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School Lunch Programs and Student Dignity

December 22, 2013

school_lunchRepresentative Jack Kingston (R-Georgia) last week condemned school breakfast and lunch programs for perpetuating the idea of a free lunch. In a speech to the Jackson County Republican Party, Kingston asserted that such programs need to instill a stronger sense of moral responsibility. In his commends, Kingston said,

“But one of the things I’ve talked to the secretary of agriculture about: Why don’t you have the kids pay a dime, pay a nickel to instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch? Or maybe sweep the floor of the cafeteria — and yes, I understand that that would be an administrative problem, and I understand that it would probably lose you money. But think what we would gain as a society in getting people — getting the myth out of their head that there is such a thing as a free lunch.”

Other than the “administrative problem” posed by such a plan, the Huffington Post notes that such Kingston’s proposal “could create significant embarrassment for low-income children, who would be sweeping cafeteria floors while their wealthier peers did normal kid activities. And while the low-income children would supposedly be learning the lesson of hard work, their wealthier peers would simply be getting a free lunch from their parents.”

It’s part of a broader problem of the framing of poverty in the United States. Despite widespread recognition that inequality in the United States has increased sharply in recent decades, there’s a deeply held conviction on the part of the American public that poverty can be overcome by hard work, and that those who are poor must therefore be poor because they don’t work hard enough. It’s the same framing that’s at the heart of efforts to impose sharp cuts in long-term unemployment insurance and food stamps recently caricatured by The Daily Show and it raises some real questions about social inclusion in the United States.



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