Here’s a Tedx talk by Zoe Weil, the founder of the Institute for Humane Education:
About halfway through her talk, Weil talks about a game she does with students that she calls “True Price.” The idea behind the game is that she shows some item–a fast food hamburger, a bottle of water, a store-bought T-shirt–and discusses all of the costs, both positive and negative, associated with that item. In this talk, she demonstrates with a t-shirt. She explains that the shirt is made of cotton which was most likely grown in Uzbekistan, where we know that a million children work in fields to harvest that cotton…that the dye used to color the shirt is toxic, and that about 30% of the dye runs off into our water supply…that
–and here is where I left the video running while I got up to refill my coffee mug, because the story Weil tells is one that I know so well that I no longer pay attention when it’s told. I mean, I don’t know the specifics, but I know the broad strokes: Global economy / items sold cheaply in the U.S. at the cost of the quality of non-U.S. lives / poisons and toxins that disproportionately hurt the poor and the nonwhite and so on and so on and so on.
Zoe Weil argues that it’s unfair not to provide kids with what she calls a humane education. I wonder if she has thoughts on the risk of a humane education leading to total emotional shutdown. This may be especially likely for kids, who don’t have the kind of agency over their lives that (we like to think) adults do. I’m an adult, which means I make my own money now and can decide whether to use it, for example, to buy an entire week’s worth of groceries at Kroger or an entire evening’s worth of groceries at Bloomingfoods. I can decide whether to buy cheap, socially yucky clothes at Target or cheap, socially less yucky clothes at a thrift store. I get to make decisions about where to put my energy and money and time, and for the most part I’m committed to making the better decision on most things. But once you learn that there is a better decision for most things, you learn that everything you do has all these consequences, and that if you want to be better, you have to try to be better about everything.
What happens when we teach this lesson to kids, who have almost no control over where they shop and what they buy and what they eat and where they go?