Saturday, January 26, 2008

Some Short Thoughts on Children and Work

One of the dangerous ideas that I was exposed to when I started reading up on the ideas and memes floating around in the homeschooling community, had to do with children and work.

In a nutshell, there are many homeschoolers around who think that the child labor laws in this country are not an unmixed blessing. To be sure, when people think of child labor, they think of exploitation--young urchins shackled to the machines in dingy, dangerous urban factories. And I don't think anyone has a problem with banning that. But the child labor laws we have ban a whole lot more than that.

The problem, according to this argument, is that work--of the kind where you are actually doing something tangible and productive, where you are accountable to a customer, or on a farm where your work is directly what keeps you and your family fed--has some powerful positive effects on the young person. These effects include instilling a sense of accountability and a sense of competence and confidence--I can do what I need to do to get by, which makes up a big part of our senses of self-esteem. No normal person enjoys feeling like they're a burden to others.

Well recently I read an article that expands on these ideas, and I'd like to pass it along. With a big 'ol tip of the hat to The Anchoress, here's an article from that talks about the labor laws--what they are, and how they've affected the way we raise our kids. Here's what I consider the core of the article:
Once you get past the exceptions, the bottom line is clear: Full-time work in the private sector, for hours of their own choosing, is permitted only to those "children" who are 18 and older -- by which time a child has already passed the age when he can be influenced toward a solid work ethic.

What is lost in the bargain? Kids no longer have the choice to work for money. Parents who believe that their children would benefit from the experience are at a loss. Consumers who would today benefit from our teens' technological knowhow have no commercial way to do so. They have been forcibly excluded from the matrix of exchange.

There is a social-cultural point, too. Employers will tell you that most kids coming out of college are radically unprepared for a regular job. It's not so much that they lack skills or that they can't be trained; it's that they don't understand what it means to serve others in a workplace setting. They resent being told what to do, tend not to follow through, and work by the clock instead of the task. In other words, they are not socialized into how the labor market works. Indeed, if we perceive a culture of sloth, irresponsibility, and entitlement among today's young, perhaps we ought to look here for a contributing factor.
Check it out.

P.S. There's a whole lot of other good stuff at The Anchoress lately, too. The post I linked to also included a highly interesting (and somewhat vulgar) rant from someone who's apparently a priest, that I suspect most ministers in most denominations can relate to. And she has another post up today with a youtube link to a performance of O Magnum Mysterium--the perfect, sublime motet by Tomás Luis de Victoria that is usually done around Christmas time. I'd forgotten just how beautiful it was. Our choir in High School did it, and I liked it then--although we frankly weren't very good at it (or anything else, for that matter).

No comments: