Are My Hands Clean?

Last week Liz overheard me listening to Are My Hands Clean by Sweet Honey in the Rock (lyrics). This song tells the story of the making of a shirt from the picking of the cotton to its purchase at Sears and all the stops in between. We were inspired to map the song and had an interesting time trying out Google Maps. Here's the link with the descriptions for each of our little tags.


View Are My Hands Clean in a larger map

She became very interested in Sweatshops and we went online to read a bit more about them. We had toured the Tenement Museum in New York City last year, so she had an understanding of sweatshops from the past, but hadn't realized that they still exist in the world today. We looked at the labels on all our clothing and discovered they were made in China, India, and El Salvador.

She immediately began to create a poster to inform her classmates about sweatshops. At first she focused on the "bad" companies and "what not to buy", but I had her shift gears and think more positive about locally made, hand-made, fair trade and "what to buy" instead.


We then thought about what happens to our clothing after we are finished with it. We watched T-Shirt Travels, an amazing film about the impact of the used clothing trade on Zambia.


This afternoon investigation into our global economy was powerful for Liz. She spent a lot of time thinking about it, writing about it, and sharing her thoughts and poster with her class.

Just by chance, Nels and I were reading The Colombo Bay where the author rides on a container ship from China to New York City via the Suez Canal. Fascinating view of globalization and the world economy.


I realized that I was on the right track with my teacher workshop project because Liz was so immediately drawn in to the topic, materials, and story. Now I'm linking the concept of "are my hands clean" to "were their hands clean" as I help students and teachers realize that people in the North were intricately caught up in the triangular trade and slavery in similar ways.

sarah  – (March 2, 2011 at 2:40 PM)  

this is so interesting! what a clever way to teach

Tammy  – (March 2, 2011 at 3:21 PM)  

I am stunned with this post. Stunned. In fact I can't even think of words to say about the fabulousness of this learning your daughter is involved in.

Going to bookmark it and show my girls.

Megan  – (March 3, 2011 at 11:17 AM)  

Wow. Thanks for giving us a chance to really take a step back and look at the industry!

erins  – (March 3, 2011 at 3:35 PM)  

I always thought it ended up in the goodwill or sally ann store. I had no idea.

Dawn  – (March 3, 2011 at 4:13 PM)  

That is the best kind of learning! I love it when an interest sparks those trips down various rabbit trails. I learned a lot by clicking through your links...very interesting, and sad. I want to see that documentary. I couldn't find it on Netflix.

Susan  – (March 3, 2011 at 9:02 PM)  

What a really important study! I love the map and all of your links and will share them with my children. We watched the documentary series "Blood, Sweat, and T-Shirts" (BBC)in which 6 young fashion lovers go to India to learn how the clothes they wear are made. The documentary follows the 6 young people as they work in sweatshops and in fiber mills. As unskilled workers they are paid a dollar a day--a basic wage in India!

Sarah  – (March 4, 2011 at 5:37 AM)  

Dawn--T-Shirt Travela is on you-tube. Susan-do you think "Blood, Sweat, and t-Shirts" would be OK for Liz? Not to graphic or anything?

Suzanne  – (March 6, 2011 at 9:40 AM)  

Great study Sarah, and one we should all do with our kids.

Tracy  – (March 19, 2011 at 11:12 AM)  

I haven't clicked your links yet but do remember a time I was very concerned about this same issue and cleaned out my closet based on the "made in" labels. I brought it up in confession many years ago but the priest told me not to worry about it. I still worry about it.

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