Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Laboring Children

Newt Gingrich, the newly-minted leader of the GOP pack, calls himself a historian. So perhaps he is harking back to the good old days a hundred years ago when children earned their keep and kept the economy humming.

“It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in child laws which are truly stupid,” Gingrich said. “Saying to people you shouldn’t go to work before you’re 14, 16. You’re totally poor, you’re in a school that’s failing with a teacher that’s failing.”

Gingrich then proposed a system he said would help those students rise from poverty.

“I tried for years to have a very simple model. These schools should get rid of unionized janitors, have one master janitor, pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work; they’d have cash; they’d have pride in the schools. They’d begin the process of rising.”

Okay, so his plan is to take away a job from a janitor — unionized or not — who is probably taking care of a family and paying a mortgage to give a job to a ten-year-old kid at pittance wages in order to instill a sense of pride in his school?

I’ve heard some pretty wild ideas pour forth from Mr. Gingrich over the last thirty or so years, but this is seriously unbalanced, if not Dickensian. It’s an idea so backwards that Congress passed laws against child labor in 1914. At the time, children as young as six were working in mines, factories, and textile mills. It prompted poet Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn to write:

The golf links lie so near the mill
That almost every day
The laboring children can look out
And see the men at play.