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Newt Gingrich

Former House Speaker; Chairman of Gingrich 360

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Better schools are not the only solution for at-risk students

Jul 26, 2023

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Research has shown that investing in education yields positive results for at-risk students in low-income communities. For instance, a 2022 University of Michigan study revealed that students attending well-funded schools are 15% less likely to be arrested up to the age of 30.

However, the situation becomes more complex for a generation of students living in disadvantaged conditions. Straight Arrow News contributor Newt Gingrich expresses deep concern about the next generation growing up in high-crime and economically deprived neighborhoods. He believes that addressing the challenges faced by these children requires looking beyond schools and exploring alternative solutions.

But what’s occurred to me listening to people who are actively teaching, and who are involved in trying to help students, is that maybe the problem is much more than just the schools. Maybe it’s the families, the neighborhood, the culture.

You know, if you live in an area, where at 10 or 12 years of age, you can already be out selling drugs, or engaged in other kinds of activities that are illegal, but making a lot of money, you might have a lot smaller incentive for sitting in a classroom and learning. If you’re in an area where your parents didn’t get a very good education, and they don’t care if you get a good education or not, or you’re from a broken home, and you may have absentee parents — in many cases, latchkey kids are on their own. 

The result is what we may be facing is a much deeper crisis — a crisis which includes drugs, a crisis which includes an underground economy, a crisis which includes people who are so depressed that they have an epidemic of suicide.

When we look at some of the school results, particularly in neighborhoods where the schools are a disaster, for example, in Baltimore City, there are some 21 schools in which not a single student can pass math, not one out of over 2000 students, and you go around the country, you find a number of places where you have this kind of literally disastrous result. 

 

But what’s occurred to me listening to people who are actively teaching, and who are involved in trying to help students, is that maybe the problem is much more than just the schools, maybe it’s the families, the neighborhood, the culture. You know, if you live in an area, where at 10 or 12 years of age, you can already be out selling drugs, or engaged in other kinds of activities that are illegal, but making a lot of money, you might have a lot smaller incentive for sitting in a classroom and learning. If you’re in an area where your parents didn’t get a very good education, and they don’t care if you get a good education or not, or you’re from a broken home, and you may have absentee parents — in many cases, latchkey kids are on their own. 

 

The result is what we may be facing is a much deeper crisis, a crisis which includes drugs, a crisis which includes an underground economy, a crisis which includes people who are so depressed that they have an epidemic of suicide. And it’s not just the schools, but it may be having to think about how do you take a neighborhood, which has lost hope, which has lost the habit of work, which has lost a sense of law and order and crime being inappropriate, and instead has gotten to a point where a very high percentage of involved in crime, a very high percentage of actually going to prison, with the parents feel like the kids aren’t their problem. 

 

As one teacher said to me, when she called some of the students who were in real trouble, their parent’s attitude was not, you got him from nine to four, that’s your problem. I don’t care what they do. And they wouldn’t come to meetings, they wouldn’t try to help, and we know that parental involvement and parental responsibility is a very significant part of how well students do. So what I’m suggesting is, whether it’s on some of the Native American reservations, on some of the poorest towns in Appalachia, or in parts of the decaying industrial Midwest, or whether it’s in some of our biggest cities, maybe what we’re faced with are entire neighborhoods, where the culture has to change, the incentives have to change, and to think about it only as a school problem, or a problem that can be solved in the classroom for a few hours a day, may be fundamentally wrong. 

 

I think this is a huge question, and one which the average American should really be thinking about. Because in the long run, a healthy free society can’t have 1000s and 1000s of people who can’t read, can’t write, can’t do math, can’t hold down a good job, can’t learn enough to be good citizens. And yet, in many neighborhoods, a significant number of neighborhoods, we are now producing a generation incapable of doing serious work, incapable of understanding the requirements of citizenship, and frankly, probably going to have children who they’re going to treat the same way they were treated. And so you’re going to have generations of people who aren’t prepared to be part of the modern world.

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