It's the old conundrum between conservatives and liberals.
Liberals believe that society can change and should change, and that things can be improved, even by the government. Conservatives believe that society will inevitably only get worse and that therefore there should be no tinkering with things as they are, and governments are incapable of doing anything right (as if Private Enterprise did).
In the 19th Century when people said what they meant, it was about not wanting to have to deal with all those poor people cluttering up the cities and the countryside. There's a quotation in Dicken's A Christmas Carol that says just that. "Best they be about it (Dying) and thereby reduce the surplus population." The inhumanity and failure of that point of view is what the book is about. Also try Hard Times also by Charles Dickens. Both are among his shortest works.
There's an article on the Harper's site about teaching the Humanities English History, Logic etc to the extremely poor in 1997 at the Clemente Centre in New York
I found it very moving, and I found it powerful that the guiding principle was stated by a 30 something woman prisoner, who had somehow lifted herself intellectually out of the trap of poverty even though she was still incarcerated.
""There's something missing," she said, leaning back in her chair, taking on an air of superiority.
The drive had been long, the day was hot, the air in the room was dead and damp.
""Oh, yeah," I said, "and what's that?"
"Plato's Allegory of the Cave. How can you teach philosophy
to poor people without the Allegory of the Cave? The ghetto is the cave.
Education is the light. Poor people can understand that."
Improvements were seen in the lives of 50% of the students which is roughly how many were able to complete the course. Some of them received Scholarships to study at Bard College.
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