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Exploring Child Labor with Young Students

By Kate Lyman

The next day we examined where our own clothing is made. Most students guessed their shirts were made in the United States "because that's the closest." Cassandra said that they must be made in the United States because people in other countries speak different languages and wouldn't be able to put English words on the shirts. Tara, however, said that most of the things around her house were made in China, so her shirt was probably made there, too. Then several others followed suit by guessing China. Evan, who has politically astute parents, was agonizing over the "right" answer. He tried to turn his shirt around to see the label. Prevented from doing that, he deduced that his shirt must be made in the United States because he got it in a public museum, rather than in a store. I directed students to find partners and read each other's labels, writing the countries' names on index cards. One at a time they read their cards, and we found the countries on the map. Although we had a fair share made in the United States (five out of 18), the students were surprised to discover that their shirts were made so far away, most in Asia and others in Central America. Evan's museum tshirt was made in Honduras. I asked the class why they thought that their shirts were made in countries so far away, instead of in the United States.

"Maybe they make them better there," someone guessed. "I guess the United States pays them to make them there," said another student. I told them that I had a video of a factory in Honduras where some shirts like the ones they had on were made, sewn by children 13 to 15 years old.

"What does your big sister do during the day," I asked MaiSee.

"She goes to school," she said.

"Well, these girls work in a factory, called a maquila or sweatshop, sewing shirts. As you watch the video, notice if they are getting their basic needs and rights met."

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