Today I finished re-reading the great Chapter Ten of Capital, "The Working Day." It is in this chapter that the clouds of mystification lift and the brutal reality of the factory system is revealed through the reports of the Parliamentary Factory Inspectors, most notably Leonard Horner. It is here as well that we see the fruits of the endless hours Marx spent in the British Museum poring over volume after volume.
The challenge for me will be to help the students to see the connection between these stories of twelve, fourteen, eighteen hour days of grinding labor by children as young as nine and the world we live in now, where such labor, for the most part, has been "outsourced" so that it is out of sight and hence out of mind. Part of my problem is achieving some sort of historical perspective in students who, after all, can only barely recall an American president before Obama.
I am reminded of my startling experience in a required graduate seminar I taught at UNC several years ago in the Public Policy Department, "Normative Dimensions of Public Policy." One day, a propos I no longer recall what, I referred in passing to Gilbert and Sullivan, only to discover that not a single one of these intelligent, lively, socially committed students had ever even heard of Gilbert and Sullivan. In particular, I must provide for my students some understanding of how much has been lost in the past two generations of the gains that American workers won through struggle in the nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries.
Marx does not make things easy for the reader. There are page-long footnotes in tiny print that are really an essential part of the book. I must motivate the students to read all of it, not just the highlights. Somehow I think spot quizzes are not the answer.
More and more I am coming to believe that this will be, at least for me, a truly memorable teaching experience.