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A new report (PDF) by the Albert Shanker Institute and the American Labor Studies Center argues that history textbooks exclude labor from the history that American schoolchildren learn. Their review of four leading high school history textbooks finds that the books:
  • often implicitly (and, at times, explicitly) represent labor organizing and labor disputes as inherently violent;
  • virtually ignore the vital role of organized labor in winning broad social protections, such as child labor laws, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Occupational
    Safety and Health Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency;
  • ignore the important role that organized labor played in the civil rights movement; and
  • pay scant attention to unionism after the 1950s, thus completely ignoring the rise of public sector unionization, which brought generations of Americans into the middle class and gave new rights to public employees.

Textbooks are incredibly political documents, as the recent Texas textbook controversies have reminded us. But by the time Texas got busy trying to write Newt Gingrich and the Moral Majority into high school history books and Anne Hutchinson and Thurgood Marshall out, the struggles of working people and the contributions of their unions to foundational pieces of today's society such as the 40-hour work week and Social Security had already been largely written out. As the new report details, inclusion of labor history in school curricula has been under attack since the 1930s.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Wed Sep 07, 2011 at 11:51 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Labor History? What's that? Isn't History about (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MinistryOfTruth, swampyankee

    the exploits of great men like George W. Bush and Rick Perry?

    I am off my metas! Präsidentenelf-maßschach; Warning-Some Snark Above"Nous sommes un groupuscule" (-9.50; -7.03)

    by annieli on Wed Sep 07, 2011 at 11:54:28 AM PDT

    •  While I think it should definitely be part of the (0+ / 0-)

      studies program, would it also include the negative stuff like the corruption that has also occurred over the years especially in the 50's?

      It's the same with any course about capitalism that the Chamber is recommending. Gotta include the excesses of the free market system and how it hurts people.

      Progressives will win when we convince a majority that they, too, are Progressive.

      by auapplemac on Sat Sep 10, 2011 at 04:44:27 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Bingo. Here in AZ they've made it damned near (5+ / 0-)

    illegal to teach Cesar Chavez, since the legislature's bill banning ethnic studies doesn't allow material that advocates solidarity. Can't be having any of that!

    stay together / learn the flowers / go light - Gary Snyder

    by Mother Mags on Wed Sep 07, 2011 at 12:00:20 PM PDT

  •  Randi Weingarten said the same thing (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    David Kaib, nicolemm

    in Kagro and I's interview with her last Saturday.

  •  Make 'em too stupid to know any better (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    It is a continuing dumbing down of America. If you don't teach kids that labor rights and labor strife have a long history in this country they will grow up to expect lowering wages and harsher conditions.

    When you say fighting for labor...there were many a busted head or arm for standing up to "the man" for the right to organize. The right to get a day off or decent pay...or god forbid - Healthcare!

    So these evildoers will continue to try to privatize schools and elect Dominionist and New Traditionalists to state school boards. They must control the curriculum in order to spread their lies and disinformation.

    Be afraid. Be very afraid.

    A - American L - Legislators E - Exemplifiying C - Corruption

    by Jean Sloan on Wed Sep 07, 2011 at 03:23:17 PM PDT

  •  We talk a lot about how bad these things are (0+ / 0-)

    in TX or AZ,  but there are still states Democrats control.  It would be nice to see some action to improve this in the blue states.

    Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

    by David Kaib on Wed Sep 07, 2011 at 03:40:33 PM PDT

    •  That's why we need to teach W/O textbooks (0+ / 0-)

      They're all based on Texas thinking.   Great schools don't use textbooks to develop  a scope and sequence for a course of study.  It's fine to have them around to use as a resource, but you provide politically tainted curriculum when you use them as the basis for a history course.

  •  It's about to get a lot worse. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council, for background see here) is the gift that keeps on giving. The Chamber of Commerce wrote and passed the Free Enterprise Education Act into ALEC model legislation in New Orleans this year.

    The act would require high school students to take and pass a "Free enterprise" course separate from any other other economics requirement that would mandate specific instruction in the following:

    *the basic characteristics of the free enterprise system;

    *the benefits of economic growth, wealth creation and technological innovation as compared to other systems;

    *the importance of the rule of law, private ownership rights, economic liberty, and equality of opportunity;

    *the impact of government spending, regulations, and tax, monetary and trade policies; and opportunities presented by starting a business.

    In other words drink the Kool-aid kiddo or no degree for you. I've passed along the documents ( full model legislation text, speaker statements, and presentation materials) I was provided to people involved in teacher education locally.  Unless there's some nose about this, this is the future.

    by ManfromMiddletown on Wed Sep 07, 2011 at 04:53:34 PM PDT

    •  Wow. I don't suppose you can (0+ / 0-)

      teach this course as an open discussion...I mean, the impact of government spending--better roads, bridges, healthier people; government regulations--healthier people because of cleaner air and water; etc.

      There really are two sides to all of this.

      The kids aren't stupid--equality of opportunity. My high school kids know this is a goal, not a reality.

      "Do your best, and keep your sense of humor."--My Mom

      by mainely49 on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 04:29:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Labor History (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Can anyone suggest a good history of the US labor movement that I can draw upon to enlighten my students? There seems to be slim pickings in the public library on this topic. Thanks.

    We can have democracy in this country, or we can have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both. Louis Brandeis

    by Ohkwai on Thu Sep 08, 2011 at 06:21:32 AM PDT

    •  Try this Ohkwai (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      If CEO's and their brethren have employment contracts, why do they insist that their employees don't need one?

      by JDPITALIA on Fri Sep 09, 2011 at 05:52:10 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I generally spend (great deals!) (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      of time looking for references I can use with my students.

      Howard Zinn! Always the go-to guy.

      The University of Illinois has a Labor Relations Dept. I'm sure other universities do, too.

      "Do your best, and keep your sense of humor."--My Mom

      by mainely49 on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 04:16:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Gotta do it on your own... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Truth?  You probably have to do this on your own getting numerous sources to get a proper perspective.  Anything from one my absolute FAVORITE...can be said to be skewed in one direction or the other.  Just remember...the Internet can be your friend here.

      It's sad that, to be truthful about this, if teachers want to actually give the truth about labor and the labor movement in this country, they have to dig up the information themselves.  And, unless the information isn't sanctified by some great knowledgeable source within the school system, these teachers are risking trouble if they do go beyond what textbooks present....or better put, what they DON'T present.

      - If you don't like gay marriage, blame straight people. They're the ones who keep having gay babies.

      by r2did2 on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 04:37:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  They Did In The 70s (5+ / 0-)

    I distinctly remember even in grammar school learning about the AF of L and the CIO as well as the larger labor movement. Conservatives have really fucked education in this country big time all for their love of a religion of greed.

    This head movie makes my eyes rain.

    by The Lone Apple on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 04:03:08 PM PDT

  •  11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts (4+ / 0-)

    Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.

    If you are not willing to die for your freedom, your freedom will die.

    by Levi the Oracle on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 04:11:52 PM PDT

  •  My teacher in the 70's taught me labor history (5+ / 0-)

    I am very concerned that too many young people are forgetting the past in this country.

  •  So I happy I teach in New York (5+ / 0-)

    I use a text book designed for NY state- United States History, published by Pearson.  (Awesome title, right?)

    When it comes to labor history, here's whats inside:

    Industry and Transportation (1812-1855)- covers early factory movement, the mills and their workers.   I show a great DVD called Mill by David Macaulay.

    The Organized Labor Movement (1865-1914)
    Covers the strikes of the late 19th century, the Haymarket, etc.  Founding of the AFL, the CIO, and IWW.  (Could you imagine a Texas book with the Wobblies... probably tells the kids they were ALL commies like ALL union people.)

    Later on in the text, when it gets to the various civil rights movements, there is some discussion of Cesar Chavez and all he did out west.  

    Texas may be destroying their kids minds, but in NY, with our FOUR YEARS of REQUIRED social studies, we are going quite the opposite route.

    •  I am glad that I went to school (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      in New York.  I remember these were part of my curriculum 30 years or so ago, and am glad that New York still includes it as part of the high school curriculum.

      One thing though.  I do recall only learning about the Bonus Army and Hoovertowns mayby about 5 or so years ago, and even today, still find myself surprised by things I picked up here or on NPR or on other websites or blogs.

      It's about time I changed my signature.

      by Khun David on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 05:46:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  NYS schools and American Indians... (0+ / 0-)

      My nephew lives in NYC and was in the 6th Grade last year.  I helped him with a short history paper about local Indians and I was very impressed by the sensitive and even-handed way the text and teachers handled Native American issues. Good for NY!!

  •  my kids learn from howard zinn (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dirtandiron, Eric Blair

    although if i hadn't had one particular teacher, and a few union uncles, the positive impact of organized labor may have gone over my head 'til i went to college.  

  •  Not only Labor History (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    But the history of the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Movement all are being sanitized by the right-wing Confederates in this country who wish to rewrite the past.

    Too many times history is treated like a bowl of day old cold oatmeal in the schools. We must bring history to life in put it in the context of today.

    The Jews as a people HAVE NEVER FORGOTTEN what Hitler tried to do to them.

  •  This year I get to teach a course (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Khun David, jofr

    on the Gilded Age and intend to do a full discussion of the rise of Labor Unions in the US as a response to unsupportable working conditions during the period of huge economic growth (for some).

    I have found that high school textbooks are useless for this discussion. Students will be presented conditions and situations and will do research online to discover how and why the workers of the late 19th and early 20th century formed unions.

    Teaching this subject almost requires a teacher to put in countless hours doing research and developing strategies for his/her students. Too bad there isn't a panel of experts who can do this...that's OK with me, though. I will use the tools I've been given.

    Of course, I won't even touch the issues of unions in the second half of the 20th century. Best wishes to those who will cover this period. Make sure you have a big picture of Ronald Reagan in your classroom!

    "Do your best, and keep your sense of humor."--My Mom

    by mainely49 on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 04:24:40 PM PDT

  •  BTW, I can't rec any of the comments (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dirtandiron, rainmanjr

    Does anyone know why that is? I've refreshed and gone out and come back in...

    Ah, well. Technology.

    Enjoy the weekend (brought to you by the Unions!).

    "Do your best, and keep your sense of humor."--My Mom

    by mainely49 on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 04:26:16 PM PDT

  •  I taught myself Labor History (4+ / 0-)

    mostly because I found it absolutely fascinating.

    The best book on the topic (though a little out of date now)

    Labor's Untold Story is\

    Publisher Comments:
    Labor's story, still untold and largely missing from text-book and conventional history, is more than an account of strikes, spies, and frame-ups, of organizing and building unions, of men and women dying for better lives in a better America. The chief quality of the book, aside from its one volume completeness, is that it is not presented as a narrow, parochial account but as the heart of the story of the American people. In a sense this book is not a history of labor at all but a history of the American people from labor's viewpoint. It is the story not only of labor but of American monopoly, showing how the trade union movement developed as a part of the American people's struggle against corporate tyranny. Labor's great leap forward into industrial unionism was an answering action to the development of trusts and the monopolized control of great industrial empires. Labor grew as monopoly grew, born of the conflict between them.

    This is the third edition of a work recently called "a modern masterpiece of labor history." It has been widely translated and widely read abroad.

    BUY THIS BOOK. Its one of the most important books I've ever read. It will change how you see the world.

    Gasoline made from the tar sands gives a Toyota Prius the same impact on climate as a Hummer using gasoline made from oil. ~ Al Gore

    by Lefty Coaster on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 04:28:08 PM PDT

  •  I hadn't thought of this. WOW. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dirtandiron, jofr
  •  Labor, People, Minorities and more (0+ / 0-)

    American schoolchildren are seriously shortchanged about learning ANY history, in fact.

    What are we going to do about it?  I mean we Kossacks.

  •  If we educate kids, then who will run this place? (0+ / 0-)

    "There's nothing in the dark that's not there when the lights are on" ~ Rod Serling

    by jwinIL14 on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 04:43:51 PM PDT

  •  This is nothing new (0+ / 0-)

    This has been going on for decades. The current system needs an obedient, conformist workforce that's easily de-sensitized by distraction,  pharmaceuticals and promises of "you to can be rich" to survive.

    There's a reason most Americans haven't read Zinn and would rather rely on corporate media instead of having to actually think for themselves.

  •  workers invisible, struggle invisible (0+ / 0-)

    I had some NPR interview about men and jobs on the radio this am. (On the way to Labor-to-Labor GOTV)

    The explanation for good wages and working conditions in blue-collar occupations in the post-war decades assumed that "social contract"... "shared prosperity"...  "rising  standard of living"... "purchasing power"... were just a nice idea that emerged from "the Depression and the New Deal".

    Ummm.... workers fought for those things,  then governments decided to make them programs.  

    Not the other way around.

    It's not a fake orgasm; it's a real yawn.

    by sayitaintso on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 04:49:19 PM PDT

  •  The good news is kids sleep through high school. (0+ / 0-)

    The bad news is they're not prepared for college when they get there.

    There was an attempt by college professors to set national standards for high school history. For some reason we're not allowed to give remedial courses like math and English are. First the standards got bogged down in arguments about what facts kids should know. Then it got ignored altogether by states and local school boards. AFAIK it's a dead letter. Anyone know?

  •  I did a diary many moons ago (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    on the altered Texas history book by kid came home with.  Sadly, not much has changed and in fact Texas is the place many conservative leaning districts across the US are coming to buy their new textbooks.  I have said many times before school boards are one of the most critical places we need Dems running in their communities.

    Yes, I am the Queen. Tweet me @QofTU

    by DFJtoo on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 05:03:46 PM PDT

    •  As is widely known, Texas is the state (0+ / 0-)

      Publishers use to base their editorial decisions about what is included in and excluded from textbooks - all for economic reasons.  If you don't think the content is complete, accurate, or inclusive, you need to supplement your curriculum or develop it from scratch, as a number of teachers have said they do.  Kudos to those who take the time.   Imagine a HS history teacher who may be teaching 3 separate courses and needs to search out appropriate materials for each one because the very expensive textbook is so inadequate.    

  •  Editorial cowardice (0+ / 0-)

    Much like with the media but more insidious; all Republicans have to do is make something controversial/political and the self-censorship kicks in.

    Voters think that unions are now irrelevant just when worker rights are under increasing attack precisely because they aren't taught what unions actually have done and still do for workers. We've got a freaking national holiday dedicated to Labor and people still don't understand just how much better their life is both qualitatively and monetarily because of the sacrifices of past workers some of whom died to give their children a better life.

  •  Actually, we have known this for a while (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Khun David, dhshoops, jofr

    as high school social studies teachers.  I found out when I read "Lies My Teacher Told Me" by James Loewen, 1995.  This is the book that got me into teaching , and teaching history at that.

    The problem is much deeper than just labor history.  Much of our history has been whitewashed to hide the misdeeds of America and especially the role that America has taken as an imperialist empire.

    I make sure my students know this, and that just because it is written in a history book, does not make it true.  History is always written from the standpoint of the winners, and if anyone should disagree, they are labeled unpatriotic.

    One of the interesting points of American history is the whitewashing of the Confederate movement and its defense of slavery.  This is why southern conservatives take the stand they do, because they are ignorant of their true history.

  •  "Lies my Teacher Told Me" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Khun David

    Changed my life.  Organized all the issues that I'd known but never understood about the way history is taught.  Two of my boys (22 and 19 at the time) and I listened to it on CD while driving a car from Michigan to CA.  They understood every concept from their recent high school experience.

    Thank god we all read.

    the fact that you're right is nothing more than interesting

    by Egg on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 05:30:30 PM PDT

  •  Heck, even labor unions don't teach (0+ / 0-)

    labor history.  The labor union that represents some employees at my previous employer has a couple of information displays at the worksite.  This year marked the centennial of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and there was no commemoration of that tragedy.  

    I was non-union at that employer, but called the union rep and asked why they didn't mark that anniversary.  The woman I talked to didn't know what I was talking about until I explained about the fire, and what it meant for workers' rights.

    BTW - in my new job, as soon as I reach my 90 day mark, I am able to join the union here.

    It's about time I changed my signature.

    by Khun David on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 05:40:04 PM PDT

  •  Civil Rights and unions... (0+ / 0-)

    Not sure how important it is to include the history of unions and civil rights in High School history.

    It is very much a mixed bag, despite what the authors of this report seem to think.

  •  what important roll did labor play ? in the civil (0+ / 0-)

    rights movement? Because what I remember is that unions did their best to keep non-whites out? or not?

    Je regretez tout. How's me French?

    by Mark B on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 06:09:38 PM PDT

  •  front pagers, please put up a story (0+ / 0-)

    on the Wall St. occupation

    we need to counter MSM suppression of story

    Nowhere do I understand that national security is a substitute for the law.---Thomas Drake You cannot tell from appearances how things will go.--Winston Churchill

    by SouthernLiberalinMD on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 06:23:11 PM PDT

  •  Not only Textbooks (0+ / 0-)

    You should check the Heinz History Museum in PITTSBURGH of all places.  Virtually nothing there tells of the United Steelworkers.  They show plenty of older protective clothing of the workers, and would leave the audience to think that the new safety equipment came as a result of the enlightened factory owners.

    Nor is anything said about the United Mineworkers which was centered in the Western Pennsylvania area.

    If it were not for my university education, thanks to LBJ, I would never have known how to properly teach US history.

    •  Lowell, Mass has an excellent museum (0+ / 0-)

      In the old textile mills that provides an excellent and extensive depiction of the horrible life of mill workers before unions,  with much of the focus on women.   I'm pretty sure it also covers the early labor movement, but will check on that.

      For anyone in the area, it's well worth the trip and is a popular field trip for students.   The book titled Lyddie (sorry can't underline or italicize on my iPad) is an excellent fictional account of the life of a young girl working in the mills.  From that starting point,  I know of teachers who then  follow up with the early history of labor.

      •  In Massachusetts k-12 frameworks (0+ / 0-)

        The history and development of unions is in the Massachusetts frameworks.  Other states may include a strand on unions as well, which means you have to teach it whether or not it's in the text.

        The Lowell National Historical Park has programs for elementary age kids as well as HS students.  It's a great place to visit even without the kids.      

  •  you are right (0+ / 1-)
    Recommended by:
    Hidden by:

    Unions belong in the history books because for the most part they are a thing of the past (in the private, competitive sectors at least).

    “I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.” Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776

    by Dose o Reality on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 08:16:41 PM PDT

  •  why not Future Labor Leaders of America? (0+ / 0-)

    Okay, look, every damn high school has a Future Business Leaders of America club and probably DECA.

    Tens of thousands of business leaders get socialized on free market, pro business ideals by unionized public high school teachers.

    So, where o where is the future labor leaders of America club?

    How about some balance?

    I don't believe any school in America has one.  When I asked David Newby, when he was president of AFL CIO Wisconsin, he asked, do youhave mycard?  WTF?

    When I asked an AFL rep, he's like, do youwant a labor lesson plan?  WTF?

    Are we so oppressed that we can't envision the importance of addressing our failure to fairly socialized kids in schools so that they get labor's point of view?

    "It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don't cause spills. They are technologically very advanced." 4-2-10 Obama's George Bush moment

    by neaguy on Sat Sep 17, 2011 at 09:21:17 PM PDT

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