the 5th grade, I rarely even took lunch, let alone ate lunch at school.  We did not have morning snacks.  We did not have afternoon snacks.  Most of the time, the food served was inedible. The high school cafeteria made some of the best veggie vegetable soup I have ever eaten – since. I always had lunch on those days. I think our lunch was about a dollar, and that was years ago.  We had no choice.  If you did not drink white milk, you had nothing to drink at all, not even water.  I don’t drink milk.  I went without anything to drink, most days.  Soft drinks were the fountain kind, out of the machines.  My usual lunch was a small Coke and a pack of peanut butter crackers.

In Dallas, they are giving all students free meals, regardless of income.  Evidently it saves money.  Imagine that, cut the paperwork, the administrative positions and you end up saving enough to offer free meals to every kid in the district. That alone should be dramatic.  It is estimated, in Dallas, doing free breakfasts and lunches will save families up to $455 a year.  They are doing the same thing in Boston.

There are so many things wrong with this system.  First, can you imagine the cost in keeping accounts, notifying parents, and the book-keeping involved?  Whatever happened to the good old fashioned, take your lunch money to school? Do you know how much cheaper it is to have someone take the money before the kid goes into the cafeteria? When I was in school, teachers and administrators took turns as cashier. They had list of kids who worked in the cafeteria, and those who received ‘free lunch’.  The name was quietly checked off, no humiliation necessary.  There are times when modern isn’t better.  This is one of them. The saved cost alone would more than make up for those missing monies.  All we have here is just another level of bureaucracy.

Then there is the bureaucracy, itself.  The more centralized, the worse it is.  From what I gather, many school districts, states, counties, etc. use professional catering services, to do their food services.  It is pure insanity the way some things occur, with unopened packages being thrown out in some places, the waste must be tremendous.

There is no rational behavior here.  Then again, I am not a fan of public education, simply because I hold school administrators, the average pencil pusher, in such abject contempt. I am utterly contemptuous of the way teachers are treated, and the way school systems are run, starting with the one where I live.  Education is a joke.  The school lunch debacle is the tip of the iceberg of what is wrong in American education.   It also exemplifies what is wrong with this country.

Reading the articles generated about the tale of the kid who lost his lunch, one thing became quite apparent.  We are living in a society where compassion seems to be a luxury few libertarians and those in the far right can afford.  It is quite fascinating.  The more unbridled capitalism is stressed, the less compassion we seem to have.   An unbridled capitalist society cannot afford compassion.  It is a sign of human weakness. It is also a sign of socialism, Marxism, and progressive taxes.  Today’s ‘Christian’ capitalist has managed to conveniently forget that it is also all about caring for those less advantaged.  Christ also said something about caring for the least of them – and for kids.  I don’t want to be in their shoes.

What has happened to our world?  When I was a kid, in school, if there was a need, if a kid needed lunch money, and it wasn’t there, the teacher would come out to one of the parents’ cars and tell them they had a kid in need.  Neither the kid nor the parents would know about it.  The object was to allow the family to have a little bit of pride.   If a new coat was needed, the kid was asked to drop into the office on the way to the bus.  Same thing with a new pair of shoes.  The idea was compassion, and basic human decency.

Today, if that same kid is without, they are treated like dirt, not only by the kids in the school, but by society as a whole.  Those who are in financial need are the new enemy.  They must be punished, not for something they have done, but because of something they have not done – become rich.  There is something inherently repulsive where a child, through no fault of his/her own, comes into the world in less that auspicious circumstances, and must literally be punished, degraded, and treated like dirt – because they weren’t born to wealthy parents.

For centuries the world had been this way. One of the beauties of the new American capitalism, that overtook the world, back during the Victorian era, was the belief that everyone, if given the opportunity, could make something of him/herself.  There were cesspools of poverty in this country, in the cities, especially, where newly arriving immigrants became mired in abject misery.  Those who were able to get out of the cities, and into the nation, as a whole, had  the same opportunity as did anyone else. Forget that – today.

The far right spew is to work hard, get your masters’ do the right thing and the world is yours.  I know someone who has been out of work for nearly 5 years.  She has lost her home, relocated to another state, and still can’t find work.  She has an MBA along with several technical degrees.  Now, they tell her she is too qualified.  She is removing her MBA from her resume.  Is it her fault that she isn’t working or just the way the world has changed?  Should she be treated like dirt because she can’t find a job?

Today, if you aren’t a financial success there is something wrong.  Our system so worships the wealthy that anyone who isn’t is treated with derision.  Their children are treated even worse. Children are not to blame for their station in life.  Repeatedly you hear people saying ‘why bother with helping someone’ if they are getting public assistance? They’re getting help, why do anything for them?

What happened to our Christian compassion?  Anyone who makes that sort of a statement is using it as an excuse. I am willing to be money people like that were never very compassionate and never gave a damn, ever.

We go back full circle.  The worst thing about what happened to the kid in Texas was the public humiliation.  He did not deserve what happened to him.  When an education system is set up to inherently destroy the psychological well-being of someone like this, it is an abject failure. Any adult who calls themselves a educator and allows something like this to happen, on their time is an abject failure.

Children are terribly sensitive.  When something like this happens to them, they never forget. It is abuse.  Anyone who says it doesn’t scar them, doesn’t know much about kids.  They also don’t know much about basic human decency.

Oh this glorious brave new world created in the image of Ayn Rand.  Frankly, I don’t want to have any part of it.

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