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I'm author of The Snipesville Chronicles. I'm also a published academic historian, but don't hold that against me.Oh, and I'm a Brit. I just happen to live in Georgia.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Teaching The Industrial Revolution: Child Labor and The Cycle of History

If you are teaching the Industrial Revolution, and wondering how to explain its relevance to kids in the IPod, $100 sneakers generation, check out this NY Times piece on child labor in Chinese factories.

Kids are fascinated with first-hand accounts of children who worked in mines and factories in the industrial revolution in early nineteenth-century Britain. Combine that with a discussion of the later American industrial revolution, and now the industrialization in China, and you will hook them.

In every case, child labor is a feature of early industrialization, but is finally acknowledged as an evil, and attempts are made to eradicate it. Consider that kids had always worked on farms: How was this different from working in factories? How did the ending of child labor go hand in hand with the rise of compulsory education?

Have kids look at pictures and write a first-hand story of what they imagine it would have been like to work at a young age.

Ask kids if they would be prepared to give up goods made by children, even if that would mean paying more. This is not the loaded question it may at first appear: Many of us who have qualms about poor working conditions in factories nonetheless purchase their products, either because we are apathetic, or because we cannot afford to pay more for our current standard of living. Allow kids to decide for themselves where they stand.

This is a great way to kick off a study of industrialization: It will make learning the economic stuff more palatable, and encourage critical thinking, including historical literacy.

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