Archival Document Sets

What is a strike? Teacher intro (3-5th grade)

For Teachers:

In Michigan, 3rd grade social studies students are encouraged to learn "public discourse, decision making and citizen involvement"1 using the Michigan's history, government, and public policy issues as examples [C1-C3]. These learned histories are expected to translate to 4th grade discussions on national civics [C5]. Often, for children 8-11 years old, it can be a struggle to connect these events to their own lives and the lives of their families. The goal of this proposed lesson plan is to utilize resources at the Walther P. Reuther Library Archives to connect Michigan's labor movement history with children between 3rd and 5th grade. Below, we offer pictures, documents, contextual information, web resources, and possible activities to illustrate these connections. The hope is that these activities can act as launching points for how children can better understand their important role in the Michigan and U.S. labor movement.

Background: Children have had a precarious role historically in labor movements around the world, and U.S. and Michigan's own history is no different! Prior to the industrial revolution, children traditionally worked on family farms. Others learned trades and skills from their parents, relatives, patrons, or community. For example, if someone had the last name “Baker” it was probably because that was their family business – to bake! My last name, Metzger, means ‘butcher’ in German. If I was born in a German town circa 1700s, I probably would have been trained to be a town’s meat cutter from a very early age.

However, all of this is heavily dependent and when, where, and whom in history we are discussing. A child’s gender, race, class, or caste would determine if they were laborers and how they were compensated for their efforts. Indeed, the definition of who did and did not count as a child has not remained static throughout history. For example, in the U.S. black slave children were expected to work long hours as servants, cooks, and field hands with no compensation. These children, boys and girls alike, were viewed as tools rather than humans. Girls from farming families worked alongside their brother when needed. Girls from farming communities were also expected to learn how to prepare food and repair clothing, a chore many boys were not expected to learn. These are just two examples from Western history – consider the demographic population of your own class when considering how you might choose to frame this discussion.

After the industrial revolution, children who could not stay with relatives nor attend school, accompanied their parents to textile mills, coal mines, and industrial sites, where they could be put to work. The working conditions were often dangerous, and the compensation was meager. Some children were maimed; others died. Many of the first labor unions were formed to protect children from these harms.

Child labor still fuels whole parts of the globe today. Children are still working in textile factories and on industrial farms. Many children in the U.S. are eager to enter into the work force and take positions as soon as they can. However, we now have strict laws in the U.S. to govern the hours, wages, and working conditions of children, due in part to the labor movement's efforts.

We want to encourage instructors to see the Reuther Library as resource for their classrooms and for children to see themselves reflected in history. Thus, these lessons were designed to connect children directly to historical events during the early labor movement, putting both U.S. and Michigan history at the center of these conversations. Encourage children to hypothesize about the documents and use their observation skills to find answers.

If your class has access to computers, you might allow students to use the gallery portion of this lesson. If not, consider printing out these resources for use in your classroom.

This lesson was contributed by Jade Metzger, a recipient of the NextGen Humanities grant.