Who Makes Our Things? Teaching About the Global Economy

T-Shirts, IPhones and blue jeans–objects most of my grade 7 students own, love and rely on. Thus, after a long New England winter, I could think of a no better way to captivate and re-charge their minds than through exploring the production of these goods in the global economy. As one reluctant learner said to me after class, “I am so into what we are studying.” Another commented, “These are things we never think about but always should.” Studying our things lends itself to high levels of critical thinking, grasping key economic concepts, making connections, and pondering one’s own place and responsibility in the world.

For the t-shirt, I relied on the 5-chapter NPR Planet Money Makes A T Shirt short video clips. The videos start on a Mississippi cotton farm,  introduce us to the workers and factories in Bangladesh and Colombia, explore the measurements and movements of the cargo container, and follow the shipment of goods around the globe. They introduce us to the humans responsible in all levels of production. At only about 6-minutes each, these videos are thought provoking, easy to follow, and cover a myriad of concepts to both engage and challenge students. To keep their minds active while watching, I asked students to take fill-in notes on a worksheet I had prepared which allowed them to capture and recall details to support our discussion.

After the videos, I exercised their listening comprehension muscles by playing two NPR stories:  Two Sisters, A Small Room and the World Behind a T-Shirt which looks at the lives of two sisters who work in a factory in Bangladesh, and The Afterlife of American Clothes which explores the second-hand clothing markets of Sub-Saharan Africa, which receive over a billion pounds of clothing from the US. The students were riveted to the introduction of the story, which mentions how one man donated his t-shirt to a Goodwill in Miami and five months later, when he was working in Sierra Leone, saw an ice cream vendor wearing his shirt. Both of these stories pulled in the attention of my students who thought critically about geography and the role of the global economy on the lives of all involved.

To help us explore the I Phone, we watched and discussed Inside the Apple Factory from ABC News, as well as NYU Student Goes Undercover in Apple Factory as well as looked at what is in an cell itself in Why It Takes 75 Elements to Make Your Cell Phone.

Lastly, to examine our blue jeans, we watched a documentary called China Blue which explores the movement of millions of villagers to factories in cities in China. The film focuses on a young girl named Jasmine who makes the hard journey to support her family and their farm. Viewers are invited into a rare look at a blue jean factory that makes clothes for the global market, and can examine the different points of responsibility from multinational companies, the factory owner, the government and the consumer. I show the film in 3 parts, stopping for discussion, and leaving room at the end of each part for small groups to discuss specific questions. The groups then share out their ideas to the larger class.

As there are so many products to explore and so many resources available, I invite your  input. How do you teach concepts of globalization? What activities allow for our youth to understand where our goods come from, basic economic principles, and what our role as consumers is to the global economy?

Democracy and Social Justice

“Democracy is not a state. It is not some high plateau that we struggle to reach so we can finally settle down to rest. Democracy is an act. It is an act that requires participation, organization and dedication to the highest principles. It is an act, and a series of actions that require us to continuously verify our commitment to civil rights and social justice at every challenge.”Rep. John Lewis Reflections on a Dream Deferred

It is 2018, and seemingly now more than ever, our nation is rediscovering the true meaning of our fragile democracy. It is the American classroom perhaps, that now finds itself at the center of the fight for social justice, for it is there that teachers find themselves inundated daily with the need to undo the social damage caused by the ignorant words and deeds of our current politicians. Our classrooms are at the front lines as our students try to make sense of things our political leaders say, and it is our collective responsibility to help our youth learn how to come to their own understandings, find the truth through research, and articulate their own political and social views. As Rep. John Lewis writes, “Democracy is an act…that requires participation, organization and dedication to the highest principles.”

Not just on Martin Luther King day, but everyday, our classrooms need to teach and model the connection between democracy and social justice.  We must ask the essential question: How  is standing up against racism and injustice a democratic obligation? And we must model this connection through our own actions, our treatment of those in our school-wide communities, and also in the curriculum we design for our youth.

“Now I realize that there are those all over who are telling us that we must slow up. … But we cannot afford to slow up. We have a moral obligation to press on. We have our self-respect to maintain. But even more we can’t afford to slow up because of our love for America and our love for the democratic way of life. … We must keep moving. We must keep going.”
–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
From “The Montgomery Story,” an address to the 47th annual NAACP Convention, San Francisco, June 27, 1956

For resources on Martin Luther King, Jr. visit the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, where you can find  papers, documents and video, a liberation curriculum, as well as  a collection of lesson plans for teachers of all grade levels.

Or try one of the 8 extension activities from this lesson: Dr King and the Movement from Teaching Tolerance for a unique way to explore, celebrate and question the progress made since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.