December 8, 2011

Was Gingrich Right About Putting Kids to Work?

By By Andrew J. Rotherham

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Newt Gingrich has a penchant for saying provocative and often downright crazy things. When the former House Speaker gave a lecture at Harvard last month, calling child labor laws “truly stupid” and suggesting that low-income kids should be required to do some manual labor in their schools, it was a classic Gingrich proposal: over-the-top, totally tone-deaf, and way too broad in scope. But it also was not entirely wrong. Although his specifics are often bewildering, it’s hard to deny that Gingrich has a knack for spotting trends in education…

… Still, in the education reform community, Gingrich’s latest salvo was greeted with a shrug. Sure, his blanket indictment of the work habits of poor kids was obnoxiously broad, but the idea that schools should systematically teach life skills is considered a no-brainer. Many schools already do a little of this through service projects and activities. On-site gardens are also becoming an increasingly popular strategy to teach students good dietary habits as well as values like responsibility and caring. Other schools give students work experiences during the summer, and some assign tasks to students such as giving tours to prospective parents or — nod to Newt — cleaning up a little.

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