What is the Real Price of Cheap?

  Pattie Sloan and Joan Flora: two teachers challenging the status quo

Transformational classrooms allow the world into the curriculum and create open discussion about the world and its problems.  But moving beyond the problems, a transformational classroom creates change in the students as they address the problems that have created the global crisis they will face.  Transformational teaching creates a new paradigm for students, allowing them to see the world through different lenses, realizing they cannot always change the problem, but they can change themselves.  This will bring paradigm shiftincremental change, but sharing their knowledge to change problems with others will bring even greater change.  Simply put, by changing themselves, they are changing the face of the problem.  It is a paradigm shift in teaching.

So, when we continue our examination of poverty and its victims in our classroom, we need to have an open discussion with students about spending values.  Values?  Yes, there needs to be an open discussion on what they buy and who that purchase directly impacts.  We need discussions about what cheap means, not to us, but to those that are manufacturing our products.  Having this discussion will allow our students to understand that the very poverty we attempt to eradicate in our country, we are innocently, or maybe not so innocently, perpetuating in other countries. cheap

Our students are targeted and taught  consumerism at a very early age.  Consider the mall, their favorite hangout where the majority of the stores carry merchandise for teens.  From shirts to shoes, teen tastes are catered to, and oftentimes at very cheap prices.  The products may appear inexpensive to us, but somewhere across a great ocean, border, or maybe even a state, men, women, and children are working in inhumane conditions to supply our cheap.

The sweatshops and the horrible facts that detail their existence, is a topic that can be addressed in the classroom as we create compassionate global citizens through our curriculum.  Remembering America’s dark history with sweatshops, we also need to remember that they have not been eliminated.  The sweatshops are still here in the Unites States but have become clandestine operations where illegals are held against their will to provide the cheap merchandise we crave.  The above article documented the fact that in 1995, 72 illegal Thai men and women were found in a shop in El  Monte, California.  We like cheap, and as long as we continue to consume, manufacturers will find ways to provide us with their goods.

children in sweatshopsSo what is the human price for cheap?  This is where the classroom becomes a vehicle of education, social justice, and change.  This is where the transformation begins.  This classroom lesson does not teach against a certain product or brand name; this lesson is about creating a conscience consumer so they can become more ethical shoppers.  Through study they discover that they are both part of the problem and part of the solution.

IMG_1200 (1)Pattie links her lessons on sweatshops to her human trafficking projects.  Groups of students are assigned specific regions of the world to research, and the sweat- shops are a part of that research.  This again does not target a brand but rather a mindset we have, that as Americans, we have to have it if it is cheap. Through this exercise, Pattie makes her students confront the cost of cheap to humanity. t-shirt

Students need to be aware that the money they spend is not going to support the worker but rather a manufacturer and a corporation.  Learning about the workers who are employed in the factories, toiling in dangerous environments, students researched and will never forget the images  from the Bangladesh factory fire . And the poverty in many nations is so deep and ingrained in their culture that the sweatshop allows the workers little chance to break free from the cycle of poverty.  Pattie’s students research documents such as this  undercover report from in an investigative journalist about the time the author spent working in a sweatshop.  The article is horrifying, but what the students found most horrifying was that there was just enough information out there for the public to feel uncomfortable but not enough to do anything that will bring significant change.  And that is why students are such a great avenue to spread awareness and change.

This You Tube  demonstrates the conditions inside the world of sweatshops:

Pattie’s students, while preparing to teach at the local middle school, discovered an app for the phone called free world in the Google playstore.  IMG_1219 (1)It gives its users guidance in their shopping.  Here are some of its reminders:

  • What’s worse than an all- nighter?  An all-dayer on top it.  In order to meet holiday demands for toys, Chinese manufacturing plants force young girls to work at least 2 24 hour shifts
  • 80% of the clothing from Argentina is produced in clandestine factories
  • 10,000 Pakistani children under the age of 14 work 10 hours a day
  • SE Asia employs over 200,000 children to weave carpets

Pattie’s students found the time they spent preparing and presenting some of the most valuable time they had spent in a classroom.  One student commented:

I don’t buy insert BRAND NAME anymore-and I don’t let my family either.  This made me more aware because I didn’t know what the problem was real.  It thought it was like mythical.  Oh no, I thought, they are good companies, but when I realized how they abused their labor, it made me disappointed on how little has been told to us and what else is really out there.  They aren’t telling me how to avoid it! –Alexia Boaz


Transformational classrooms can happen and change the world.  Teachers need to embrace the potential of the curriculum and prepare to create change in the lives of their students, and as they do, their own lives will be magically transformed.




About Teaching it Forward

We are high school language arts teachers in Oregon.
This entry was posted in human trafficking, Literacy, Social Action, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s