Talking to Children About Current Events: Wisconsin Union Workers Unite!

| February 24, 2011

If you have been following the news, you have probably heard about the union workers’ protests in Madison, WI. Why are they protesting?  Scott Walker, the new governor of the state, plans to abolish collective bargaining for union workers. What this will do, essentially, is take away one of the only forms of power that these union workers have.

I started to think about this story and how I would love the opportunity to talk about something like this with a group of young students. I hope to teach fourth grade once finished here at TC, so I wanted to take this post to talk about how I would talk about this current event with nine-year old students.

First, kids need relevancy. And relevancy for children isn’t always what’s relevant for adults. Sometimes, what’s relevant to children might be a story tied to cute animals. That’s where a great book called Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type comes in. This book tells the story of a group of cows who find an old typewriter and use the machine to send letters to the farmer asking for electric blankets. The barn is cold at night, and they want to be comfortable in their home.

This story is something that could get children talking about fairness and equality: if the farmer can be warm in his house then why can’t the cows be comfortable in their barn, the equivalent of housing for them?

After talking to the kids about these super-smart cows I would move on to ¡Si, Se Puede! / Yes, We Can!: Janitor Strike in L.A. After learning about how cows exercised their rights for heat in the barn, I think it could be a natural next step to talk about people wanting rights at work. This story can be especially relevant for children since it is told through the voice of one of the worker’s sons.

After reading this story and discussing the implications of  the 2000 janitors’ strike in L.A. I think I will have laid the groundwork to have a good discussion with my students. From there I would introduce the story in Madison to the students and ask what they think. Where we go from there could be very interesting. I have some ideas for assignments:

  • Go home and ask a family member what they know about the strike in Madison, WI.  Ask whether anyone in your family has ever been part of a union. Report back to the class with your answers.
  • Pretend you are the child of a union member in Madison, WI. How do you feel? Write a letter to Gov. Walker explaining how his actions will affect you and your family. Be specific and give examples of how you feel and how these actions will affect you and your family.
  • Pretend that Carlitos is your classmate. What would you say to him if you knew that his mother was part of the big strike in L.A.?
  • Pretend you are a sheep and also sleep in the barn. Would you agree with the cows? Why or why not?

Some of these assignments are obviously “take home” and some are for in-class work. I’m sure that many more assignments could grow out of these books, but the main point I would hope to make for the children is that organizing is the right of anyone who works and is widely used by unions. My main goal, above all, would be to create informed citizens. If my students leave feeling that Gov. Walker is in the right at least I helped to show them that there are two sides to this coin.