Monday, September 11, 2006

Mark Gerson

I was reading Mark Gerson's In the Classroom: Dispatches from an Inner-City School That Works, which is about his year teaching at a Jersey City Catholic school. (This is the same Mark Gerson who is now with the Gerson Lehrman Group.)

I found this bit interesting:
Because they worked hard and wanted and expected to work hard as adults, my students took an almost instinctive interest in money and economics. One of the parts of the Constitution that captivated them was the interstate commerce clause, because it allowed the government to limit the number of hours they could work. I did not expect to spend much time on this, but the students were fascinated by the idea that the federal government could regulate working conditions in a Jersey City restaurant on the basis of the fact that the tablecloth was made in New York. I was surprised that this point generated significant ire among my students. Carmen reacted first: "No one should tell me how much I should work except my mother. How does Bill Clinton know how much money we need or how many hours I can work and do well in school?

Walt added, "She be right, yo. And if I ain't workin', you think I'm studyin'? No. I am out with my boys."

Every student who commented on the interstate commerce clause agreed with these assessments. The unanimity was striking, but so was the fact that most students did not allow themselves to become too upset in light of what they considered a grievous violation of their liberty. Why? Because, as Charles told me, no one paid any attention to these laws. He had worked sixty hours a week in a restaurant for several years, and no one had ever threatened to stop him. Moreover, Charles added, it was not just small businesses that do not keep official records; his younger brother had worked similar hours in a branch of a large supermarket chain, and no one had bothered him, either. I would never have thought of it before, but now I would not be surprised if statutes restricting the number of hours teenagers work are the most violated laws in the city, and there is nothing the government can do about it.



Blogger IntReviewer said...

In the Classroom is a great book. Inner-city teachers can use the reminder that economics is a great subject with which to interest students. Just keep it practical.

6:07 PM  

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