On the day after Thanksgiving, 1960, Edward R. Murrow took Americans from their living rooms into the fields where hundreds of thousands of migrant laborers across the country worked harvesting the nation’s food. His documentary, “Harvest Of Shame,” aired on CBS, and was an in-depth look at the poverty suffered by migrant farm workers and their families. Many of them made $1 or less per day and lived in shacks.
When it came to the kind of education the children of migrant farmworkers received, it became clear they weren’t really getting any.
Education reporter Tennessee Watson of Wyoming Public Radio has been talking with parents in migrant families there and across the country about how their kids are doing in school. The conversations made her think of Edward R. Murrow and his documentary.
In the documentary, Murrow told audiences that migrant children weren’t staying in school.
“Approximately one out of every 500 children whose parents are still migrant laborers finishes grade school,” Murrow says in the documentary. “Approximately one out of every 5,000 ever finishes high school. And there is no case upon the record of the child of a migrant laborer ever receiving a college diploma.”
Tennessee Watson says those statistics were shocking to many Americans.
“My sense is that it hit [audiences] pretty hard,” she says of the documentary.
On this episode of the podcast, she talks with us about what migrant education is like 60 years after “Harvest of Shame.”
Just several years after it debuted, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Included was the Migrant Education Program (MEP) which allocated federal dollars to school districts that worked with and served migrant students. The program continues to this day and allows many schools to provide summer classes, after school programs, busses and teachers for these students.
Tennessee has spent months looking at the modern day impact of the MEP for the 300,000 students across the U.S. who rely on the programs that it funds.
She says not much has changed for migrant farm workers – they are still some of the lowest annual earners in the country and they do some of the most dangerous work – but a lot has changed for the educational opportunities of their children.
More and more kids who migrate with their parents for work are graduating from high school and going onto college. Watson says the MEP set a precedent and that because of it there’s, “a lot more hope for the students of farmworkers – that they can break that cycle of poverty and move on to another kind of work.”
On this episode of the Educate Podcast, we dive into the Migrant Education Program and what school is like for migrant students today.