Monday, May 30, 2005

The Candle in the Window

Memorial Day 2005

Nestled among the rolling hills of Western New York State lie a series of shimmering lakes known as the Finger Lakes, so named because they look like the five fingers of a had laying on the landscape.

Of the five, Canandaigua, a long, slender lake with rolling hills rising from either side, is the one nearest to my heart. My great-aunt Helen and her husband, my great-uncle Walt had a summer cottage along the eastern shore of the lake and I have many fond memories of the Saturdays we spent visiting my Aunt Helen and Uncle Walt during the summers of my childhood.

The city of Canandaigua lies about 35 miles southeast of Rochester. Today the trip between Canandaigua can be made in thirty minutes or less. However, when I was a child, the trip took considerably longer due to the lack of freeways.

The return trip on Saturday evening also had a treat for us. Although fatigued from a day of swimming, climbing the apple tree behind the cottage and hiking up the narrow dirt road, lined with wild blackberry and raspberry bushes, that led up the hill above the lake, we always managed to stay awake as the car made its way back home. When we reached the residential part of Canandaigua's Main St. we eagerly looked out the windows on the right side of the car seeking a glimpse of the house with the candle in the window.

The story of the house with the candle in the window was well known throughout the area in those days. My parents and Aunt and Uncle told us the story but it was also written up in the paper periodically as it made a great human interest piece.

Decades earlier, among the thousands of young men from our part of the Empire state who set out for France shouting the slogan Lafayette here we come!, was the young man who had grown up in that house. Along with prayers for his safe return, his parents lit candle and placed it in their front window each evening – a symbolic beacon to help him find his way home even in the dark of night. Nearly a half a century later, as we drove home from our Saturday outings, the candle still glowed brightly in the window of that home as that young man's aging parents continued the vigil that began with their son's departure.

By then the candle had ceased to be a beacon lighting the way for the son's return and had instead become a symbol of a parents' love for a son who had given his life for his country.

Of all the monuments and memorials that I have seen, this is the one that has left the biggest impression. With that single candle glowing in the window, night after night, year after year, decade after decade, the family kept alive the memory of their beloved son. Over the years thousands passed that solitary candle glowing in the window and, if only for a moment, shared with the family the human cost of keeping our nation free.

Click Here for Poem "In Flanders Fields"

Friday, May 27, 2005

Are Child Labor Laws Still Needed?

Periodically I include a question on an assignment or test that asks the student to state an opinion on some economic issue and back it up with facts. I don't care which side of the issue they take so long as they defend their position with facts.

For one of my classes last semester I followed a question about the Factory Acts passed by the British Parliament in the mid-19th century with this question:

In the nineteenth century the U.S. passed laws designed to protect women and children in the workplace by placing numerous restrictions on the types of work they could engage in, hours, etc. Like the Factory Acts in England the real motivation behind these laws was to increase the wages of men (on whom there were no work restrictions) by reducing the overall supply of labor. A century later the Woman's Movement in the U.S. succeeded in getting the laws restricting female labor repealed. But laws regulating child labor are still in effect. In your opinion, are the child labor laws necessary or could they be abolished as well? Why or Why not?

The answers I got were rather surprising.

This blunt statement was typical:

... I do not think that child labor should even be taking place at all, I think it is cruel and inhumanitary. If the Factory Acts decrease the labor of children, then I say that we should keep the Act for children.

A theme in almost all of the answers was the need for children to get an education and, in the minds of my students, education and child labor appear to be mutually exclusive in that if we allow children to work they won' be able to go to school.

... Plus a child should be getting a good education to develop skills needed to go out and be successful in a good job field.

... Children are our country's future, and getting the best education possible is the only thing they should be doing.

... If we didn't have these laws, young kids would be working,missing out on a decent education.

... Children should be allowed to go to school without the pressure to start working.

Safety was another major concern. I never realized that there was such a high demand for workers in dangerous jobs and that parents were so eager to capitalize on this by having their children work in these areas:

... If laws weren't in effect, children would work long hours, and might even be working around hazardous materials not suitable to protect child users.

... Lastly, it could be dangerous to child's health if he works strenuous hours, which could stunt growth or be dangerous to the child's health.

... A child is unable to rationalize the danger and will likely be taken advantage of.

And where are the parents in this?

... It also prevents families from taking advantage of their children by making them work for parents' income.

... With out these laws in effect parents would let their children be taken advantage of.

There was also some refreshingly honest, if somewhat reactionary, reasons which show that the desire of 19th century male workers to raise their wages by reducing the supply of labor through laws prohibiting child labor is alive and well among 21st century male and female students.

... By allowing younger children to work, there would be more demand for jobs, which would drive down the wages for the other general workers.

... Also, if children are part of the work force it would eliminate jobs for adults that need work.