Should I Ask If Kid President Is an Unpaid ‘Acting Intern’?

I subscribed to Upworthy‘s RSS feed a while ago when friends kept linking me there to see things I thought were worth seeing. It seemed only reasonable to, in turn, pop on over to SoulPancake when I realized I’d seen their logo on a lot of the Upworthy video links I’d liked.

While I was looking for SoulPancake’s RSS feed, however, I happened on the news section which is currently topped with this:

We are looking for smart, friendly, hard-working people to help us around the SoulPancake office. Interns must be students, currently enrolled in a degree-granting program at an accredited university. Interns should be able to commit to a minimum of 10 hours per week, and up to 20 hours, for a minimum of 3 months. Internships are unpaid, but spaces are limited.

Emphasis mine. Look, I’m not harping directly on unpaid internships, mind you. However, there are very specific legal guidelines regarding what those have to entail. You can download a pdf of the full regulations here or hit the Department of Labor’s fact sheet online here, but for now we’ll just use the compact list:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

Numbers 3 and, especially, 4 are the most relevant here. Pointing to only the elements in the responsibilities lists which seem most noteworthy:

  • Business Development interns have to do brand and advertisement research and set up meetings / calls.
  • Community Engagement interns are supposed to not only moderate, but initiate conversation threads on the site and on YouTube.
  • Graphic Design interns will “conceptualize and design graphics,” as well as “[p]hotograph and illustrate for various projects.”
  • UI Interns will be “Designing real-world phone apps and websites that will be used by thousands.”
  • Marketing interns are tasked with building contact lists, developing content lists, creating marketing materials, and if none of that is explicit enough for you, they get a separate line item which literally says “create original content.”
  • I just … look: whether you agree with the law or not, I think it’s pretty explicit. When you have people performing your primary business for you, you simply no longer get to pretend you don’t have a business relationship with an unpaid intern.

    Trying to do so is especially uncomfortable if you’re the kind of business which is building its brand around pep talks to teachers and students with taglines like “What are you teaching the world?”

    Crossing the Graduation Line

    A friend posted a link to an article by Dennis Hong on teaching. It’s from a few years ago, called The Hardest Job Everyone Thinks They Can Do. It’s a lot of stuff I’ve read and agreed with multiple times, but the interesting thing about this particular article is the background of the author, who made the choice to move from molecular biologist to high school biology teacher:

    When I decided to make the switch from “doing” science to “teaching” science, I found out that I had to go back to school to get a teaching credential.

    “What the f—?!?,” I screamed to any friends willing to put up with my griping. “I have a Ph.D.! Why do I need to go back to get a lousy teaching credential?!?”

    I was baffled. How could I, with my advanced degree in biology, not be qualified to teach biology?!

    Lest I wind up mischaracterizing the author, he’s describing himself above prior to any interaction with teaching or certification. He quickly points out just how wrong-headed his indignation was. I quote that particular section, though, because it got me thinking.

    I’ve always found it odd that there’s a very distinct line in the sand, between high school and college, when all the rules about what qualifies someone to teach become a bit up-ended. Hong’s final observation above would be completely accurate should he have chosen to teach college freshmen instead of high school seniors. As soon as I finished my MFA, I was technically qualified to take on a professor gig at a college (discounting the ridiculous paucity of available positions, of course), but was under-qualified for any secondary education positions in the same field.

    And to be fair, the opposite is (sort of) true. Several secondary ed teaching friends that I know have stories about either winding up teaching something they have only passing familiarity with, or about others bypassing them to take jobs for which they have a stronger subject background. Usually these seem to have to do with some of the byzantine rules regarding seniority and transfers within school systems. All the teachers are baseline qualified for whichever subjects they’re teaching, I should add, but their placement isn’t necessarily predicated on the breadth or depth of their subject knowledge, but rather their education pedigree.

    This isn’t an attempt to talk down educators at all, regardless of their milieu. I taught to make my way through grad school, and I found it miserable in a lot of ways. I’m not built to handle classrooms, especially not classrooms with people who aren’t particularly interested in learning what I have to teach. That’s a very specific skill, and I’m over the moon in support of people honing that skill into craft and being good teachers, regardless of subject. Likewise, I think educational skills can only be improved when a teacher has a deep knowledge of a given subject, above and beyond what the curriculum would require. In other words: if you teach, you’re already my hero, and this isn’t about saying that some of you aren’t held to proper standards or some other No Child Left Behind nonsense.

    I’m not trying to cast aspersions on either requirement structure, but to wonder a little bit at how immediately those structures shift. In the course of a summer, students apparently stop needing people whose background focuses on educational needs and start needing people with an especially rigorous background (and, in most collegiate academia, extensive bibliography) in the subject.

    I’m sure part of that has to do with the fact that college is ostensibly a voluntary educational track, though the current job market seems to think otherwise. And, as is sadly true with a lot of things in education, I expect another large part of it has to do with drawing arbitrary lines because those make easier laws. Still, it’s something that’s always sort of itched at the back of my head.

    That, or there’s another mosquito in the house.