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School District Did Right by 'Nickel and Dimed'

Lower Saucon resident had urged Easton to remove the book from its high school curriculum.

(Editor's Note: Davis has recently contacted the Southern Lehigh School administration about this same issue. The complaint is currently under review)

In 2010, a Lower Saucon Township resident tried to make the case that the Easton Area High School curriculum shouldn’t include the book “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.”  

In the book, author Barbara Ehrenreich writes about taking a series of low-wage jobs in Florida, Maine and Minnesota to see if she could live on what she earned. Eric Adams complained to Easton Area’s school board that the book promotes socialist ideas and drug use while belittling Christians. 

A committee of Easton teachers and administrators reviewed his complaint and decided the book was appropriate, according to the Express-Times.

In a recent letter to The Morning Call, Adams was back arguing against “Nickel and Dimed” and that school boards should be monitoring textbooks closely to make sure the curriculum doesn’t “deviate too far from the core values of the community.” 

Certainly, school board members are entitled to weigh in if they think a particular book used in classes is a poor choice. But unless you have third-graders reading “Mein Kampf,”  boards should be reluctant to start pulling books every time someone objects to content. Plenty of great literature has been banned or challenged in schools at one time or another. 

As for “Nickel and Dimed,” anyone who has held the low-wage jobs Ehrenreich took knows that much of her reporting rings true.  

In my teens and twenties I waitressed in several restaurants in Maryland, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., and the memories of my aching shoulders, back and feet are with me still. Ehrenreich captured the petty indignities, condescending customers and autocratic managers well.  She writes: “Managers can sit -- for hours at a time if they want – but it’s their job to see that no one else ever does…When, on a particularly dead afternoon, Stu finds me glancing at a USA Today a customer has left behind, he assigns me to vacuum the entire floor with the broken vacuum cleaner which has a handle only two feet long, and the only way to do that without incurring orthopedic damage is to proceed from spot to spot on your knees.” 

Ehrenreich shows how circumstances – cars that break down often, poor health and nutrition -- often conspire to sabotage the low-wage workers’ chances to get ahead. She gives an eloquent valedictory of sorts for living wages for the co-workers she left behind:   

“When someone works for less pay than she can live on – when, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently – then she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her health, and her life. The ‘working poor’ as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society.” 

In Adams’ letter to the editor in support of removing such books from the curriculum, he says that school directors “seem to like having controversial books in the classrooms...” 

One can only hope so. 

The remedy to controversy over books is not to remove them but to teach more of them. Follow up “Nickel and Dimed” with “Atlas Shrugged” -- Ayn Rand’s ode to unfettered capitalism, or George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” which is as effective an argument against communism as any I’ve read.  

Controversial books should start discussions – not be the last word on them.  Perhaps Steve Furst, Easton’s director of teaching and learning, said it best when he defended the use of “Nickel and Dimed:”

"We read books like this to spark debate, get kids thinking about what they actually believe in, and stand up and defend it. That's really what this is about, trying to reinforce our democratic principles."

Ronnie DelBacco April 09, 2012 at 12:55 PM
SalRes, Kudos to Margie??? This issue wasn't brought to light by Margie, no disrespect intended. It was brought to light by concerned citizen Eric Adams. Kudos to Eric with a mention of thanks to Margie for continuing the conversation.
Chris Miller April 09, 2012 at 01:05 PM
Ben You simply continue to make statements that are not true. I am not part of a group going from one school district to another. The folks in that district are respponsible for their own. I know a man who has gone to various districts to ask the schools to remove a book entitled Nickel and Dimed. This book has been approved in various schools for AP students in 12th grade. Among its many issues is the telling of readers how to pass a "urine test". It allows one to smoke marijuana and then take the test, a test where they would be cheating. We have enough cheating going on in our various governmental forums, we do not need the kids in our schools engaged in any kind of cheating.
Chris Miller April 09, 2012 at 08:23 PM
I would hope all here would read the various comments by Mr. DelBacco
ron April 10, 2012 at 05:36 AM
Chris i have not read the book but if it promotes socialist ideas and drug use and belittles christians i would probally totally disagree with it and think it was trash. But i would not deny anyone a chance to read it. If it is read in schools a book with opposing views should also be read. A free thinker is someone who makes up their own mind after being exposed to all views, opinions and facts as opposed to someone who just beleives what their told to beleive.
ron April 10, 2012 at 05:42 AM
People should not be afraid to keep searching for the anwser even after they think they know it !
Chris Miller April 10, 2012 at 04:25 PM
It promotes a socialist agenda and it tells you how to beat a drug test. If kids read it to learn how to not make bad choices that would be great but I believe that the other stuff outweighs that aspect. You might recall a statement by Jesus stating the the poor will alway be with us. Let me add that there are a lot of resons that happens. I believe we need to be positive when it comes to our kids while warning them about what is out there.
ron April 10, 2012 at 06:04 PM
That last sentence is so true!
Limeport Resident April 10, 2012 at 06:24 PM
The great thing iabout Chris is he sees deep conspiracies everywhere. What I wonder is how does Chris know whether the method to beat the drug test works. I do not how describing poverty promotes a socialist agenda except if one draws the conclusion we should not help fellow Americans. I am not sure what is wrong with socialism. Most socialists countries are doing better than we are, their citizens are happier, and in the last decade they have a strong middle class who are doing better than their parents! Jesus was a socialist and a communist. His teachings are socialist. It is hard to be a Christian without socialistic tendencies. By the way the bible teaches how to stone people, crucify people and other atrociities. What book with opposing views should we demand be read to balance the bible?
Chris Miller April 10, 2012 at 08:06 PM
Limeport . I know about random drug testing. I have friends on several pollice forces. I am trying to find out if they are moving it from a urine test to a hair test. Name a nation doing well under socialism? Cuba?. Keep in mind that in socialist states everyone is on the same level except the dictator and his cohorts. If citizens are happy why leave the nation? Over a period of time the younger generations do not know anything other then socialism with its kids in college until they are 35, they work a half day, and go on lenghty vacations,sponsored by the government. You cannot get ahead if you tried. I would hope that all of us would know by now that that doesn't work. If socialism were great why do we still have people risking their live to get into the US? They come from Central and South America, they come from African Nations, they come from India, China, Korea and countless other nations because we are still the best place to fulfull one's future Jesus was not a communist or a socialist. He told us that the poor would always be with us and that we need to look after our fellow man. He did not tell us to live a life of pure altruism.under the dictatorial rule of some leader like Fidel Castro. As to the matter of the Bible, I would suggest that the Bible itself makes the point when we read about the "Golden Rule" By the way have you read Nickel and Dimed? And keep in mind that I don't believe in banning the book. I don"t really believe or create conspiracies
Rosemary B April 10, 2012 at 11:51 PM
Last time I checked the Bible was not required reading in the Nazareth AP class!
Limeport Resident April 11, 2012 at 12:13 AM
Chris -- Having friends on the police force should soon make you expert on strip searches of the poor too! Nations doing well under socialism? How about Canada, Scandinavian countries, Germany, most other industrialized countries. People are happier and are doing better than their parents. Cuba is a dictatorship where 1% of the people bully the rest. Sort of like the model the USA is trying to emulate. Over the past few years the highly skilled workers are going back to India, China because opportunities are better there. Did you notice that the countries where people try to immigrate to the states are all capitalistic countries? I would rather have a strong middle class like Sweden and be called a socialist than to be called a capitalist using Mexico as a model! Jesus helped the poor, lived in a commune with the apostles, fed vast crowds, and lived a live of helping poor. He certainly was not a Koch brother in behavior. The Bible is more violent than the Koran-- I am surprised that it is not required reading in your district as Rosemary points out. Another `constraint of religious freedom that needs to be overcome. If Bible is effective in promulgating the Golden Rule why do so few Christians follow it?
careless fills April 11, 2012 at 12:56 AM
@Limeport Are Koch brothers related to the KOCH philantropy that supports my favourite show on PBS called NOVA?
Chris Miller April 11, 2012 at 01:37 AM
Canadians are doing well because they work in the US and I don't see them as sociaists nor have I heard anyone refer to Canada as a socialist nation. The Inuits are moving into the cities. They do have a rather crummy health care system since many stories are out there about waiting and Canadians coming to the US to get help. Scandinavian countries are successful. Sweden just went communist. They are really insignificant. You say that Socialists are happy and doing better then their parents. What exactly do you mean by that?. If these places are so fantastic why aren't people going their in droves? In fact, why are you still here in the US. If one wants to sit on his or her posterior most of their life go to France or better yet that fun filled nation called Greece. As to India, the game plan from the beginning was to come here and go to school then go back home. I had Indian kids in the late 1980's who let that cat out of the bag. Same pretty much goes for China. Jesus did indeed point out those guidelines but being nice to your fellow man and helping someone when they are in need does not make you a socialist. It makes you a kind and charitable person who is willing to help through physical work or financial help. Keep in mind that before entltlement programs it was individual giving, the assistance of the church and other groups that helped those in need. As to the Koran well let me just say read the book
Chris Miller April 11, 2012 at 01:41 AM
Rosemary The right to read the Bible in school or pray was done away with in 1962 under John Kennedy's presidency. You might recall that he was a Catholic. But Limeport would let us read the Koran
ron April 12, 2012 at 03:55 AM
Wow there is so much wrong with socialism i could write a book.You said if one does not like socialism the conclusion is they think we should not help fellow americans. Wrong we the people should help fellow americans but the goverment should not force anyone to,thats not the purpose of goverment,to redistribute wealth. You said most socialist countries are doing better then we are and their citizens are happier. I challenge you to name one! Spend a month in one and you will come back singing a different tune. you say jesus was a socialist yes he helped people because he wanted to not because goverment told him to. everyone should help people, because their loving caring and giving not because their socialists. OH YA SWEDEN AND CANADA ARE NOT TRUE SOCIALIST COUNTRIES!
ron April 12, 2012 at 04:24 AM
True socialist countries. CUBA, NORTH KOREA, VENEZUELA, CHINA, VIETNAM, SYRIA, LAOS, ZAMBIA, TARKMENISTAN, LIBYA, ALGERIA, NAMIBIA, AND FRANCE were their is no incentive to work sky high taxes enormous national debt and unemployment rates of 20 to25 percent for people between the ages 18 to 26.
Chris Miller April 12, 2012 at 02:05 PM
Ron My understanding is that Sweden has elected a communist leader or head of government. I heard that awhile ago but in my search did not fine anyone calling it a communict government. If i remember corretly Sweden did suffer from a crash in the housing bubble.
Limeport Resident April 12, 2012 at 02:05 PM
Every one of the countries except France are countries where the top 1percent in wealth controls the country, spend the money to give false propaganda to mollify the citizens, push wages down to make the rich wealthier and provide only marginal benefits to the population. Sounds like what the USA is pushing for. These are dictatorships not socialists. Low wages have not stopped China from great strides in their economy. Once they have committed to establishing a middle class, they have beaten us economically-Will have higher GDP than us in a couple of years. Best growth in USA was when tax rate for wealthy was 92percent. Wealth distribution is what we are getting now-all going to the rich.
Limeport Resident April 12, 2012 at 02:14 PM
You can pray all you want; just don't pressure everyone to follow. You certainly could read the bible as part of a history of religion course if you can read the Koran too. Kennedy was a true Catholic practicing his faith without forcing it down the throats of others who choose not to belong to a religion who committed so many atrocities in the name of God.
Chris Miller April 12, 2012 at 02:37 PM
So from your post I can expect to see you out there with the 99% who will become the Occupy groups that will be in the parks. Just think about it you can be smack dab in the middle of the American/Egypt spring/summer revolution. As to China I would note that China is a dictatorship/utopia and the government simply tells all what to do. A man in China does not move without the consent of the leaders. But if you like it I would have to say go for it. Meanwhile we have sat on our asses, lit our cigarettes and come to the conclusion that the USA is the Promise Land. No such place really exists. We have allowed our elected officals to become potentates and we their servants. Do youl like that position? As to a 92% tax rate keep in mind you can cough that up anytime you want to and I hope you have. Me, I try to pay as small an amount as I can at all levels. China has not beaten us economically when you consider the problem of what the leadership is going to do with the minorities in the western part of that country. All heck could break out there.
Chris Miller April 12, 2012 at 03:05 PM
Limeport This is a nation built on religion and morals. One cannot be without the other. You might be a moral person but what is the source of you moral beliefs? None of us was born a moral person. There are those who come to the conclusion that they are moral without the Bible or religion but they have looked elsewhere to get their footing. Penn Gillette, an atheist, comes to mind. I don't know how old you are but I am 67. I went to a one room schoolhouse with one teacher and six grades. Eveery morning Bible verses were read, the Lord's prayer was said and followed by the pledge. I will tell you that we were a better people because we had a strong foundation. Then all of a sudden, a moment that arrived in the 1960's, we ended up with a court decision that said we could not pray in school and we followed that up with a free sex and drugs are good culture. We got into a war and nation building thanks to the efforts of John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Kennedy was anything but a true Catholic and Lyndon Johnson with his entitlement programs has all but destroyed the black community. The Catholic Church should have excommiunicated John, Teddy, and the rest ot the Kenndys. But Vatican Ii damn near destroyed the church. The biggest favor that Obama has done for us was his comments on contraception and his attack on the Church and religious freedom. i don't know about you but I don't think a day goes by when I do not hear people discussing the decline of our culture.
Dave B April 12, 2012 at 03:13 PM
As a parent who is relatively new to the area with a young student in the district I would like to comment on this "discussion". I would prefer that those of you who are part of the educational system leave your political agendas outside of school. A teacher's job is to provide a balanced and comprehensive picture about our political system and our society, not one that is colored by personal political beliefs. At no point in time should the classroom be used to sway a student towards the left or right. As far as the book goes.... The best way to give any piece of literature power is to not allow it to be read or create controversy around it. People read much more meaning into something if they think it is being kept from them for their own good. Read the books your kids read... discuss the book with them. Help them understand the positive and negative points. It's amazing what you will learn about your child and yourself.
Chris Miller April 12, 2012 at 04:05 PM
Dave B I agree with the comments you made in your last two paragrahs. Read the books your kids read and discuss those books. I agree that when you try to hide something it only makes us more interested in something we try to hide. I think you and I would agree that some kids want to know what we think as adults. One of the things i found out during 32 years of teaching is that they want to know what is right or wrong and they might be more inclinded to ask a teacher about a particular subject. Many times that comes up in a class rooom because of the matter being discussed. I gave my students the opportunity to express their opinion. Sometimes I agreed with them and at other times I would disagree with them and explain why i did. My job was to teach history. For example, today we are constantly reminded that some of the Foounding Fathers had slaves, that is true, but is there more? Why did they have slaves? How did we get the 2/3's section in the Constitution? if we had not compromised on the 2/3's section what would have happened.? A lot of times things are not discussed except the bad thing "owning slaves". When I discuss that am I showing my political agenda or amy I getting more of the history out there? I do not believe in a constant barage of pushing an agenda on let's say solar power but if I have another opinon that provides good intormation do I simply go quiet. Teaching involves spreading knowledge and brings on discussions. I think that is a good thing.
gruntled April 12, 2012 at 05:34 PM
Dave B - I heartily agree that classrooms must not be politicized. But, nobody is demanding that the book be banned; leave it in the library and tell students that it is there, just don't REQUIRE that they read it. You seem to be an involved parent; I wish more parents were invoved in their kid's lives.
ron April 13, 2012 at 04:10 AM
You get my vote for mom of the year!
ron April 13, 2012 at 04:38 AM
Limeport dont you see the trend, dictatorships and socialists go hand in hand. For dictators to survive they need to turn their countries socialist and they need gun control. We must be careful not to go down that road. Im not sure if germany is a true socialist country now or not. I know they tried it once with the natiional socialist nazi party but it didnt work out to well! Dictators love socialism, it lets them control the people by making the people dependent on goverment once they disarm them !
ron April 13, 2012 at 05:21 AM
Chris i believe swedens goverment is a constitutional monarchy. They have capitalism plus extensive welfare benifits so seems like a little mix of socialism added in. But strong privately owned firms like ikea, volvo and ericson shows they are not a true socialist goverment. But they are the most left wing country in Europe
ron April 13, 2012 at 05:35 AM
Dave i totally agree ! Sorry i got off topic but limeport made some comments that i just had to address. You sound like an involved parent. Thanks we need more like you!!!!
Chris Miller April 13, 2012 at 12:57 PM
Ron Sweden keep coming up as a constitutional monarchy But somewhere in the past week or two I heard that Sweden had become a communitst country. I have been digging through this and have not come up with any evidence of same. I do believe that the nordic area is primarily a socialist government region. That would take in Finland, Norway and Sweden.
Jimmy Madden April 15, 2012 at 02:30 AM
Wow reading the first comment to the last is quite a leap from the original topic. Amusement for nearly a month.

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