An integrated life

Child Labor Laws Need to Be Rewritten

I was reading a blog post recently about my profession and I was both pleased that someone said it, while being bothered that it has to be said.

To many MPs and teachers, using an Excel spreadsheet or knocking up an HTML page is “computer programming”. The educational focus is very much on using software, rather than making software. But we still call it “computing”, which is as misguided as suggesting someone who can take an aspirin understands “medicine”.

The blog post (by a fellow from the UK) was entitled “Software Craftmanship – We Need to Raise Our Game” and the point it made about how pathetic – and divorced from reality – education is in the realms of software may even be understated. I wonder what it’s like in other industries. Yet, we insist that the most important thing for a child or young person is “education”. And when THEY say “education” they don’t seem to be able to divorce this education from sitting in a classroom with a bunch of people their own age supposedly learning the same lessons that someone decided everyone needs to know.

But there are a lot of other ways to get an education. Many of them are much better, especially as part of an integrated life that puts responsibility and value in a real world context. People learned the 3 Rs (reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic) in all sorts of ways before it was institutionalized and learned many other valuable skills, too.

I recently was reading about child labor laws in this country and the more I find out about them, the harder it is to not become irate.

I’ve tried, and continually try, to teach my children to be producers, not just consumers. I attempt to do the same with any young person I have any influence over, unapologetically. Saturday is not a day to watch cartoons. It’s a day to work with those that are older than them and produce something of value. (And parts of every other day but Sunday should be, too).

Another thing I’ve taught them to do is to honor the aged and they’ve learned to talk to and listen especially to the World War II generation while we still have a few of them left. It is interesting to find out how many of the Greatest Generation worked when they were children or very young adults. But then, it happened… The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

There are all kinds of problems with the government regulation of employment, but let me just focus on one part. The protection against “oppressive child labor”. We have a Department of Labor to protect us from this great evil. And, of course, they have our best interests in mind. I know, because they tell me so:

The Department of Labor is the sole federal agency that monitors child labor and enforces child labor laws. The most sweeping federal law that restricts the employment and abuse of child workers is the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Child labor provisions under FLSA are designed to protect the educational opportunities of youth and prohibit their employment in jobs that are detrimental to their health and safety. FLSA restricts the hours that youth under 16 years of age can work and lists hazardous occupations too dangerous for young workers to perform.

It is this department of our federal government that has decided that working in theatre is OK for anyone of any age, but 12 year olds who know how to program (and want to learn more) can’t be paid for their services, even for two hours per week. Is that because it would be “detrimental to their health and safety” or because we need to protect “the educational opportunities of youth”. If they are 14, they need to get a work permit to do so.

Exactly what does this work permit give them? The people who work in this government office use antiquated software to license young people who want to learn how to write non-antiquated software to do so… but only certain numbers of hours at certain times of the day. I’m sure it would be detrimental to their health and safety (unlike the environment of Hollywood) because they need to go to schools who don’t know the first thing about software, so they can be prepared to go to colleges and pay lots of money (taking out loans, if necessary) for a few hours a week with professors that have never done any “programming in the wild”. I know I’m not the only one who sees a problem with this. And it is not just the software development field in which young, capable people are blocked out.

I understand that there were times in our history where some children were basically employed as slaves and kept from being able to read and write and something had to be done about it. Now, they are slaves to governments who insist that they follow the rules of government school systems. (We know we can homeschool, but the labor laws discuss school hours, etc. as if the only thing a young person should be doing is sitting in a classroom).

We know the track record of our public school systems. Though there are many good people who work there, they need a lot of help to teach a lot of relevant and valuable skills (30 people at a time) that just about no one in their system has. They can’t hire the help they need if it could come from someone who isn’t at least 16. See the article at HSLDA’s site that illustrates how ridiculous this is.

In his 2011 state of the union address, Mr. Obama said:

To reduce barriers to growth and investment, I’ve ordered a review of government regulations. When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on businesses, we will fix them. But I will not hesitate to create or enforce commonsense safeguards to protect the American people. That’s what we’ve done in this country for more than a century. It’s why our food is safe to eat, our water is safe to drink, and our air is safe to breathe. It’s why we have speed limits and child labor laws.

Mr. Obama, do you realize that many of our jobs are going overseas to people who will work for less than our minimum wage? In the meantime, I know a LOT of bright young 12-15 year olds who not only do very well with the three Rs, but also program, interpret sign language, cook, clean, run spreadsheets, do excellent graphic design, etc. and would LOVE to work, but aren’t allowed to. We must “protect our children’s educational opportunities” while american businesses go overseas to get cheaper labor. Our government is enlightened and not only believes the myth of adolescence, but institutionalizes it. We have young people who have never been allowed to participate in significant projects until they get out of college at age 22-25. Many of these same young people think they should get paid a lot of money because they have a degree that says they are smart, and wonder why it is so hard to find a job.

Most people running businesses know why these people can’t find a job. They’ve never learned to work and businesses don’t want to pay high rates for the opportunity to train someone who has an inflated view of their worth. When the World War II generation was growing up, there were a lot of opportunities for industrious twelve-year-olds to earn some pocket change. By the time someone was 22, they already had ten years of some type of work experience.

Fear breeds stupidity. 1n 1946, some people were afraid that if we didn’t have these laws we’d have a bunch of young people being taken advantage of by greedy capitalists, and able-bodied men not being able to find a job to support their families because child labor was cheaper. Sixty-five years later, are the children much safer in our inner-city schools and neighborhoods? Would all able-bodied men (and women) lose their jobs to twelve-year-olds? No, they are losing many of their jobs to 22-year-olds who live overseas. And, if a twelve-year-old can do a job better than a twenty-five-year-old, why should I be forced to hire the twenty-five-year-old? If the education really makes the difference, I’d be stupid to hire the uneducated twelve year old and wouldn’t last long in the competitive business field.

Call me crazy, but I think people should be compensated for the value provided, and people and the marketplace should be the ones determining the value of a particular situation or institution. If I think the value I get from paying to learn some set of things at a particular institution is greater in the long run than working a job, I should gladly seek it out. But why should the government be pushing me in that direction?

My daughter, Hope, is almost 19 years old and is a very talented musician. She has 16 piano students at various levels of proficiency and has been teaching regularly for almost 5 years (after observing other teachers in addition to her own). Hope is active in the Cary-Apex Piano Teachers Association… she became their youngest member last year. She also is an accompanist in various settings, is an assistant with a local musical theatre group, and has several other productive interests (occasional composing, writing a series of books, gardening and other homemaking activities, teaching her younger brothers various subjects, occasionally helping me on various projects, serving others in various capacities, and more). She has taken private piano lessons for something like thirteen years and is currently taking some from a college professor. She’s taken college level music theory classes via correspondence.

She made a decision recently that, although she has been offered scholarships, she is not going to pursue a four-year degree though she will continue to learn and increase her skills. She just doesn’t think it is worth it to give up four years of her life (and her current livelihood) so that she can get a little more intense instruction and a piece of paper that suggests she can pick her livelihood back up in four years after sacrificing everything else she pours herself into.

Please don’t tell the Federal Department of Labor. They weren’t living with us to stop the oppression of her childhood and make sure her educational opportunities were protected.

I realize that Hope has had opportunities that others could never dream of getting. Some children don’t have parents that fulfill their responsibility to train up their children well or have limited means even if they wanted to. The theory is that this is why we need these laws… so these children get the education they need to succeed. NEWSFLASH: the oppressive laws that protect them from oppressive labor does not make them do well in school and be ready for success when they get through the system… and they really aren’t helping anyone else out, either.

I’m not suggesting that we should be looking to hire out our six-year-olds to put in 50-60 hour work weeks picking up scrap material at a local factory, but exactly why can’t a twelve-year-old have a part-time job in an office?

The world knows that children become young men and women around the age of twelve. Look at the prices at a buffet, or the instructions on a bottle of medicine. The Bible teaches that if a man doesn’t work, we shouldn’t let him eat. If we took it seriously, we’d either have a bunch of starving teenagers, or we wouldn’t put up with this nonsense.

What can you do?

  1. Train up the young people around you in valuable skills and teach them to serve at every opportunity, volunteering if they have to, or agreeing to work for food (but tell them not to stand at a busy intesection with a sign).
  2. Join me in asking your state and federal representatives to realize that the current antiquated child labor laws need to be revisited and write up the new bill.
  3. Talk about this with other people you know and get them to agree that twelve-year-olds should be allowed to work for anyone that would like to hire them, with the agreement of their parents.

Once we get the literate twelve-year-olds working again, it will be easier to train our ten-year-olds in the value of learning and serving and leading an integrated life.