The Dubious Case of Washing Machines and Student Performance

On its face, it seems insane, but we are living in the most insane of times! The mayor of Providence, Rhode Island has been thwarted in his effort to install washing machines in local public schools. The mayor read that a school district in another state had installed washing machines in its schools and that it had encouraged some students to attend classes because the machines had eliminated the stigma of wearing dirty clothes to school. Dirty clothes, or insufficient clothing, in a society of such unparalleled wealth is difficult to comprehend, unless readers take into account the massive level of income inequality in the contemporary US.

Not since the Warwick public schools in Rhode Island threatened to take action against students who owed money for school lunches has such utter nonsense been aired. Those who have catalogued the attacks against public schooling in the US need only recall how the Great Communicator, Ronald Reagan, tried to make ketchup qualify as a vegetable choice on school lunch menus. Perhaps the Great Communicator thought freeing schools from serving real vegetables would save money needed to fuel his arms race with the former Soviet Union? Maybe it worked in the long run since the Soviet Union fell apart only a few years later. That was an easy win for the US… thousands of kids potentially going without a vegetable at lunch in service to the expansion of the US nuclear arsenal.  Ketchup for bombs. The whole episode fills me with inexpressible pride.

Back to the takeover of the Providence schools because of student performance, among many other ills plaguing the state’s capital city’s schools. The governor of the state has installed her own choices to staff some upper administration positions in the schools while the district is under state control. The latter does not bode well for those schools because Governor Raimondo has had those schools in her sights for privatization through increasing the number of charter schools in the district. Diane Ravitch, an expert on the failures of school privatization and charter schools, and a former member of both the administrations of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, writes about Raimondo’s plans at Common Dreams (Providence Plans to Defund Its Public Schools to Expand “No Excuses” Charter,”August 24, 2019).

Those who read these pages may recall that the governor, Raimondo, then general treasurer of the state, was successful at one of the most bald-faced attacks against public employees in her campaign to eliminate, for all intents and purposes, the cost-of-living pension increases that were legally guaranteed to public sector employees in Rhode Island who were members of the state retirement program. She  had the help of a former governor, the state legislature, and carefully molded public opinion.  I know because Raimondo had her hands in my pockets, just as she had with all other public retirees in that state. Readers can imagine an older person, or a physically challenged person at a crosswalk, and a bully coming along and pushing that person out of the way to get across the street faster. The public pension raid on retirees’ pockets became a model for other states that wanted to limit legally negotiated pensions for retirees. Matt Taibbi wrote an excellent article in Rolling Stone about Raimondo’s pension raid (“Looting the Pension Funds,”September 26, 2013).

Rumors abound that Raimondo, a former Rhodes scholar and venture capitalist, has hopes of becoming a bigwig in a future national administration, or run for national office. As readers are aware, the US political system needs another vulture neoliberal. Looking at Raimondo’s anti-student, anti-retiree, and anti-union track record, she never should have risen above the role as a local dog catcher (no offense intended since these people do important work and could very well be union members). Maybe a club of former Rhodes scholars could be established for the likes of Gina Raimondo and Bill Clinton, both of whom have wrongly harmed others.

Teachers, principals, specialists, librarians, counselors, nurses, well-built schools, and materials help students. Washing machines do not; Neither do neoliberals!

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).