At exactly 10 o’clock today 100 years ago, New Orleans debated on being the first city in Louisiana to create a part-time school program for its teenage workforce.
The Retail Merchant Bureau of the Association of Commerce (now called the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce) held a meeting the morning of November 19th, 1918 to discuss the establishment of an education program for boys and girls ages 14 to 18 who were already in the labor force.
The businessmen employing these children planned on using money from a new government program designed originally for vocational education. Congress passed the Smith-Hughes National Vocational Education Act of 1917 to provide money to states for the creation of trade schools in agriculture, industry, and home making. Employers would use this program to provide a “plan for education” for their young employees. In order to learn core subjects like math and english, but also classes geared towards a vocational training. Their employer could help choose their vocation by assessing their skills in their current position. The Times Picayune covers a story on this plan, explaining that the goal is to create “not only… better citizens, but to benefit in a direct sense employes who will be better equipped to discharge their business duties.”
The target of this plan was to create a competent and educated workforce. The committee introducing the part-time schooling plans on instructing working teenagers 3 hours a week, summing up to about 144 hours in the school year. To put this into perspective, the Center for Public Education stated that “most [states] require between 175 to 180 days of schools and/or between 900 to 1,000 hours of instructional time per year, depending on the grade level.” So, 14 to 18 year olds which should have been in high school were getting less than 15% of the schooling students today get!
It sounds alarming, but one must give context to every situation especially a century ago! One prefers a 14 year old kid to be a full-time student rather than a less than part-time student, but 1918 was still in a period where child labor was overwhelmingly common. One also might prefer a student to get a well-rounded education rather than an education that will keep them where they are. However, any education is welcome. The plan discussed 100 years ago today gave hard working teenagers a chance to benefit themselves and their community.