Saturday, March 5, 2011

Lessons From Palm Oil

My second grade students watched a live broadcast from Borneo via TakingItGlobal earlier this week. They learned about the destruction of the rainforest and the orangutan habitat for the production of palm oil. A reflective discussion following the event generated a list of ideas for how seven and eight year old children can help with the problem. "We can speak for the trees!" suggested one student. They went on to suggest writing letters to the companies that are responsible, writing a blog about the issue, and starting a campaign against the use of palm oil. The kids were not, however, exactly sure what products contained palm oil. In an effort to transfer the responsibility for gathering information from myself to my students, I suggested that they go home that night and begin searching labels to find out. A wonderful lesson for children! But... the lesson had a twist I had not foreseen...

The next morning the children arrived ready for a new day. One of the first little girls through the door enthusiastically exclaimed that she had found a product containing palm oil! As she announced her finding, sugar wafer cookies, my eyes traveled quickly to a Walmart bag sitting on the table. With a sinking heart, I opened the bag which contained brownies I had purchased for a reward I owed the kids. They squealed with delight as I lifted them from the bag, only to dissolve in dismay as I turned them over and read from the ingredient label: palm oil! A tiny voice rose from the class asking the question they were all thinking, "Do we still get to eat them?" There was a collective sigh of relief as I said, "Of course you can, but I just learned a huge lesson from you! Next time I will look at the label before I buy things! Even better, perhaps baking from scratch rather than buying ready made would be best!" I don't think a single child in my class will ever forget the lesson I learned that day.

As we lined up to go home, I reminded them that over the weekend they should look for more products that contain palm oil to report back to the class. My favorite question of the day was, "Would it be cheating to look on the internet?"

We are learning together, keeping it real, and making a difference!

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