I think he's right on this issue, but his solution applies to all of us, not just the destitute and therefore, could have been worded a bit more artfully.
He's right because all children should have a model, parental or otherwise, of an adult who works to earn a living or is looking for work, or otherwise contributes by working at something that helps family and community. I know about the jobless rate and how hard it is to get a job. I'm sure it's easy to become inured to not working for months and months, becoming disillusioned and essentially giving up.
That's why his idea is a good one! Allow children of non-working families--of all families--to learn what it's like to earn a dollar by their own labor and enjoy that heady sense of empowerment that comes from feeling truly worthy (worth-y).
Sure, these kids could assist in the school library as he said. That would teach them not just responsibility but would instill in them a love for books and reading, yes even perhaps a thirst for knowledge (and therefore lead to higher degrees of learning). That's not such an outlandish idea, is it? Helping out in the school cafeteria, even cleaning toilets isn't out of the question either.
This is not a class issue; it's about a whole attitude that is claiming the work ethic with which many of us were raised. I baby sat, delivered local papers, worked in a drug store after school -- I did many things in order to have my own money. But that was because I was encouraged to do so by my parents.
When people have children, their responsibility is to teach them responsibility. And the most effective way of teaching is through example. I think what he's saying is that if they don't always have that example to learn from, give them another way out.
I think his idea could solve several inter-related problems that appear to be unsolvable: if more of our teens worked at menial jobs (busing tables, washing dishes, delivering papers, caddying for golfers, waiting on tables as I did) even working in the fields during summer vacation as my husband did, there would be fewer illegals filling those roles.
I'm not talking about putting nine-year olds to work as he was. I'm saying that kids of all ages could learn from a tiered (graduated) program promoted by the schools that would allow school children of all ages to benefit. I see it as comparable to the allowances our parents gave us for taking care of a pet and cleaning our rooms and mowing the lawn. Think about it.
Is it possible that the "idea man" from those days as house "whip" has actually come up with a decent idea!