How About A Running Wheel In The Poorhouse?

Ed Raymond

I’m writing this column before I know the results of the election, but I know the topic of poverty or pauperism will still be around long after. The November issue of “In These Times” had an article by Maggie Garb that recalled the history of the first anti-poverty organization in the United States, the Society for the Prevention of Pauperism. Poverty hasn’t changed much from 1818 since the Society issued its first report. The Society, mainly middle-class, stated first that poverty was a “moral failure” because of the “habits and vices” of the poor. The report described what they saw in the streets of cities:”Women and children scavenging for coal and food scraps along city streets, the able-bodied men left idle by a serious economic downturn.” The Society had been “inspired” to do something about the cost of winter heating for the almshouses ( “poorhouses”), where the homeless poor could sleep and get a meal.
  The Society determined that poverty was caused by alcohol, idleness, spending what little money was earned on trinkets and booze, gambling, the availability of pawnbrokers, and “imprudent and hasty marriages.” It appears that if poverty reports were issued every 50 years, the contents would be much the same, whether in 1818, 1868, 1918, 1968, or 2018. Will the Wars on Poverty ever end? I would bet, however, that none of these reports would mention lack of jobs and low wages as principal causes. Throughout history there has been a big difference between a minimum wage dictated by business-government forces and a living wage required to participate adequately in the middle-class life of a society.
   I imagine we had politicians like Mitt Romney in 1818 and will have them at every 50-year interval forever after. I wonder if every presidential candidate had the jobless, shiftless, irresponsible 47 percent mentioned by Romney in his arrogant boo-boo: “I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” According to Romney, if we don’t have a strict work requirement, Americans “will become a nation of dependency.”

Mitt Is Truly An Alien
From Another Planet

   I have always thought of Romney as a robotic alien because there is no indication that he has ever lived a normal life on Planet Earth. His campaign strategists finally figured out they had to make him appear human, so they dredged up a few “empathy” stories from his time as a Mormon “bishop.” Most of the stories didn’t cut it. Evidently his five sons and 18 grandchildren are all Lake Wobegon children, all way above average.
   Romney has such an attitude about the “47 percent” that he would probably adopt a recommendation from the 1818 report. The Society suggested installing a huge hamster-like running wheel in the poorhouse where the poor could get themselves into physical shape and learn enough discipline to be able to perform in the workplace.

IQ And Standardized
Tests Actually Don’t
Measure Much

   James Flynn in his book “Are We Getting Smarter?: Rising IQ in the Twenty-First Century” points out that the average IQ scores in every industrialized nation go up about three points every decade. This means that an American who scored 100 in 1912 would score about 70 today. So in 1912 the person would be average in intelligence but in 2012 he would be considered mentally retarded. So IQ test experts have to “re-norm” them every few years so that the average remains 100. Why are scores going up? Are we better at taking tests? Are the tests lousy at measuring intelligence? Or are we getting smarter?
   I have been leery of IQ tests since I was a teacher at Fargo Central High back in the Bright Ages. I remember two poverty-stricken brothers who often scored very low in IQ tests and in subject matter tests, and barely passed from grade to grade. But in Auto Mechanics class, if you put two 1950 Fords next to each other, the two could switch engines and have them both running in a matter of hours. How did they do that? They were evidently very smart about some things and dumb about others. We don’t know enough about the brain yet to label persons mentally retarded. All IQ tests have to be based on what knowledge a person acquires. If a child in the ghetto or across the tracks is so poor he can never leave his neighborhood, his experiences are very limited. If he lives in a home where privacy is unknown, he might not have a chance to dream while awake. If he lives in a home where there are no newspapers, no magazines, no books, no computer, and no Internet, his exposure to culture and science and literature is severely limited. The intelligence he possesses may not be measured at all by tests that grade experiences. He may be a genius at his kind of problem-solving.

The Intriguing,
Mystifying, Bizarre,
Exhilarating Story Of
Mega-Savant Kim Peek

   Kim Peek, the man who became the inspiration for the movie “Rain Man” starring Dustin Hoffman, was so “handicapped” he never learned to entirely dress himself, although he lived for 58 years. He always failed at tying his shoes or buttoning his shirts. The simple task of setting a table eluded him. He did not learn how to climb stairs until he was 16 years old. Kim was born with a brain that had no connective tissue between the right and left lobes. He was “physically” incapable of filtering information.
   But Kim was a mega-savant. He “assembled” knowledge in 15 very broad categories such as classical music, math, sports, literature, and history. His brain was a huge file cabinet, storing maps, ZIP codes, calendars, military commanders, and sports tidbits. He had a photographic memory. His father said Kim memorized the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and 12,000 other books. For years Kim was paid to keep the payroll for a disabilities center. He used no entries on paper. Every calculation on every employee was kept in his head. They trusted him to do it right.
   I think the most astounding feat of Kim’s was holding a book within eight inches of his face and reading the left page with his left eye and the right page with his right eye—at the same time. He read and memorized most of his books that way. Kim is one of the many reasons we have to be careful about measuring intelligence with IQ tests and concentrating on Leave No Child Behind standardized tests to check on what students have learned. And it’s why we should not pay teachers specifically on what their students learn. There are many varieties of Kims in the classroom.

Simply An Amazing
Thing: Women Are
Getting Smarter

   Flynn has come up with the premise “We are not getting smarter; we are getting more modern.” He makes sense. In today’s world, we need more abstract thinking than thinking based on facts because we deal with abstract problems on computers, Internet, video games, and other electronic advances such as cell phones, smart phones, laptops, and other “stuff.”
   Flynn also objects to the use of IQ tests in determining whether an inmate on death row will live or die. It is now illegal in the U.S. to execute a person with an IQ below 70. If an inmate is given an IQ test that has not been re-normed, his score may vary by 20 or 30 points. It could be a matter of life and death.
    There also is an increasing number of elderly people who may have Alzheimer’s or some kind of dementia—or none at all. Some elderly people are not “modern” and may have trouble with newer IQ tests.
   For much of the 20th century, men have had higher IQs than women. Nineteenth-century
doctors and education professors often predicted it would always remain so. But now if you separate non-university women from university women, the IQ “gap” disappears. Now that we have more women attending college than men, it will be interesting to see when the flip-flop occurs. It will no doubt come soon.

The Reality Of Poverty
And The Rehabilita
tion Of A Superpower

   We probably will always have poor people, but we certainly can eliminate the poverty of the mind if we have a mind to. A letter to the editor of the Star Tribune from an Edina doctor describes too well what is happening in the state of Minnesota: “Twenty-two years ago... I chose the Twin Cities because it had the cultural amenities and progressive attitude of a larger city. I was impressed with Minnesota’s emphasis on education and health. Years later I live in a state I barely recognize. Our two world-famous orchestras are fighting for survival, and the state has borrowed more than $2 billion from K-12 schools... Our roads are in disrepair... Tens of thousands of Minnesotans lack health care. Yet still we have managed to find the billions necessary to build new sports facilities for a variety of teams... State officials should take heed: Young professionals will not want to move to a city with no orchestra, no emphasis on health, and a lackluster educational system—however many stadiums it might have.” The big question is, can we change our priorities before it is too late?

What Are The Powers That Can Transform Us?

   I have saved the following paragraph so long I have lost the name of the author, but no matter. He lists the ways we can survive as a culture and as a superpower in this dangerous but wonderful world. He also lists how our corporate-plutocratic leadership is destroying our culture and our imaginations:
   “All that concerns itself with beauty and truth, with those forces that have the power to transform us, is being steadily extinguished by our corporate state. Art. Education. Literature. Music. Theater. Dance. Poetry. Philosophy. Religion. Journalism. None of these disciplines are worthy in the corporate state of support or compensation. These are pursuits that, even in our universities, are condemned as impractical. But it is only through the impractical, through that which can power our imagination, that we will be rescued as a species.... We will never penetrate the mystery of creation, or the meaning of existence, if we do not recover the elemental speech of imagination. Poetry shows a man his soul. And it is our souls that the culture of imperialism, business, and technology seeks to crush.”
   Poverty levels are $22,313 for a family of four and $11,139 for an individual. Who ends up in poverty? Is it the shiftless, the lazy, the dependent, the drunk, the mentally and physically impaired? People do not stay in poverty in perpetuity. The majority of America’s poor are victims of a single event—a divorce, a serious illness, medical bankruptcies, a job loss. About 20 percent of our Iraq and Afghan veterans end up homeless. They don’t have low IQs. They passed all of the military tests. They may suffer from the mind-bending nightmares of post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by months of being constantly exposed to death on a 24/7 basis.
   We no longer have unskilled assembly line jobs that pay enough to maintain a middle-class family. Those jobs are in Mexico, China, and Bangladesh and are not coming back. They shouldn’t. We have to be better. If we have assembly line jobs again, they have to be skilled jobs that unskilled, ill-educated workers in Latin America or Asia cannot do.
   Germany is the only country in the world that seems to have solved the rich-poor gap. With the lowest unemployment rate of industrialized countries and the highest-paid workers, Germany keeps rolling along without an economic speed bump. German companies, with the approval of its strong unions, spend more on research and development than our companies do. Germany leads the world in the development of innovative equipment. The secret? German businesses have an equal number of management and labor reps on their boards of directors. They have to compromise. The workers have to agree to make changes so that the company can survive, and management must agree to compromise to ensure that the workers are loyal to the business. That’s how you win the poverty wars.