What rights are granted by the First Amendment? The Second?
Odds are, the average high school student could give a halfway decent answer to those questions. Ask a student what their rights in the workplace are though, and you might be met with confusion.
Why is it that some rights are prioritized in our education over others? Why might we learn of our right to bear arms from a young age, but never learn that employer retaliation for union organizing activity is illegal?
The answer may be what education scholar Elliot Eisner calls the “null curriculum”–everything schools intentionally or unintentionally do not teach. What is left out of a curriculum, Eisner argues, is just as important as what is included. Rights in the workplace? They’re mostly in the null curriculum, and business groups have lobbied to keep them that way. That’s one reason rates of unionization have fallen despite rising worker desire for union representation.
Recently, youth environmental groups have begun to center labor concerns in their organizing. For example, the platform of Zero Hour includes “the transition of fossil fuel workers to clean, healthy, living wage jobs based on local sustainable economies and community.” The Sunrise Movement, too, uplifts workers rights as central to their organizing.
The labor movement is pushing to get worker rights education into the schools too. The American Labor Studies Center provides a wide range of resources, including teaching tools such as “Collective Bargaining for High School Students,” and Labor Day specific lesson plans developed by the American Federation of Teachers. A first-of-its kind labor history education law passed in Wisconsin in 2009, and a similar bill passed the Connecticut Legislature in 2015.
Leo Blain is Social Media and Online Community Manager for the Labor Network for Sustainability