Newt Gingrich has issued some crazy statements since he first took public office in 1979. Yet his latest claim—that we shouldn’t be “entrapping kids in…child labor laws, which are truly stupid”—isn’t one of them. In a speech at Harvard’s Kennedy School, Gingrich suggested a “work study” program for K-12 education: Students could provide low-cost alternatives to unionized janitors, giving these youngsters work experience, money, and pride in their schools. This proposal to slacken child-labor laws has drawn plenty of headlines, and even more scorn. But there’s something to his logic. Nonprofits like YouthBuild and the ISUS charters in Dayton, OH, in which students work to complete high school while learning construction skills, already offer successful models of dual academic/job-training programs. The Cristo Rey network of Catholic schools allows their low-income students to offset tuition costs—and gain practical job skills—through once-a-week corporate internships. These models provide more than a paycheck and some on-the-job carpentry or accounting skills: They give students a better sense of the working world than any personal-finance or economics course ever could. Gadfly isn’t advocating for eight-year-olds to don hard hats on Alaska’s oil pipeline—and he doubts that’s what Newt had in mind, either. But there’s value in skills training and career preparation. Be careful not to blithely dismiss creative ideas like this.
|Click to listen to commentary on Gingrich's plan from the Education Gadfly Show podcast.|
“Newt Gingrich: Child Labor Laws are ‘Stupid’,” Huffington Post, November 21, 2011.“Gingrich: Changing Child Labor Laws Would Improve Schools,” Education Week, November 22, 2011.