Politics: April 2010 Archives

No Free Milk

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Our kids qualify for free lunch at school, and we submitted the city's form for that at the beginning of the year. They've all been receiving free lunches all year. But Sophia decided a couple weeks ago to start bringing her lunch most days, mostly out of peer pressure because most of her friends do that. (If you don't qualify for free lunch, then it's much less expensive to send one with your child than to pay what the school charges. Have they already established bringing a lunch as a status symbol by kindergarten?)

The first few days, we sent juice with her at her request, but then she decided she wanted to drink the school milk with her lunch brought from home. A couple days ago a note came home saying that the lunch room says she needs to pay for 40 cents for milk. I sent a note back saying the lunch room is wrong, because she qualifies for free lunch and has had no problem all year. The teacher sent another note home saying we need to take it up with the lunch room.

It turns out they won't give her the free milk unless she signs up for a free lunch. Kindergarteners don't go to the cafeteria like the older kids. They have to order a lunch, which gets brought to their room. This was never been an issue for Ethan, because he just eats whatever the school lunch is. It was never an issue for Isaiah, because they take him through the lunch line, and he selects which particular items he wants, which is usually not very much. Then they get out the lunch he brings, and he eats some of those items with whatever (if anything) he wanted from the school lunch. He just brought a lunch in kindergarten anyway, because we didn't want them to have to deal with his pickiness and lactose issues until he could actually go through the line to select items. So Sophia is the first to want to bring a lunch while just drinking the milk from the school in the kindergarten setting, and we're just discovering the policy that she has to waste a whole lunch that she won't eat if she wants to get the free milk that she qualifies for.

Now I know they can make room for kids to get free milk without the lunch, because there are some kids who qualify for free milk but not free lunch. Since she qualifies for free lunch, she apparently can't get the free milk without ordering the whole tray of lunch (and she can't select just the items she wants, because kindergarteners don't go through the lunch line). It turns out one of the staff at the school is happy to eat her lunch when she doesn't want it, so maybe it's not so bad in the end, but this is a truly crazy policy. Why would they insist on a policy that requires a free-lunch student to waste a whole lunch to get the free milk she qualifies for on the days when she's brought her own lunch?

3/5 of a Person

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I recently encountered the claim (that I see often enough) that the U.S. Constitution defined slaves as 3/5 of a person. That claim is actually false. The Constitution did no such thing. What it did is count them as 3/5 toward representation, which was a compromise between those who didn't want them represented and those who thought they should count fully. Here is what the actual wording said:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

The wording actually assumes they are full persons. It distinguishes between the contribution to the census from free persons and the contribution from other persons. It's 3/5 of the number of other persons that gets added to the number of free persons. It's not that slaves are 3/5 of a person.

And for the record, it was those who opposed slavery who didn't want them counted and those who favored it who did, because counting them as full persons would mean more representation in Congress for their states (and yet the voting for those states wouldn't involve the slaves voting, of course, so it's even more influence for the slave-holders if they counted fully).

If we take the constitutional wording to imply that slaves were only viewed as 3/5 of a person, we should also conclude that abolitionists must not have thought slaves were real people, because they wanted them counted as zero, and slaveowners must have thought they were indeed real people, because they wanted them counted as full persons. It's not as if those who favored slavery were defining slaves as less than full persons. It was those who opposed slavery who didn't want their slaves counting toward representation when they didn't have representation who were behind this.

Interestingly, the roles had been reversed for the debate over an amendment on this for the Articles of Confederation, because that debate was over how much in taxes the states had to pay, where the non-slave states wanted slave states to pay more due to their higher population. You would have more success making that argument in this case, because at least the roles line up that way, but that would misunderstand what the issues were.

It had nothing to do with their actual view of the moral status or personhood status of slaves but was about how much political influence states would have, and the Articles of Confederation debate about the same exact issue had been about how much in taxes they would have to pay. Which issue it was about determined which stance each side took, and they completely reversed their positions when the issue changed to make the opposite view favor them. So there's simply no claiming that this was about defining the personhood of slaves or anything. It was simply about how to calculate populations for political results, and those who argued for each side compromised between counting them for certain purposes and not counting them for those purposes by proposing the 3/5 count.

There are plenty of things you might disagree with about how slaves were treated, and it is indeed unfair to be counted at all for representation but not being represented (but we do that with children still). Nevertheless, it's simply false that the Constitution defined them as 3/5 of a person, as if that judgment in particular reveals a view that slaves were viewed as not fully persons. It does no such thing, because it's not about that issue at all. To find evidence that people believed such a thing (and I'm not saying there is no such evidence), it doesn't do to cite what the Constitution says about this issue.


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