According to Labor historian, Mark Naison, the movement of workers that began in Wisconsin and is now spreading to other states is “the most important labor struggle in the United States in the 21st Century.”
The current uprising of workers in Wisconsin and other states presents a powerful opportunity to teach students about what the protests are about, the process of making laws, and why some teachers and neighbors are joining the struggle. It’s an opportunity to critically examine issues, and to model for students responsible civic action and engagement in the political process. Teachers should approach issues at a developmentally appropriate level and make sure that multiple perspectives are presented, allowing students to form their own opinions based on an understanding of facts and history.
As members of teacher unions, we have an additional responsibility, summarized by the late Howard Zinn in an interview published in Transforming Teacher Unions:
“If teacher unions want to be strong and well-supported, it’s essential that they not only be teacher unionists but teachers of unionism. We need to create a generation of students who support teachers and the movements of teachers for their rights.”
In December of 2009, Assembly Bill 172 was signed into law, making Wisconsin the first state to require the incorporation of “the history of organized labor in America and the collective bargaining process” into the state standards for social studies.