Hurry to the Shucking Shed: Child Labor in Mississippi and the Visual Discovery Strategy

February 1, 2018

By Dr. Paul E. Binford
President, Mississippi Council of the Social Studies

Often before 3 am, the whistles blew along the gulf coast, from the Florida Panhandle to Louisiana, summoning “piece-work” laborers—many of them children—to the damp and darkened drudgery of the shucking sheds.  The night’s harvest would arrive in the wee hours of the morning and then was offloaded from the fishing boats onto mini-train cars where the oysters were steamed before being shucked (opening the oyster shell and removing the oyster meat or bivalve) for canning. 

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To minimize spoilage, the oysters had to be processed promptly, which often meant shuckers had to work long days in excess of twelve hours—until the night’s harvest was completed.  In the early years of the twentieth century, the largest canneries were in Biloxi, Mississippi—the “Seafood Capital of the World.”

In last week’s blog entry (Child Labor in Mississippi and the Visual Discovery Strategy (Part 1), I noted some child labor photographic resources and then provided a brief overview of the Visual Discovery strategy, as developed by the Teachers’ Curriculum Institute.  As you will recall, the Visual Discovery strategy involves five discrete and carefully sequenced steps that guide students to higher levels of thinking.  Steps one and two are preparatory and completed by the teacher; steps three through five directly involve students.  However, the heart of this strategy is the third step.

STEP THREE:  Ask carefully sequenced questions that lead to discovery.

This step involves asking a series of spiraling questions beginning with gathering evidence, then interpreting the evidence, and, finally, making hypotheses.  As has been described in Making Thinking Visible, this aspect of image analysis moves students from “guessing” or “unsubstantiated opinions” to a responsible handling of the image by “discerning what is relevant in a particular context” (2011, pp. 56 & 58).  Using the child labor image above (Lewis W. Hine photograph, Biloxi Mississippi, 1911:  Courtesy of the Library of Congress), here is one example of how these questions might be structured:

Gathering Evidence (at this level of questioning all students should be able to participate): 

  1. What details do you see in this image? Give me one detail that you see?
  2. What are people wearing in this image? Give me one detail that you see?
  3. What do you notice about the interior of this building? Give me one detail that you see?

Interpreting Evidence (students must provide at least one piece of evidence to support their answer to this level of questioning):

  1. What do you think is happening in this scene?
  2. Where might this scene have taken place?
  3. What do you think is the approximate date of this scene?

Making a Hypothesis (students must provide at least two pieces of evidence to support their answer to this level of questioning):

  1. Why are there predominately women and children in this image?
  2. Why aren’t the children in this image at school?

For more information about this Lesson Launch blog entry, other engaging strategies, and speaking engagements or professional development, please contact the author at: theringoftruth@outlook.com

Paul BinfordComment