In 1909, a factory inspector in Chicago wanted to know why children worked. So she asked some 500 teenage workers what would they do if their fathers had good jobs: Go to school or work in a factory? She was surprised when the vast majority chose work over school, but the young workers had their reasons:

“Because you get paid for what you do in a factory.”

“Because it’s easier to work in a factory than ‘tis to learn in school."

"You never understands what they tells you in school, and you can learn right off to do things in a factory.”

“They ain’t always pickin’ on you because you don’t know things in a factory.”

“The boss he never hits yer, er slaps yer face, er pulls yer ears, er makes you stay in at recess.”

" I couldn't learn."

“The children don’t holler at ye and call ye a Christ-killer in a factory.”

“They don’t call ye a Dago.”

“They’re good to you at home when you earn money.”

“You can go to the nickel show.”

“You can buy shoes for the baby.”

“What ye learn in school ain’t no good. Ye git paid just as much in the factory if ye never was there. Our boss he never went to school.”

"They hits ye if ye don't learn, and they hits yer if ye whisper . . . and they hits ye if yer late, and they hits ye if ye ferget the page."

Do these answers surprise you? What do they tell you about the school system? What do they tell you about these workers and their goals?

[Source: Helen M. Todd, "Why Children Work: The Children’s Answer," McClure’s Magazine 40 (April 1913): 68-79]       MORE