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Teaching Labor History in School

Blind weavers at work circa 1910-1915. Photo by Byron, New York, N.Y. From the George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress).

We’ve come a long way since early unions fought for and Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, improving labor conditions and the well-being of workers. But today’s students don’t have adequate opportunities to learn about the importance of the labor movement and the role workers have played in our nation’s history.

A new bill, HB5713, An Act Concerning the Inclusion of Labor History in the Public School Curriculum, is being considered by legislative committees.

It would set standards to teach labor history in Connecticut’s public schools so that students can learn the role labor unions have played in our state’s heritage.

Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney introduced the bill to support a well-rounded education by including labor history and law in the courses of study in Connecticut’s public school curriculum.

CEA President Sheila Cohen submitted written testimony supporting the bill.

Our job, the job of teachers, is to educate children and help them grow into productive members of society. They will be responsible for our future. It’s critical that they know the history of America’s working class, and understand the activism that allowed for the emergence of the middle class.

The labor movement is closely aligned with the civil rights movement, which is taught in our classrooms. While our students know about the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and his fight for civil rights, many don’t know that Rev. King was a strong labor advocate and that he delivered his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech in support of striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., the day before he was assassinated.

The late great Rev. King said, “History is a great teacher.”

We should teach our children about this history. We should help ensure that they realize their responsibility to preserve the hard-fought quality of life that over time, American workers won.

Legislation requiring that history of the labor movement be taught in public schools has already been passed in several states, including California, Illinois, Texas, and Wisconsin.

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