Pop History Quiz: Do you know how children ended up off the factory floor and in classrooms?
From the 1830s until the 1938 passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act, organizations like the Women’s Trade Union League of New York, the New England Association of Farmers, Mechanics and Other Workingmen, the American Federation of Labor and others led the fight to end child labor and institute compulsory schooling laws. (That fight, by the way, continues.)
The reminder seems important now, especially today as Chicago teachers walk picket lines in the largest educator strike in years. For several years, organizations and individuals pushing corporate-driven education policies have repeatedly and cynically argued–directly or otherwise– that unions represent the interests of adults, not children.
But in the real world, beyond the exclusive communities and lofty offices inhabited by the special interest groups pitting families and communities against teachers, the interests of adults and children overlap more often than not. For example, the 19th and 20th Century working men and women who pushed for child labor and mandatory education laws made their point for two overlapping reasons, from their perspectives as working people who were also responsible for children: their concern over competition from smaller, cheaper laborers as well as their concern for the health, safety and well-being of those often-exploited children.
Likewise, as Chicago teachers strike today, they are doing so to promote the shared interests of the entire Chicago community. From the children who stand benefit from smaller classes, more arts programs, libraries, and social workers who can enrich their lives; to the community whose local economy would benefit from more working professionals who can pay for the things businesses sell– as well as the extra child care and other expenses many of those professionals will incur if they work a longer day; to the educators themselves, who stand to win both the fair pay and dignity they’re due for their hard work.