Posts Tagged child labor
In honor of Labor Day, the Washington Post published an excellent feature on Lewis Hine, whose photography a century ago brought an end to ugly child labor practices. The Post’s cover photo, a Hine classic of a young textile mill worker, was the inspiration for my play, “Stolen Childhoods.”
If you’re unfamiliar with Hine’s work, be sure to read the Post article. In the late 1900’s, because there were no labor laws to prevent it or unions to defend against it, companies quit hiring adult men and instead hired children at a fraction of the cost. Both unemployment and illiteracy skyrocketed. Hine brought the practice “into the light” by surreptitiously gaining access to mines, factories, and farms and photographing children working long hours under deplorable conditions. He often convinced floor bosses that he was merely there to take pictures of the company’s “impressive” machinery. The children, he’d tell them, needed to be in the picture to provide a sense of scale. He was often threatened with violence, but his effort eventually paid off for the American worker, leading to labor laws that still exist today. Hine, however, died impoverished and with little fanfare.
My play, “Stolen Childhoods,” has been published in both Storyworks and Scope magazines. It follows Hine as he finagles his way into factories, and a trio of endangered siblings, whom he eventually photographs. Hine’s photographs are poignant and powerful; I’m hopeful I’ve captured a bit of that poignancy in my play. You can preview it or purchase it on my storefront at TeachersPayTeachers.
Allow me to conclude with a politically-charged statement: unions today have been vilified by politicians and corporate interests, but given their role defending the American worker, it seems more important than ever that young people know the history behind organized labor. The Post article, my play, and certainly the work of Lewis Hine go a long way in teaching that history.
I’ve heard horror stories. There’s one about a federal official who caught a band teacher photocopying sheet music. The school was fined $10,000 and the band director lost his job. True story? I don’t know, but it’s evident from the FBI warning at the beginning of that Bill Nye video I show every year that copyright infringement is serious stuff.
This got personal for me when the criminal underworld started pirating my plays, apparently in an attempt to turn a fast buck (which is ironic, given that I have yet to make a fast buck from writing these things). A thoughtful reader contacted me about it after discovering a site where my play, Stolen Childhoods, could be illegally downloaded.
I immediately went into sleuth mode, quickly tracking down the offending site, fully prepared to fire off a cease and desist e-mail or maybe even call the 1-800 number on that Bill Nye video. I quickly discerned, though, that the “criminal” was merely a middle school language arts teacher who’d posted my play online for her students to read as a homework assignment. Seemed innocent enough to me. Here was a hard-working middle school teacher using my work as the centerpiece of what looked like a pretty significant unit of study about child labor during the Great Depression. I was flattered. And yet, this did indeed represent a copyright infringement.
I’m a great fan of technology. I use it extensively with my own students, and I want to encourage others to do the same. But I suspect we could all use a little tutoring when it comes to copyright infringement. If you want to post one of my plays on your classroom website, go for it. However, please toss in a few safeguards. Consider password protecting your site, adding a watermark to the posted-PDF, and at the very least, including a highly-visible warning that ONLY your students have legal authorization to download (maybe one showing a big badge like they have on the FBI warning!).
Another reader recently asked me if I’d develop a play based on Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s THE Great American Novel as well as a significant player in the high school literary canon. Frankly, I’d love to craft a play around it.
But I can’t. It would be an infringement. Because To Kill a Mockingbird is still under copyright, without the permission of the copyright owner, I don’t have the right to sell any such adapt ion. This makes me wonder about a host of other reader’s theater scripts for sale on TpT. From Charlie Brown to Charlotte’s Web to Dr. Seuss…I wonder just how “legal” such products really are.
Know that every play I produce has been legally adapted. What’s more, most all of them have previously appeared in Scope and Storyworks, meaning my wonderful editors and diligent fact-checkers at Scholastic have gone over them with a magnifying glass and a copy of the Chicago Elements of Style.
All my plays also come with reproduction and performance rights. The original purchaser is licensed to print a full classroom set for use in his or her classroom once each year. And that same class is licensed to perform it, whether in the gym or the Performing Arts Center over on Ethel Merman Boulevard. That’s not the case with scripts appearing in most drama magazines or with plays available from theater publishers. Their terms require you to purchase expensive performance rights—even if you’re an underfunded school.
I didn’t ask that middle school teacher to remove my play from her site. I don’t want to discourage her from using my play or technology, and for the most part, her classroom site is difficult to find. My hope is that, like the reader who reported it to me, my customers will respect the copyright notice clearly printed on each play and purchase legal versions. To those of you who respect copyright, thank you!