This Inquiry Kit is designed to allow kids to weigh the value of work and school to their future success. It uses evidence of the past to evaluate their choices in the present.
From the colonial era to the early 20th century, children were considered to be important workers in the home economy–and later in the wage economy working as farm laborers or in factories, sometimes right alongside their parents. Parents were some of the most vocal opponents of ending child labor. At the same time, the quality of schools in Connecticut in many places was poor. Access to quality schools for African Americans was even more challenging.
Children were sent to work in factories and in the streets trades until the 1930s. For decades reformers tried to end the practice. Laws expanding education and restricting child labor finally eradicated child labor by the 1930s.
You might set the stage by having a class discussion about what adulthood is, and what the responsibilities of adulthood are.
Source #1: Article about schooling in Connecticut, 1700 – 1900 (written for third grade readers)
Inquiry Activity 1: Closely read Source #1 to answer the first supporting question: What was school like in the 1800s? Make notes of written and visual evidence you find in the documents. This may be done in small groups.
What jobs did children do in the late 1800s and early 1900s?
Source #2: Article about child labor in Connecticut (written for third grade readers)
Source #3: Lewis Hine photographs of children working in Connecticut
Inquiry Activity 2: Closely read Source #2 and the primary source photographs in Source #3 to answer the second supporting question: What jobs did children do in the late 1800s and early 1900s? Make notes of written and visual evidence you find in the documents. This may be done in small groups.
OR, print the pictures in Source #3, cutting them up, and mounting each picture on a piece of chart paper. Distribute the chart papers throughout the classroom on tables or hard floor. Give each student a different colored marker, pencil, or crayon. Have the kids investigate each picture and silently annotate around the picture with questions, observations, connections, inferences that the pictures elicit. Sentence starters would help. The teacher would then rotate the students to another picture where the kids can build upon the previous comments. The teacher will have his or her own color and travel with the students to push their thinking. Then all of the posters are hung and the students perform a gallery walk to take in the other pictures and see what was added to the original. At this time, they fill in a chart with headings of “Wow!,” “I never knew,” “I’m still wondering.”
Then from the pictures, they fill in a chart answering the questions with two columns headed “Answer” and “Evidence from the Pictures”
How are the kids spending their time?
What do you think is happening to their bodies?
What are the kids wearing?
Who is around them?
What knowledge are they gaining?
Who are they spending time around?
Are they happy?
Predict what you think they will be doing in 5 years? 10 years/ 15 years?
Inquiry Activity 4:
Source #4: Your School
Think about your life today. Do you have a job to do in your family? How is school different today from the 1800s? You’ll use these observations in your final activity. This may be done in small groups.
To prepare for the final communication/action, based on the readings including the photo captions and observations made from the photographs, create a T-chart listing the advantages of an education vs. the advantages of learning a trade. Make a second T-chart listing the disadvantages of schooling and working in the 19th century.
Stage a Debate
Divide into two teams and a panel of judges. Each team will take a position. One side will argue that children should be allowed to work instead of go to school. The other side will argue that children will be better prepared for adulthood by getting an education.
Prepare 3 reasons. Back them up with evidence. Be prepared to defend them.
One side will present its first reason. The other side will have a chance to challenge it. Then the other side will give its first reason and hear it challenged. Repeat for all three reasons.
The judges will take notes. They’ll decide which side was more persuasive and will need to provide examples and evidence from what the teams present to back up their decision.
An ancillary activity might be to ask the perennial question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and have students investigate what knowledge or skills they might need to do or become that.