"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Course on Consumer Capitalism in 20 Minutes

While the education testing industry pushes the size of children's textbooks to limits that will surely surpass the ability of children to carry them on their backs (children's roller boards on Aisle 9), the crisis that is global warming remains a sidebar within the crowded compendiums of more desiccated facts served up in ways most often devoid of meaning. Reform schoolers win again.

So as it becomes increasingly clear for schools to matter, we must take school beyond the no-excuses-no-brains confines where untrained line supervisors wheedle and intimidate their charges to higher and more meaningless production scores in order to get paid. Today's entry: The Story of Stuff, which offers more in 20 minutes on consumer capitalism than children will get in 12 years of classroom neglect. The story of The Story of Stuff from the NYTimes:

The thick-lined drawings of the Earth, a factory and a house, meant to convey the cycle of human consumption, are straightforward and child-friendly. So are the pictures of dark puffs of factory smoke and an outlined skull and crossbones, representing polluting chemicals floating in the air.

Which is one reason “The Story of Stuff,” a 20-minute video about the effects of human consumption, has become a sleeper hit in classrooms across the nation.

The video is a cheerful but brutal assessment of how much Americans waste, and it has its detractors. But it has been embraced by teachers eager to supplement textbooks that lag behind scientific findings on climate change and pollution. And many children who watch it take it to heart: riding in the car one day with his parents in Tacoma, Wash., Rafael de la Torre Batker, 9, was worried about whether it would be bad for the planet if he got a new set of Legos.

“When driving by a big-box store, you could see he was struggling with it,” his father, David Batker, said. But then Rafael said, “It’s O.K. if I have Legos because I’m going to keep them for a very long time,” Mr. Batker recalled.

The video was created by Annie Leonard, a former Greenpeace employee and an independent lecturer who paints a picture of how American habits result in forests being felled, mountaintops being destroyed, water being polluted and people and animals being poisoned. Ms. Leonard, who describes herself as an “unapologetic activist,” is also critical of corporations and the federal government, which she says spends too much on the military. . . .


  1. I'm glad to see "The Story of Stuff" come around again. I featured it as the grand finale of my first-ever blog post last year, shortly after it was released.


    By the way, tonight I am hosting my first public schools' salon (along the lines of those Gertrude Stein held in Paris for the artists). Caroline G. is coming from across the bay, along with a selection of education thinkers from Oakland. Only time will tell if it takes off to become a regular event.

    If you ever plan a trip to the Bay Area, let us know; we would love to have you as our special guest!

  2. It's a great vid. I have shown it to my 2nd graders each year for the last 2 years. They get it!