My students are reading the fourth unit of study, Kids at Work by Russell Freedman. Like the other Units of Study Sarah Collinge has written, Sarah has chosen a book that speaks to kids and gives them important issues to think and talk about. Many of my students said they knew nothing about child labor and are glad they know about it now. Mary wrote, “…the problem that Lewis Hine saw was that people didn’t see how bad it is to have children doing monotonous jobs. Also people were using children as cheap labor to raise profits. Lewis Hine’s solution to this problem was to take photos and collect exact information about each child he took photos of.” They admire Lewis Hine’s photographs and the work he did to change the lives of children.
This book is such a good book to follow Chains because they see kids like themselves doing work they have never imagined and they see that these kids are not that much different than Isabel, who was a slave. As students work through the Vocabulary packet for this book, they use people and ideas from Chains. Students spent time thinking and writing about the Declaration of Independence and how it applies to themselves, now they are thinking about the Declaration of Dependence and what it means to be a child.
One of the writing pieces we work on in this unit is Problem/Solution/Opinion. My students had a lot to say about Kids at Work.
“The photo that really spoke to me was the photo on page 39. If you look closely you can see that the children here aren’t comfortable. They don’t even have shoes! The girls and boys look scared and tired. The room the children are in is very messy. I think they felt unequal.”
“I feel like the picture on page 50 shows how cruel and wrong child labor is because it tells how if you were small enough you could fall in and mangled or killed and if you stopped working you would get hit with a broom! And in the picture the kids were all dirty and they only have a tiny place to sit in. The kids don’t have clean air to breathe so they are breathing in that old dirty air and I be it is really hot in there because there is at least 45 kids all in the same room. It is a very dangerous job for a kid!”
“The picture I picked shows a boy working in a mine. He is greasy and slimy and the grease must be bad for his skin. It could get into him mouth and it probably tastes gross! The buckets might be too heavy for him and hurt his arms. Lewis Hine was trying his best to help the kids by taking photos of children and how hard they worked and they hurt every day.”
“I feel so sad when I look at the picture on page 55. I can see at least 6 children and glass all over the floor. I read this part of the book and the picture of a boy working at a glass factory. I can’t see his hands but I bet he has a lot of cuts on them because when you work with glass you can cut yourself very easily. In one of the paragraphs it says that a factory worker would rather send his son to hell than work at the glass factory and that tells me that is was a pretty bad place to be. Whoever said ‘Let the children work’ is a cruel and horrible person!”
One of the hard things for kids to understand is that the issues we have read and talked about in the Chains and Kids at Work, are still happening in our own country and around the world. My students are very concerned that kids are still working long hours, in difficult conditions, and in dangerous jobs. Melissa wrote, “I feel bad for the kids stuck in child labor and the pictures made me feel really sad.”
This book helps students to understand the laws that were passed to protect the rights of children and I think they get a better idea of how important their education is to their lives. Lewis Hine’s photographs continue to tell a powerful story and touch the hearts of children and adults.