Unions Push for Labor History Courses ; Lawmakers Reject Introducing Students to Labor Movement

By singer, Stephen | Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current), June 16, 2014 | Go to article overview

Unions Push for Labor History Courses ; Lawmakers Reject Introducing Students to Labor Movement


singer, Stephen, Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)


HARTFORD, Conn. - Unions and their allies are trying to flex their muscle in state legislatures, pushing for labor history to be included in social studies curriculum and hoping a new generation of high school students one day will be well-educated union members. But the results instead are shaping up as a reminder of the tough political landscape faced by organized labor. In six states, opponents have pushed back against demands teachers offer lessons about the first craft unions in the 19th century, the large- scale organizing drives that powered the growth of industrial unions in the 1930s, the rise of organized labor as a political machine and other highlights of America's union movement.

California and Delaware are the only states with laws that encourage schools to teach labor history.

Kevin Dayton, a policy consultant to nonunion construction companies in California, said the legislation was pushed by unions to boost their ranks.

"They believe that one of the reasons young people are not organizing in unions is because they're not taught in schools the benefits of being in a collective workforce," he said.

Ed Leavy, secretary-treasurer of teachers union AFT Connecticut, said the opposite is the case: "It's not that labor unions are demanding this so we can increase the ranks. It's people preventing this so we don't."

The legislation proposed in Connecticut was benign, Leavy said. It would have helped teachers with resources such as textbooks and instruction guides.

Steve Kass, a member of the executive board of the Greater New Haven Labor History Association and a backer of the legislation, said Connecticut's legislation could have bolstered the union cause.

"We're losing a generation of workers who don't have an understanding about the union movement," he said.

The measure failed this year for a third consecutive time even after supporters agreed to a compromise to include lessons in the history of capitalism. Opponents had many arguments against the measure.

Joshua Katz, a math teacher at the Oxford Academy in Westbrook, told lawmakers decisions about curriculum belong to teachers and students, not the Legislature.

"In general, I'm opposed to all of this top-down legislation," he said.

The state's largest business group, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said the legislation would have diverted resources from teaching core curriculum and closing the state's achievement gap. …

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