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Gingrich: Changing Child Labor Laws Would Improve Schools

By Alyson Klein — November 22, 2011 1 min read

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, now a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, has risen fast in the polls lately.

So how does he want to address the problems of poor students stuck in underperforming schools? At least, in part, by changing child labor laws.

In a speech at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Gingrich said that society is “crippling [disdvantaged kids] by putting them in schools that fail. [This] has done more to create income inequality in the United States than any other single policy.”

His solution: Overhaul child labor laws which are “truly stupid. We say to someone, you shouldn’t go to work before you’re what, 14, 16 years of age? Fine. You’re totally poor. You’re in a school that’s failing, with a teacher that’s failing. I tried for years to have a very simple model. Most of these schools oughta get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor, and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work. They would have cash. They’d have pride in the schools. They’d begin the process of rising. ... Get any job that teaches you to show up on Monday.”

Questions abound: Is having students do janitorial work—before they turn 14— the best way to improve foundering schools? Could students really handle being near so many cleaning products? What about those mop and soap fights in the hallway?

Gingrich clarified his comments to the Washington Post, saying, “I’m not suggesting that they drop out of school and become janitors, I’m talking about working 20 hours a week and being empowered to succeed.”

That begs another question: Do the high school teachers out there think their kids would be able to balance 20 hours of work with school?

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