For the sake of argument

Let’s bring back child labor

EILEEN MORRIS August 22 1960
For the sake of argument

Let’s bring back child labor

EILEEN MORRIS August 22 1960

Let’s bring back child labor

For the sake of argument


The belief that children should run along and play has gone far enough. In the middle-class suburb where we are raising our two boys, the adults arc working overtime on the chores so that the kids are free to play around on their parents’ money. In their pursuit of the Full Life the crewcut crowd have moved into the rarefied status of boarded guests at home. They now hold the patent on leisure time, and these self-demand adolescents reflect their upbringing — they are thoughtless and self-centred, all take and no give. Their parents seem afraid to acquaint them with the feel of hammers and brooms and garden rakes, sock stretchers, wrenches and rolling pins. The use of these common household tools is all wild surmise to too many of our playboys and girls.

A diet of pacifiers

I contend these kids are being protected too carefully and too long from the realities of life. We are raising them on a diet of sugar pacifiers. Only in affluent North America do children remain childish for so long. At sixteen they’re old enough to go to work whether they like it or not. If they’ll work at acquiring an education and pitch in at home as well — fine. About half the youngsters in our high schools, as nearly as can be told from education-department statistics, are bearing down on the job of learning. They should be encouraged. For the other half, high school is a place to rest their feet. They should be encouraged too — with the back of somebody's hand, if necessary—to get a job and earn a living.

I'm convinced children won’t suffer a major trauma at being put out to work at sixteen. I agree with Dr. Paul Popenoe, general director of the American Institute of Family Relations, who declares, “I am a great proponent of child labor. I think exploited child labor is an awful evil, but for every child worked too hard, there are ten

children not worked enough.”

Today’s misguided distrust of child labor goes back to a time when youngsters were worked twelve or more hours a day, under dangerous conditions and at starvation wages. But our corn-fed teenagers won’t be harmed by a 40-hour week in a modern plant.

Some high schools in Canada chuck out indifferent students — in Calgary, 158 students have been expelled in six years. Far more youngsters drop out of school for their own reasons: because they’re too lazy or too dull to learn, or because they’re out to pick up more money than they can lay their hands on with afterschool jobs. The casualty rate is higher than most people realize: only ten percent of Canada’s students finish grade 13. "Gifted and non-gifted alike leave our schools in ever-increasing numbers as the grades go by,” reports a study by the Ontario College of Education. What becomes of them? U. S. Secretary of Labor James Mitchell pointed out recently that common laboring was the best that more than half the boys who dropped out of U. S. schools last year could do. Officials of Canada’s National Employment Service say the youngsters who drop out of school tend to become itinerant workers, constantly shifting from job to job. Several years ago the NES conducted a survey of people applying at its offices for jobs. Nearly two thirds of the unplaced applicants had dropped out of school without finishing grade 9.

The kids who are thrown out of high school, the kids who should be thrown out, and the kids who drop out for their own wrongheaded reasons are the most serious drain on this country’s human resources. While most of these youngsters drift from the handle of one shovel to the next, we depend on skilled immigrants to restock the pool of trained tradesmen we need to keep the economy in motion. Isn’t it high time we trained CONTINUED ON PAGE 40




For the sake of argument

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These kids don't care where they work, if it pays enough for the down payment on a car

our own youngsters for these steady, well-paid jobs? Isn't it high time we adopted standards for throwing the freeloaders out of our high schools and gave them, and their classmates who drop out by preference, a clear-cut choice between becoming odd-job men or skilled tradesmen?

I think it is. I propose a tough set of standards that would make a youngster earn his place in high school, and, for the ones who can’t, a national system of trade apprenticeship. We need a strong apprenticeship program for all Canada backed by government, education and industry. We need it now as never before. as the war babies come of age. The 1945 generation now hitting our high schools will soon be hitting our job market.

We need a vital national program that will cut across our eleven school systems and attract thousands of young people, particularly boys. Employment is growing fast in the service industries, in government and offices; girls are well suited to these jobs. But the production industries are moving more slowly; male employment is in trouble. The outlook is bleak for the young, inexperienced male with no job skill. As a labor official notes, “Day by day. the need for skilled labor increases. And day by day, the need for unskilled labor decreases.”

Live now, pay later

A boy of sixteen who skids from the classroom into casual work, vulnerable to layoffs, faces an uncertain future. But a boy who begins apprenticeship at sixteen begins drawing full journeyman's wages within four or five years. This means that by the time he's twenty or so — the age when a good number of our kids are floating into early marriages on high-priced loans — he will be earning a man’s pay, and a trained technician's pay at that. Today's teenagers demand every adult privilege; they marry younger and have more children than their parents did. They need a man's earnings to finance their early blooming, but many are falling into the live-now-pay-later tumbrel.

A broad, tough apprenticeship program for these young men isn't as revolutionary a proposal as it will sound to some people. A number of unions, particularly those in trades that have retained some of the qualities of the craft guilds (the engravers and printers, for example), operate their own apprenticeship programs. And in the public realm, there is a smallscale working model turning out a fair number of specialists in Ontario right now; the province thinks it has the best apprenticeship plan in the world. All the other provinces except Prince Edward Island have similar, if less ambitious, programs, and a close look at the Ontario program gives a lead to the kind of national plan that would work. A trainee must be at least sixteen and not over twenty-one. He can article as an apprentice barber, bricklayer, carpenter, electrician, mason, motor-vehicle repairer, painter and decorator, plasterer, plumber, metalworker, steamfitter, or air-conditioning or refrigeration serviceman. A girl can apprentice as a hairdresser.

Officials like the boy to have a grade 12 education, will accept grade 10, and take

very, very few with grade 8. (I quarrel with these standards; grade 10. it seems to me, should provide enough academic background for many trades.) The youngster enters into a formal contract signed by himself, his father, mother, guardian or a judge, and by his employer. It sets out the terms of his employment, and can be ended by mutual agreement.

Government inspectors check the conditions under which the apprentice works, supervise him. stand ready to talk over his problems and encourage him. Periodically apprentices in particular trades are brought from any point in the province to the provincial Institute of Trades in Toronto for concentrated study under experienced teachers. Schooling is free; transportation costs to and from an apprentice’s home town, tuition fees, and a subsistence allowance arc all provided.

On successfully completing their apprenticeship and passing examinations, the boys move out into a hundred trades in two hundred industries, including giants like Ontario Hydro and Algoma Steel.

During the year ending March 31, 1959, there were 18.567 apprentices registered with the departments of labor of those provinces that have programs under the apprenticeship training agreement. Of them, more than a third were in Ontario. At the end of the 1958-59 school year, Ontario education officials reported that only 12 percent of the pupils who entered grade 9 in 1955 had completed grade 13; during the year 1958-59. more than 40,000 pupils dropped out of high school. Thus, of the more than 100,000 non-pupils in Ontario under the age of eighteen, only four or five percent, apparently, are learning a trade by apprenticeship.

The training is excellent, expenses are paid, the youngster earns while he learns.

A building-trade apprentice earns, in his first year, 30 percent of the rate for a journeyman employed in the same trade; in his second year, 40 percent, and so on. From the beginning, a raw recruit can count on about $1 an hour for a 40-hour week.

So why aren’t the kids storming the doors down? Officials pound the highschool beat, talking up apprenticeship in speeches to the student body. And they shake their heads over the response.

Most of the boys in white bucks want jobs in white collars. They don’t care what the job is. so long as it pays enough to raise a fast down payment on a car.

The director of Ontario's apprenticeship branch, D. C. McNeill, describes a typical applicant — Tommy, just turned seventeen, anxious to quit high school, but with no clear idea of what he wants to do.

“Why do you want to be a tradesman, Tommy?” he asked the boy in his office.

"I want a car,” Tommy answered.

“If that’s all you're after,” McNeill said, “we’re not interested. You've got to be able to walk past the fellows at the corner drugstore and admit you haven’t got money for a car — and keep on admitting it for several years. If you make it as an apprentice you’ll be able to buy a new car, drive it round to the corner hangout and tell them, “I make $6,000 a year now — what are you guys making?” They'll still be getting $35, $40 a week — when they work.”

Labor officials who talk with such boys every day know that to many modern teenagers a car represents the pinnacle of human happiness. But the iron chariot isn’t the only thing that stands between many youngsters and the kind of training they should get. For some, there’s the cold, reproving stare that is mother. The bite of parental ambition is strong. As

Dr. Marynia F. Farnham, a psychiatrist and a parent, notes in her book The Adolescent. "Parents always hope that their children will exceed them in accomplishment and therefore in material rewards. The notion seems to be that the youngsters should expect to start where the parents left off. As often as not, this leads to a fantasy-like overvaluation of the child."

To many parents it’s apparently all right if Johnny quits high school, but if he apprentices as a metalworker doubt is cast upon his home environment. Worse, he would be working for his living, and to parents who have handed their children a padded way of life, this is unthinkable. These people should understand that it is an honorable thing to be a craftsman. And they need a clearer view of modern job opportunities. The trades haven't been presented well by labor officials or the schools: many

trained tradesmen work up to supervisory jobs for big firms, experience the thrill of seeing buildings rise, bridges lift their spans and industries advance because of their efforts. Some go into business for themselves and thrive because of their excellent training.

The kind of child labor I’m advocating doesn't condemn half our high - school population to the educational steppes. Almost every school system has an adult education program. If a young man working in his chosen trade wants to broaden his grasp of ideas, to flex his cultural muscles, he can choose from night-school courses, extension classes at a university, or home study through correspondence courses available from departments of education or Canadian universities.

It escapes me why so many educators clog the school curriculum with such catnip as bands and majorette corps in an attempt to keep kids in school. People who want to learn can go back to school at 24 or 84; at Sir George Williams University in Montreal. 6,000 workers are studying by night for their university degrees.

If child labor makes sense, then, why don't we put the kids who aren't studying to work? Teenagers aren't fragile — they're healthier, taller and heavier than any past generation. Yet we devote our time and energy to protecting them from every task, to the point where clergymen and social workers worry that young people now have little idea of the meaning of marriage and the goals of family living — and in another corner, a cluster of experts claim kids are dreamily unaware of the world of work.

As Dr. C. W. de Kiewiet, president of the University of Rochester, puts it, "We still are a child-centred society. A great deal of time, money and attention is devoted to the pleasurable play activities of childhood. Play encroaches upon the learning which is the preparation for adult life. We must become an adultcentred society. The work and responsibility of adult existence are so important that more of childhood must be used to ensure the effectiveness of this work and responsibility. Education must be a more serious and concentrated experience.”

For kids who don’t take high - school education seriously, let’s bring back child labor. On-the-job learning is the best education they can get.