I teach fourth grade at Nathan Hale School in New Haven, Connecticut. My fourth grade classroom is composed of a diverse, multicultural community of learners that encompasses a wide spectrum of achievements, interests, learning and social needs. As mentors and role models for children, we should not only teach academic subjects but help students understand who they are and why certain things happen to them and their environment.
This multidisciplinary unit includes lesson plans designed to enhance literacy, history, math and science as it guides students' understanding of what consumerism is and how, environmentally speaking, their lives are affected by it. The term "consumerism" is used in several different ways. In economics it usually refers to a movement promoting the rights and safety of the consumer that arose in the early 1900s as people grew increasingly concerned about consumer safety and the toll taken on factory workers by manufacturing methods. Early consumer boycotts by organizations like the Women's Consumer Leagues were aimed at improving working conditions though they would often point to infected or adulterated goods as a way to move consumers to protest. As a result of movements like these, the government now sets regulations and laws for the protection of the consumer.
Additionally, the term consumerism describes a way of life in which people place high value on material possessions, and in which people tend to consume more than they need. This push to buy often tends to blur one's vision when differentiating among needs and wants. Counter to this, there is also the social consumerism movement that looks at the effects of consumption on society. This important concept must be taught to students so that they, too, can understand their role as consumers: how to differentiate between needs and wants and how to appreciate the impact of these decisions not only on their financial security but also on the environment.
This unit focuses on consumerism's effects on the environment. Students will investigate how consumerism in the second sense, is so much a part of them as individuals that it can lead to waste and environmental havoc. Students will recognize themselves as consumers and take responsibility for their consumer choices, such as whether to use paper, plastic or to bring their own cloth bags when shopping. They will examine the natural resources that our Earth provides and how overconsumption can leave us with depleted reserves of energy unless alternative sources are used. Students are then expected to use this knowledge to make informed decisions, knowing that every choice counts in the effort to sustain our environment.