Wisconsin law requires teaching of history of organized labor
Protesters rally against a bill that would cut public workers' collective bargaining rights.
February 25th, 2011
01:39 PM ET

Wisconsin law requires teaching of history of organized labor

Public school teachers have been among the loudest voices protesting inside and outside the Wisconsin state capitol in Madison over Gov. Scott Walker's proposals for dealing with the state’s budget problems - specifically his legislation to limit public workers' collective bargaining rights.

Here’s a piece of irony: Wisconsin law requires that public school students be taught the history of organized labor. The kids certainly are getting a real-time lesson in the subject.

Some teachers who left their classrooms and hit the bricks in defense of their ability to organize and negotiate contracts likely are those who teach the history of the labor movement to students in those same classrooms.

Wisconsin Assembly Bill 172, passed by Democrat-controlled state legislature, was signed into law by then-Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, in December 2009.

The law requires teachers to include instruction in “the history of organized labor and the collective bargaining process.”

The state’s Department of Public Instruction website reads: “Wisconsin has long been a leader in labor rights. The Progressive Movement, which had its beginnings in our state, led to laws limiting child labor and safety in the workplace. Unions such as the AFL-CIO and Teamsters allow us to enjoy an eight-hour work week and vacation time. In fact, it has been argued by some historians that the history of the United States itself could be a history of labor.”  The DPI site notes that the law made Wisconsin the first state in the nation to include the history of organized labor as part of state standards for teaching social studies.

Teachers are referred to websites for the Educational Communications Board Surf Report on Labor History, Wisconsin Historical Society Labor Collections and Wisconsin Labor History Society.

The Wisconsin Labor History Society offers teachers outlines to help them present the subject. “Workers and unions helped to make our nation great and to create our standard of living, with top wages and benefits for all workers. There were many struggles facing workers in reaching these goals. This presentation will discuss some of those struggles and identify the major gains of early workers and their unions. ...

Today, the United States is the richest country on earth. By most standards, U.S. earnings permit the vast majority of us to enjoy the highest standards of living. Most families have cars, sometimes two or three, televisions, refrigerators and their children have access to boom boxes, CDs, computers and cell phones.”

Back in April 2009, when then-historical society President Kenneth Germanson testified before the state legislature in support of the bill, he recounted the contributions by organized labor to American society. “But who is aware of this today?” Germanson asked. “Very few persons, and it’s a result of an education system that has overlooked a key part of American history. It’s precisely this omission that AB 172 seeks to overcome.”

Some politically conservative blogs are now calling to repeal AB 172.

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Filed under: Education • History • Labor • Politics • Protest • Wisconsin
soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. jim s

    Work your way thru school- repay your loans -live the middle class life. Then have a governor tell you your not worth the money you earn, So you have to take a pay cut – give up your benefits – have no bargaining rights all of this and more so the corporations can have another tax break sound fair to you
    it sounds like a tax increase on middle america to me

    February 26, 2011 at 10:10 am | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Solrac

    This issue in Wisconsin is perfect example of the Republicans stronghold on the American people: with the economy flat-lining, and Americans unsure about the future there are Republicans begging to take away workers rights–and for that matter our civil liberties with the Patriot Act.

    It's a Brave New World when we beg and smile while our so called leaders stab us in the back. And worst of all, there is no coverage on this. Wisconsin isn't making headlines. I had to dig a little to find this article. So for all of you who want to dissolve our freedoms and rights: you'll be back with your pickets in hand, but at that time it will be too late because at this specific point you did nothing about it; you even begged your leaders to make your world a living hell.

    February 26, 2011 at 10:31 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. JabbaLawmakerTheHutt

    Ahh zee wah oo wonki chewbacca.. 30 35.. Ahahaha Oh ho ho ho...

    February 26, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Tomtom Chantchant

    Yeah, who wants to study math and science all day. BORING!

    February 27, 2011 at 12:27 am | Report abuse | Reply
  5. MannyHM

    Without a union you wouldn't stand a chance against management. One by one 'troublemaker' will be vanished. You'll be sorry if union will be gone or weakened totally. Of course unions can become power hungry also; in that case they should be corrected.

    February 27, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Cesar

    Math and science are cool

    February 28, 2011 at 12:06 am | Report abuse | Reply
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