Monday, May 19, 2008

Susan Graham: Not Your Mother's Home Ec Teacher

When my mother went to high school, the class was called Home Economics and the goal was to make efficient, modern housewives out of every young woman in the room. By the time I went to high school, Home Economics was insulting and starting to be phased out. But as Family and Consumer Science (FACS), the course is more than sewing and dish cleaning -- it's history, social studies, Web 2.0 tools, economics, global studies and critical thinking, especially in the hands of Susan Graham, who has taught FACS for 25 years. She writes at A Place at the Table about an excellent FACS lesson centered on the labels inside her students' shirts.

For a week, Graham's eighth graders looked at the labels in their shirts and marked the country where each was made on a map using sticky notes. As the stickies accumulated in China and Central America, students were confronted with the question "Why?":
A quick look at the stickie-infested map makes it clear that clothing construction is concentrated in China and surrounding nations and in Central America. Why? Because clothing construction is low tech, requires minimal infrastructure, and the work force is usually women and children. A quick Internet search indicates that the average wage in many of these countries is less than $5,000 a year and that, in many cases, children younger than my students are working six-day weeks to produce those clothes.
Conversations and Internet searches about social justice, child labor, outsourcing, the U.S. trade deficit, and the economy in southwest Virginia, where they all live, followed. And the next day was spent on a sewing project that, Graham wrote, will help them
develop a greater appreciation in the future for the people who will construct the clothing they wear. They will be better consumers—more likely to look at quality of construction. But the most important thing they will learn is to manage their own time, set their own standards, assess their own work, live with their own mistakes. These are Career and Technical Education skills that will serve them for a lifetime.
Graham makes FACS about creating, thinking, learning and thriving. As one of her eighth graders said, "This is my favorite class because instead of telling us a bunch of stuff, you let us do stuff that makes us figure out why we need to know stuff."

SOURCE: "Don't Be Too Quick to Label Me!" 5/7/08
photo courtesy of M. Kelley, used under this Creative Commons license

No comments: