Ah, The Good Old Days, When Men Were Men And Children Labored!

Remember the good old days of child labor, when little ones were ripped from their mother’s arms and marched off to work long hours, so they could learn the value of labor by earning mere pennies, while being exposed to dangerous machinery, or inhaling lungfuls of coal dust, spending their days away from sunshine and the laughter of their peers?

Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, billionaire with lots of political connections and no educational experience Betsy DeVos, apparently thinks of those days with nostalgia. After all, one of the many extreme groups she has funded with her husband’s AmWay fortune believes that one way to promote a “virtuous society” is to bring back child labor.

The Acton Institute, a religious think tank on whose board DeVos proudly served, believes that hard labor is a “gift” to children everywhere. And this isn’t even a secret feeling, or an idea they try to package as anything but. No, this idea that we should bring back child labor is one they  hold near and dear to their cold, fundamentalist hearts. A blog post on their website praises child labor openly, refuting the misery seen on pictures of coal-smeared and weary children.

The article, subtly titled Work Is A Gift Our Kids Can Handle, is a lament for the days when children eschewed that fancy book-learning for early graves after a short life of backbreaking labor and hunger and poverty.

Child Labor Is For The Children, Obviously

Of course, before all the attention the extreme blog received, it was originally titled Work Is A Gift Our Children Can Handle: Bring Back Child Labor. But the author felt that was too “confusing,” so he removed it. Because who are we to assume that a call to bring back child labor is an actual, literal call to bring back child labor? That’s silly!

The author writes:

Alas, as a day-to-day reality, work has largely vanished from modern childhood, with parents constantly stressing over the values of study and practice and ‘social interaction’ even as they insulate their children from any activity that might involve risk, pain, or boredom. As a result, many of our kids are coming far too late to the arena of creative service and all it brings: dignity, meaningfreedomvirtuecreativitycharacter, and neighbor love.

“Operating out of a justified fear of the harsh excesses of ‘harder times,’ we have allowed our cultural attitudes to swing too far in the opposite direction, distorting work as a ‘necessary obligation of adulthood,’ a gift too dangerous for kids. Working from these same distorted attitudes, the Washington Post recently published what it described as a ‘haunting’ photo montage of child laborers from America’s rougher past.”

I particularly like the way he put quotes around the word “haunting” when describing the photo montage (which is, indeed, haunting. Pictures of little children smoking cigarettes while dressed in filthy rags while working a 12 hour day should haunt you). But it’s a nice little passive aggressive jab on the part of the author to let you know that he doesn’t find children engaged in back-breaking labor haunting. No. Not at all. Those aren’t babies being deprived of sunshine and air and an education and a chance at a better life.

Those are enterprise builders.

And These Ain’t The Only Extremists

He points back to another extreme “think tank” (I’m using the author’s neat little quotation trick to let my readers know what I really think of this “think tank”), which actually refers to the photo montage as beautiful.

Yeah, I’m not even joking.

This guy advocates for the abolition of school attendance, arguing that the free market used to give kids a choice back in those good old days of child labor. Of course, the choice was to eat or not to eat, but who wants to dig into that, right?

“If kids were allowed to work and compulsory school attendance was abolished, the jobs of choice would be at Chick-Fil-A and WalMart. And they would be fantastic jobs too, instilling in young people a work ethic, which is the inner drive to succeed, and an awareness of attitudes that make enterprise work for all. It would give them skills and discipline that build character, and help them become part of a professional network.”

Education, this guy argues, is coercion.

Child Labor Because Free Market! Or Something

So, bring  back child labor! Give the kids a choice! Free market!

And remember, this is the kind of extreme views supported financially and morally by Mrs. Betsy DeVos, she of the fantastic AmWay fortune and extreme fundamentalist views.  A woman who has devoted her life to tearing down the public education system is now picked to be the person who runs it.

Of course, this could be her solution for those vulnerable children who will so obviously be left behind in a system that relies heavily on vouchers and privatization.

Betsy has four children herself. I wonder how many of them labored as children? It is, after all, a gift.

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