Melons, wars, and the global economy


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Moomin and I have had interesting talks all week. He has a project from school to look around at many household objects and find out where they were made. Malaysia, Sri Lanka, China, China, China, England, Taiwan, China, Japan, Italy… and China. We looked at food, and talked about how things were for Almanzo in Farmer Boy and for Abraham Lincoln. Almanzo ate melon when it was ripe, in the summer – and he grew it himself from seeds. We can have it all the time because it is always in season somewhere, and because we have fast, huge cargo ships.

He kept asking me questions, and at one point I was explaining why a lot of things used to be made in this country, but now aren’t. You might laugh… but I said that working conditions were bad in the factories, talked about child labor laws, toxic chemicals, injuries, low pay. And that people joined together in unions to try and fight for laws to make better conditions in the factories. But over many years, the greedy factory owners (I did not go so far as to describe multinational corporations) realized they could put their factories in other countries where the laws did not protect people so well and so it is easier to exploit the workers.

“So.. they are like supervillains.”

“Well, yes, we don’t really have real supervillains, but if you looked around for some to fight, they would qualify.”

I went on to say that people in some of these other countries really want jobs and the factories get built and they work in the factories and get paid… But that the conditions aren’t very good… and we still get to buy things for very cheap prices… and the people don’t get paid enough.

“So, I bet in China, they didn’t have Cesar Chávez!”

*I beam with pride at his making this connection*

“Well, not quite… hahaha… no… um… it is so complicated to explain that I think it would take me a YEAR.”

César Chávez gets talked about here because we drive down the street named after him and he is in all the murals!

We kept on a while about farms and factories and the way that everyone buys stuff from everywhere else, and when you are all buying and selling and trading stuff it is called economics.

This was a good school assignment. It has him curiously looking at packaging and at labels of clothing and all sorts of things that he never thought about before!

I can tell I am going to have to do a lesson on history of China in the 20th century. Wish me luck. I wonder what they’re teaching elementary school kids about World War II, these days?

Also I realize he and I have not talked about the war we’re in, lately. It comes up every once in a while. But we need to get in there with maps. Maybe my “global economics” lesson will extend a little further.

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4 Responses to Melons, wars, and the global economy

  1. Ankur says:

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  2. Lisse says:

    Do they even deal with WWII in Elementary School?

    Tigger’s been going around the world in his first grade class. It’s been really interesting. Hey, my kid can find Madagascar on a map!

  3. Kragen Javier Sitake says:

    Wow, two comments and one of them is spam. How sad.I'm interested to hear why you think it's the fault of the factory owners (corporations or no) and not the consumers, the regulators, or the governments who have effectively prohibited international labor unions. It seems like in a free-trade environment, with consumers who don't care, in industries that compete on price, a company that chooses to manufacture its products somewhere expensive instead of somewhere inexpensive will inevitably be met with bankruptcy, because the consumers will not buy its products — even if that means that the only workers left in the industry are in sweatshops.I wonder what César Chávez thought about Mao Zedong? Their philosophies of how to achieve social change could not have been more different. Do you think workers in China today would have better conditions if Mao had been a nonviolent Catholic?

  4. Liz says:

    Kragen you totally crack me up. "Factory owners" was what I figured his 8 year old level of knowledge of the world and complexity was going to grasp and also it was like 7:30pm on a school night and he had to finish the actual homework, do some math problem, eat, take a bath, brush teeth and go to bed. But, next time you come over you may explain the Global Economy and free trade and NAFTA and all that… Maybe someone can recommend a children's book about it. I think that understanding anyting about it takes playing some interesting board or computer games! I would predict he is ready for that conversation more around age 12.But right now his sources about economics and global politics are more like, an unholy balance of singing the Internationale vs reading Uncle Scrooge comics!