Primary citizenship - Wearing hearts on sleeves

24th October 2008 at 01:00
Taken to task by her class for not buying fair trade T-shirts, Cathy Francis knew her lesson on being an ethical consumer in Scotland had hit home

My dark secret was out. The class erupted when it heard the T-shirts I'd given them to work on weren't fair trade. It could have turned nasty, but I realised at that moment that they had "got it".

We halted our haute couture exploits with glue guns and felt tips and sat in a huddle to discuss why I had done it. We talked about the decisions people face each time they walk into a shop and the consequences of their actions. Did they really expect me to spend Pounds 80 a shirt so that they had clear consciences?

This lesson was the culmination of half a term's work on cotton as an example of an economically important crop. Strictly speaking, the topic was plants, but we were making connections across the curriculum, with plenty of reference to real life.

We also have a partner school in Pakistan, so I was keen to give a global or international aspect to the lesson. I had recently attended an Institute of Global Ethics conference and felt I had a duty, as a teacher, to explore the ethics of cotton and textile production with learners.

I wanted the class to make connections between the plant biology we had just studied and textile production in southern hemisphere countries. I also wanted pupils to have an understanding of the environmental impact of cotton production and the associated economic and ethical issues.

The children had handled cotton balls and cotton wool balls and studied the life cycle of the plant in a biological sense. The organic, fairly traded cotton wool balls came from the local kirk (church) shop, which stocks fair trade goods.

I had also shown pupils a lovely block-printed bedspread, given to me by a friend and teaching colleague the last time I had visited Pakistan.

Using Oxfam's Clothes Line resource (see box), the class worked out how the bedspread had been made from the cotton balls. Pupils added captions to the agreed sequence and presented their knowledge to each other on a PowerPoint presentation.

Now this mixed-ability class of nine to 11-year-olds was designing and decorating T-shirts advertising fair trade cotton and trade justice.

Their mission was to inform the general public, through a window display in the kirk shop, about their concerns for the environment and people involved in mass production of raw materials in far-away countries.

All the children seemed to be committed to spreading the word of fair trade. I knew that the lesson was going well when I sat back and observed them working and discussing aspects of the message they were trying to convey.

I found myself tuning into their fervent conversations about how they were always going to buy fairly traded goods from now on, and how they would persuade their parents to adhere to this new moral code.

I was impressed. I was proud, but now, on reflection, I know that the real learning only began when one of these emergent "global citizens" asked: ". so Miss, are these fair trade T-shirts?"

Cathy Francis teaches at St Thomas Primary in Moray, northeast Scotland.


- The Clothes Line is downloadable from Oxfam's website at:

- The Clothes Line pamphlet can be borrowed from your local Development Education Centre, which also offers many other resources to support citizenship issues:

- Organisations such as Jubilee Scotland offer a speaker service on trade justice

- The Fairtrade site gives plenty of practical ideas for schools and is useful for continuing professional development:

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