GCC 3035/5035

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Child Labor: Work, Education, and Human Rights in Global Historical Perspective

It seems obvious that we should oppose child labor. Or should we? This course challenges students to think critically about the many angles that need to be considered in deciding whether any particular type of children's work should be opposed or permitted. Drawing on contemporary and historical scholarship in the interdisciplinary arena of childhood and youth studies, this course takes on ethical as well as economic analyses; it reflects upon child development and legal perspectives; it examines cases ranging across the globe and across recent centuries. It may very well change the way you think about kids, forever. Historians find evidence of many different kinds of "childhoods," as well as changing notions of what work is appropriate for children. Coming from social-scientific and policy studies approaches, analysts and critics of contemporary global policies affecting child labor argue that the presumed superiority of “modern Western childhood” needs rethinking. This course will also look at tensions between the presumption that schooling should be the only or primary occupation of childhood years and competing ideas child labor can be valuable and justifiable in many settings including, for example, American farm families. Looking at child labor from comparative global and historical perspectives will encourage and enable students to address some important questions: What types of “work” have children done in various modern historical and contemporary settings? When and how is work arguably bad, or good, for children and their families? Under what conditions is schooling better than work, or vice-versa? Who gets to decide “what’s best for children”? How should governments intervene, and how does intervention differ when children work for their family as opposed to other employers? What forms of regulatory measures or political activism have changed policies and practices regarding child labor in the past and present?