In Harpo Speaks, the American comedian, actor, mime artist, and musician says that “School was all wrong. It didn’t teach anybody how to exist from day to day, which was how the poor had to live.”
Harpo Marx was one of the most noted comedians of the 20th century as part of the famous Marx Brothers, including Groucho. Born in New York in 1888, Harpo Marx was a talented comedian and mime who performed with his brothers as part of the famous Marx Brothers comedy act.
Marx Harpo was born Adolph Arthur Marx on November 23, 1888, in New York City. Harpo was the only Jewish boy in his public school class and, after being bullied one too many times, dropped out at age eight.
In his book Harpo Speaks we find some interesting comments relating to his school life that you could say apply to the experience of many children today. He says,
School prepared you for Life- that thing in the far-off future – but not for the World, the thing you had to face today, tonight, and when you woke up in the morning with no idea what the new day would bring. When I was a kid there really was no Future. Struggling through one twenty-four hour span was rough enough without brooding about the next one. You could laugh about the Past, because you’d be lucky enough to survive it. But mainly there was only a Present to worry about. Another complaint I had was that school taught you about holidays you could never afford to celebrate, like Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The reality is that for many children, there here and now is a tough existence and being trapped in poverty makes getting through the day enough. As Harpo says, “School simply didn’t teach you how to be poor and live from day to day.”
As many of us get excited about Christmas at this time of year remember that this is a hugely stressful time for lots of families trapped in poverty. It’s worth sharing some figures from the Child Poverty Action Group as a reminder of what millions face:
- Approximately 30 per cent of children, or 9 in a classroom of 30 are living in poverty.
- Child poverty blights childhoods. Growing up in poverty means being cold, going hungry, not being able to join in activities with friends.
- Work does not provide a guaranteed route out of poverty in the UK. Two-thirds (67 per cent) of children growing up in poverty live in a family where at least one person works.
- Families experience poverty for many reasons, but its fundamental cause is not having enough money to cope with the circumstances in which they are living.
More than 14 million people, including 4.5 million children, are living below the breadline, with more than half trapped in poverty for years, according to the Social Metrics Commission (SMC).
Data from 22 children’s charities in London has revealed thousands of children say they do not enjoy Christmas. Shelter reported that nearly 130,000 children in Britain will wake up homeless and in temporary accommodation at Christmas as child homelessness reaches a 10-year high.
Schools can do only so much to help but they can poverty-proof their systems so that children are more protected. Buying a present for their teacher is a big thing for many children but this puts some families under a lot of pressure.
Seeing children in the UK visiting a food bank at Christmas is truly shocking. The Oliver Twist years should be long gone but it seems that they are here to stay for a very long time to come. Children don’t want more, they just want something.
So yes, Harpo was right, schools teach children about holidays that they can’t afford and that has to stop.