You Think School is Hard Work?

By 10th grader Eric

On Wednesday, October 10, the Division 3 students went on a field trip to Lowell Mills in Lowell, Massachusetts. As part of the Industrial Revolution unit, students learn about how 19th century factories worked, and what life was like for the workers both before and during the revolution. My experience going to Lowell Mills was very different from what I had expected. I had expected to walk through museum galleries for hours, looking at photographs, documents, and scaled-down models. The experience was much more than just a museum. For the first part of the day, we experienced the “Workers on a Line” program. This program was designed to simulate a 19th century factory. We dressed up in aprons and clocked in. Each of us was assigned a position on an assembly line, making “tea towels.” It was very difficult and stressful work, containing faulty machinery, low pay (we were paid in “Boott Bucks,” named after mill owner Kirk Boott), and a very strict boss! In the end, we formed a union and negotiated better working conditions. I am a strong believer that the best learning comes from experience, and the simulation certainly supplied that.

After having lunch, we walked through a museum for about 15 minutes. The museum was nothing like I was expecting. There were full-scale machines that had been in industrial factories, as well as plenty of hands-on activities, so visitors could try their hand at the type of work that was done in the factories. One of the final parts was what really did it for me. Before we left, we passed through a functional factory floor. The first thing that hit me was the noise. There were about a hundred machines in the room, and there were only about 15 running, but it sounded to me like all 100 were running! I can’t imagine what the sound must have been like when the factory was fully operational. What also fascinated me was the complexity of the machines. Each machine was a huge mass of belts, gears, and metal. Although the machinery was entirely automated, just seeing the machines made me imagine what it would be like working there, with constant noise, cramped workspaces, and dangerous complex machines. Overall, the experience of being at the mills helped me gain insight about workers during the industrial revolution, much more so than learning about the same concepts from a textbook or in a quiet classroom. Lowell is something you have to see – and hear – to believe.