“Why We Banned Legos” and other resources for teaching about markets and capitalism

This holiday season, teach a lesson that helps your students question our society’s focus on material goods, and pushes back against the relentless messages to find happiness through consumption.

Here are some Rethinking Schools articles and lessons that nurture a critical lens when examining the market forces that underpin so much of what needs changing in the world. 

21-2Enjoy these articles, free to all friends of Rethinking Schools:

The Human Lives Behind the Labels:  The Global Sweatshop, Nike, and the race to the bottom, by Bill Bigelow
Originally published in 1997, this article offers ways to help students think about the human and environmental consequences of our stuff—the high cost of low prices.

Lost in the Market, by Barbara Miner
A review of the book Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantalize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole, by Benjamin R. Barber.

Why We Banned Legos, by Ann Pelo and Kendra Pelojoaquin
These early childhood educators didn’t really “ban” Legos, but they did take drastic action to help children explore power, ownership, and equity.

Blog bonus article: “‘Lego Fascists’ (that’s us) vs. Fox News

Standards, Markets, and Creating School Failure, by Michael Apple
“Democracy is increasingly being defined as consumer choice. The citizen is seen as a possessive individual, someone who is defined by her or his position in market relations.”

These articles are free to our friends who subscribe to our magazine. Subscribe today to gain access.* Use code 7BHL13 for a 25% holiday discount!

Six, Going on Sixteen, by Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin
Teachers can work against the commercialization of childhood.

Masks of Global Exploitation: Teaching About Advertising and the Real World, by Bill Bigelow
How we can help our students “read” advertising critically.

Living Algebra, Living Wage, by Jana Dean
Eighth-grade math comes alive when it deals with the economic issues that affect students’ lives.

Can’t Buy Me Love, by Linda Christensen
Students learn to write critically about clothes, class, and consumption.

*All subscribers enjoy access to our online archives. If you have a subscription, but are not sure how to activate your online account, please call customer service at 1-800-669-4192. 

Recommended Resources:

Rethinking Globalization

Rethinking Globalization: Teaching for Justice in an Unjust World, edited by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson
This comprehensive 400-page book from Rethinking Schools helps teachers raise critical issues with students in grades 4–12 about the increasing globalization of the world’s economies and infrastructures, and the many different impacts this trend has on our planet and those who live here.


Rethinking Popular Culture and Media, edited by Elizabeth Marshall and Özlem Sensoy
This anthology includes outstanding articles by elementary and secondary public school teachers, scholars, and activists who examine how and what popular toys, books, films, music, and other media “teach.” These thoughtful essays offer strong conceptual critiques and practical pedagogical strategies for educators at every level to engage with the popular.

Reading Suggestions for Screen-Free Week

ScreenFreeWeekYoung children spend an average of 32 hours per week in front of screens. The number is even higher for older children. These alarming numbers provide as good a reason as any to observe Screen Free Week April 29-May 5, spearheaded by the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood.

If you take the challenge to turn off your screens, we commend you and encourage you to visit screenfree.org for helpful resources on how to plan your week to minimize temptation and have some screen-free fun.

But even if you can’t or won’t power down, don’t let that stop you from using Screen-Free Week to reflect upon your family’s interactions with TV and technology.

Rethinking Popular Culture and Media

Receive 15% discount until May 30. Use code SFWE13.

Elizabeth Marshall and Özlem Sensoy, editors of our extremely popular Rethinking Popular Culture and Media, wrote in an editorial two years ago, “Screen Free Week is also an opportunity to consider our relationship with media and the marketing activities that underlie them.”

They encourage us to “reconsider our relationship with our media-saturated society and to ask whether these media support or undermine the democratic values we espouse.”

Here are a few reading recommendations that will help you fine-tune your critical media literacy skills, as well as see critical examination of media in action:

Rethinking Popular Culture and Media, edited by Elizabeth Marshall and Özlem Sensoy, includes excellent articles by teachers, scholars, parents and activists who examine how and what popular TV programs, films, and other media “teach.”  We’re offering a 15% discount until May 31 with code SFWE13 when you order at our Web site.

Lesson Ideas for Screen Free Week – includes an article from Rethinking Popular Culture and Media

Power Down for Screen Free WeekThe Vancouver Sun By Özlem Sensoy and Elizabeth Marshal 14 April 2011

Schlock Proof Your Child, by Özlem Sensoy, 30 Jun 2011, TheTyee.ca 2011

A Review of ‘42’: Jackie Robinson’s Bitter Pill, by Dave Zirin.

Rethinkin’ Lincoln, by Bill Bigelow

“Ball Licky-Lickly!” Pedagogical Strategies for Interrogating Pop Culture Images, by Özlem Sensoy

Rethinking “The Lorax”, by Bill Bigelow

Saviors and Burnouts: Rethinking Teachers in Popular Culture, by Elizabeth Marshall

Children’s Literature for the 99%, by Elizabeth Marshall