Letter: Is this teaching down the middle?

Posted 1/9/20

The Jan. 2, 2020, Bristol Phoenix had an admirable series of letters by Kickemuit Middle School students who were engaged in civics projects.  This student activity, which involves the …

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Letter: Is this teaching down the middle?


The Jan. 2, 2020, Bristol Phoenix had an admirable series of letters by Kickemuit Middle School students who were engaged in civics projects.  This student activity, which involves the students in real life issues, is commendable.

One would expect that prior to working on such projects these students were provided a sound foundation in traditional civics education. A civics education would focus on the American system of government, on the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. This should be an education that would stress the exceptional character of the separation of powers and that rights are measures to protect citizens from the government. The Generation Citizen project may produce good results but it borders on the fringe of civics education.

The article about raising the minimum wage provides a very one-sided perspective of this complicated matter. One would hope that the teachers in charge of this project would also introduce the negative aspects of raising the minimum wage. This is a policy choice that has unintended consequences that may hurt the purported beneficiaries more than help them.

Some of the statistics quoted in the article do not match Bureau of Labor Statistics. For example, the latest Labor Department surveys as of 2017, show that 65 percent of minimum wage workers are part-time workers, 49 percent are between ages 16 and 24, and 68 percent have never been married. These numbers vary from the numbers cited in the “raise the minimum wage” commentary. One would hope that the teachers monitoring this project would have introduced the job loss figures from New York City’s and Seattle’s minimum wage raises.

There is much evidence that a raise in the minimum wage also causes prices to rise, which may negatively affect the poorer elements of society. One would assume that the teachers would have alerted their students about a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper published in March 2019. In that paper, three economists examined whether minimum-wage increases had any effect on crime from 1998 to 2016.

“We find robust evidence,” they write, “that minimum wage hikes increase property crime arrests among teenagers and young adults ages 16 to 24, a population for whom minimum wages are likely to bind.”

Was there any consideration of an expansion of the Earned-Income-Tax-Credit (EITC)? This may be a much better way of helping people than a minimum wage hike.

Clearly the minimum wage increase may have honorable intentions, but it also has potential negative consequences. At best the students are being short changed if they are not taught to examine both sides of a complex policy issue. At worst, they are not being taught, they are being indoctrinated.

Michael Byrnes

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.