Fashion: A Source of Diversity, Controversy, and FUN in the ABE Classroom - Full Discussion - Diversity and Literacy Discussion List - LINCS

Guest Facilitators - Cynthia Peters and Leah Peterson

Fashion: A Source of Diversity, Controversy, and FUN in the Adult Basic Education Classroom

From December 6-10 Cynthia Peters and Leah Peterson from World Education’s The Change Agent facilitated a guest discussion on fashion in the Adult Basic Education classroom. Thanks to Chris Miller, a graduate student at Georgia State University, the following represents a compilation of the various topics discussed by discussion list members and the guest facilitators. Each topic contains one or more discussion threads arranged by questions and answers. All of Cynthia and Leah’s questions and comments are labeled with their names, while questions and comments from discussion list members are labeled with first and last initials. Most of the postings were copied and pasted verbatim, with a few words edited here and there to facilitate reading. For complete postings, along with author information, go to the Diversity & Literacy Archives and look at postings between December 6th and 10th, 2010.


1. Introduction

We are excited to launch a conversation about fashion. If our experience with the recent issue of The Change Agent holds any lessons, it is sure to stir up lots of personal and political passions. We hope we can use this time together to share ideas, get help/advice/insights from others, perhaps come away with some concrete lesson plans or ideas about how to bring this dynamic topic into the classroom, and generally remind ourselves of the complexity, diversity, beauty, and (yes!) commercialization, of human self-presentation!

To get us started, Cynthia came up with some questions. If these don't resonate, we invite you to feel free to jump in with your own thoughts.

  1. I remember once an overweight woman wearing a pink sweat suit came into my classroom. As she sat down, a young male student said, "Oink." I blurted out, "Hey, can we not make comments about people's clothes please?" Hmm. Was that the best way to handle that moment? I'm not sure... Have these situations come up in your classroom? How did you handle it?
  2. One time at a student graduation, this teacher showed up wearing shorts and suspenders. The other teachers got really upset. They felt he was actively disrespecting the students, and they were really angry about it. I stayed silent. I'm not much of a dresser myself and I feel really self conscious when I am supposed to "dress up."
  3. In The Change Agent(pp. 20-21) there is an activity that includes lots of pictures of people clothed in various ways. The headline is: "Who's Who? How do you Tell?" and then it continues with "Exploring Labels, Stereotypes, and First Impressions." The activity includes asking people to write an identity for each person in the picture and then explore how you made that decision. Would you bring an activity like this into the classroom? Would it feel too risky? What would the risks be?

2. Teachers and Students – Dressing for the Classroom

TC:  If the activity in the Introduction (#3) is for the sake of us to learn about our own prejudices, then it can serve a purpose. I find unkind thoughts in my head sometimes and must learn about where those creep in.

CYNTHIA:  Regarding the classroom activity, you say that "if the activity is for the sake of us to learn about our own prejudices, then it can serve a purpose. I find unkind thoughts in my head sometimes and must learn about where those creep in." I would be interested to see what you think of the activity. What about others? Would they try this in class? It's potentially tricky stuff. Students might say unkind or judgmental things. Issues of race and class identity might come up. As a teacher, you might be giving yourself a lot to navigate. But, on the positive side, it might create an avenue toward dealing with unstated assumptions.

If you want to see the activity, go to The Change Agent. Click on "subscribe" and become a FREE esubscriber so that you can get a username and password. It is very easy. The username and password are incredibly easy to remember! Download the fashion issue of The Change Agent and go to pp. 20-21. There is an activity that includes lots of pictures of people clothed in various ways. The headline is: "Who's Who? How do you Tell?" and then it continues with "Exploring Labels, Stereotypes, and First Impressions."

CM:  Cynthia posed a question about how teachers dress and perceptions within the classroom. I have heard a lot of teachers complain over the years about students and administrators not treating them as the professionals that they are. I wonder if there is any connection to the fact that many teachers dress more casually now. I think that it is valid to think of clothes as a sort of costume -- sometimes I dress like a professional because I want to project a certain image or to feel more confident. Maybe how a teacher dresses is one part of the complexities of how a teacher delivers instruction effectively or ineffectively. I am not advocating going back to times where dress codes were strictly enforced, but I do think that teachers should think consciously about how they dress in the same way they think consciously about how they will arrange the classroom.

CC:  To dovetail on CM's discussion, I think "casual" should not be interpreted as "sloppy." Many of us have active jobs where we travel from one setting to another so obviously we need to be comfortable. We should also remember we are role models for students so it's important for them to see us dressed neatly and appropriately.

AB:  I would agree. Our office has adopted a "casual" dress code with the understanding that when we have important visitors (i.e. clients or corporate visitors) that we upgrade to "business casual". No mention was made that we should also dress "business casual" when training or facilitating Continuing Education or Orientation programs. But just as we upgrade to show our business clients professionalism and respect, I always do the same with my students. I think it helps set the tone for the class and lets the students know that you take them and the session seriously enough to take extra care with your appearance. It also helps me to maintain a more focused and professional demeanor as well. Now, I’m not advocating dressing so formally or far above the level of your students that they feel uncomfortable. That’s not it at all. But, I think we (consumers) have learned to expect that when we go into a place of business where uniforms are not worn (like a bank, insurance agency, or dept. store) that the employees be "appropriately" dressed. If not, it can actually distract you and change your focus to the employee rather than your original purpose for being there. While what we wear is truly an extension of our individual personality and tastes, there is a time and place for expressing my individuality and teaching class isn’t one of them. I’m representing not only myself, but my work team, the department and my organization as a whole. It’s during these times that I feel it’s more important that I take into account meeting the learner’s expectations rather than making a statement about my individuality or exerting my right to do so.

TC:  Grateful to see this observation about teacher/instructor's dress. Now that I am in a community college, I have been surprised at the way "some" instructors dress. First was a male who was carrying a lot of excess weight with a massive belly. His T-shirts did NOT cover that and we students sat at desks that put our line of sight right there. It was not something that gave me warm fuzzys. And I certainly didn't wish to see it. It felt forced on me as I continued to AVERT my eyes. Then this semester I have a woman instructor who has one child. Maybe her life is too hectic for her as it appears that she dressed in clothes right out of the laundry basket. They may have been clean, but no iron ever touched them. It looked very messy. While those two instructors "knew their subject", as a student I felt forced to work at looking beyond their appearance. It almost feels like disrespect to me as I put a lot of effort in being back in school in my 60s. They certainly did NOT look professional to me. So, I am older than those teaching, it still doesn't seem like a good idea to show up for work dressed poorly. I don't think they can say anything to the guys with their "pants on the ground". If educators are to prepare students for a future in the work force, what is the message they are sending? It is not a good example from my point of view. I do not know the financial situation these people deal with. As a student with limited resources, I am fairly well washed and pressed when I walk out of the house. It is important to me while not seeking perfection that I appear neat. My personal style is a mix of old San Francisco classic lines and a touch of hippy pressed jeans and t-shirt. The way I look, I believe I can blend into almost any economic group and not draw negative attention to myself.

Going back in time to the 1950s when I was in school is NOT the answer and I don't want their either. I hated wearing little dresses and skirts to school when I preferred to play in the yard. Nonetheless, there is a sensible way to dress that does communicate respect to others.

On to the subject of an overweight person in sweat pants.....Congratulations, no one should be allowed to point out their problem. Clearly, disrespectful and unacceptable. If a person has a negative judgment about that weight, they can learn to keep it to themselves. As a group we have the power to look at someone making mean comments and letting them know we don't find it funny.

CYNTHIA:  You bring up the male teacher with the massive belly, which makes me wonder if we don't have somewhat of a double standard going on for men and women when it comes to fashion. Can you imagine a female teacher getting away with that? When girls/women "show" themselves, it is usually cleavage or curves -- which is a whole different kind of showing. It's not a carefree "letting it all hang out." It's more of a "this is how the fashion industry, the latest bra styles, the latest media images of women" tell me I should show myself.

KH:  I think I can still express my individuality when I am at work through the clothing I wear. I would not wear something that wasn't "me" just because it was considered appropriate. While I look professional when I'm at work via what I'm wearing I feel it also goes along with my personality. For example, khakis would be very appropriate for some work days, but, I don't like them so I don't wear them. I wear equally appropriate pants that I prefer instead.

VY:  I was a psychologist in disadvantaged schools, and found that children took the way their teachers dressed as showing what the teachers thought of the children. When teachers dressed as they thought at the children's level, carelessly, the children took it as lack of respect for them. They were more likely to misbehave. They appreciated teachers who followed all that AB says.

CYNTHIA:  AB, VY, and TC have all brought up the way that teachers' clothing can be distracting. I think that's an important point. It seems like a message of respect to communicate to your students: I care about NOT triggering negative responses in you.

GS:  We have a dress code that we as teachers must adhere to. Most of the ESL students dress very well. Many times they dress better than I do. I feel it is important to look professional, neat and in good taste. I feel that an instructor sets an example, especially in the adult education community. Our students should be exposed to work attire suitable for the position. I tell them that if they are not working, then consider the time spent in class as time on the job. We discuss appropriate dress and sometimes role play as interviewer and applicant. I will ask for volunteers to come forward in front of the class and then ask the class which person they would would hire assuming each had the same skills. The class unanimously will choose the person who is dressed neatly and in good taste. It doesn't mean that the person cannot express his/her individuality. It just means that each person should really look at himself/herself and decide what is appropriate. Young people are usually the ones who need guidance in dress. The baggy pants, the exposed bosom or the short shorts just aren't appropriate for the work environment.

DB:  Clothes do "speak" for how you want to be perceived by others. I think dressing too "professionally" in the classroom can set you up for separating yourself from your learners too. How you dress for class needs to be a considered decision.

LEAH:  So far mostly we've considered fashion as an expression of professionalism and respect between students and teachers, but thinking back on the many submissions we received for The Change Agent, many students wrote in from the perspective of fashion as an expression of individual identity and argued that it was important to look past stereotypes and first impressions. That said, I think that people are often looking to find a balance between personal style and the demands of society that they feel comfortable with -- and that isn't always easy, especially when you start considering other factors that contribute to the choices people make. Some basic considerations might include the cost and accessibility of clothing and having time to find the right clothing. Some people might take into consideration where and how their clothing was made or they might be more influenced by popular trends, or even the wishes of their partners or parents. There are practical considerations too, such as if you need to walk a long distance to work or ride a bike, or care for a small child, and physical considerations – I am seven months pregnant and finding it very challenging to find maternity clothing that suits my needs and price range. I think it's an interesting thing to think about, maybe a topic for a writing assignment or group discussion -- what most influences my selection of what to wear?

RF:  I believe that what we wear reflects who we are. From my personal experience, I tend to dress in sweat pants and shirt on the weekends when I have errands and household chores to complete. When I teach, I tend to dress business casual and if I have a meeting to attend, I will wear a tie. I believe what we wear demonstrates pride or lack of pride in how we feel about ourselves as well. I believe that the way I dress, exhibits not only respect for me but for my profession. I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to arrive at school in poorly fit clothes or clothing that was torn or had inappropriate wording. Realizing this, I believe that some of my students have limited funds and resources and may not have the clothes to wear.

I have been teaching adults in workforce education for 9 years, and providing opportunities of what is fashionably appropriate has always been a topic of conversation. Students often believe that they have the right to self expression and should wear what they see as appropriate. It is the common theme that students think that their freedoms of expression and individual rights are suppressed if they have to conform to a clothing regime. Once we discuss the situation and look at images of what people wear to work, they begin to transition their opinion and realize that there is a time and place to what is and is not appropriate.

One learning activity I created was having an individual come dressed in a business attire to visit the class as a classroom assistant. The individual was conservative with her jewelry, make-up, and color of her suit. After a couple of days, of visiting my classroom as an "teachers assistant," she came in wearing a shorter skirt and large earrings that said, "sexy." Students in the class came up to me and thought that she was being inappropriate. Especially since most of the students were male. We informed the students of their concerns, and that the "teacher assistant," was intended to illicit a response from them. It was interesting, in that some were more willing to have her assist in class work, and others were turned off, after she had changed her image. It allowed the students to discuss and see how clothing can limit or stereotype an individual.

CYNTHIA:  RF -- interesting learning activity! Nice job making it real. Another dimension of the activity could be bringing in media images of women. So many of these images will show women's bodies as consumable objects of sexual beauty. Some images will show women in business suits, perhaps, but even those will be designed to emphasize curves and the women will be wearing heels. It would be interesting to figure out the social/political aspect of students' response to how the teacher's assistant was dressed.

HG:  It is a very interesting activity, and it points up that clothing stands to move an individual beyond distraction and into downright objectification. To me, it also points up that double standard. Women could, in most situations, get away with such attire. But there’s no male equivalent to that. So many women’s fashions straddle the line between sexy and businesslike, but what’s "sexy" business attire for a man? A leather jacket? A clean-cut (not "thug-like," certainly) but bad boy appearance? There’s no room for that in a professional setting, and he’d be sent home and told to go put on a suit—and then think of how the males in a classroom setting would react to a sexually-charged male doing assisting.

One thing I am curious about is whether it was indeed the male students voicing concerns or if it was female students upset about the assistant’s provocative dress. I’m going a little off into the societal aspects maybe, but the divisions between how males and females are perceived in the workplace and in our society really concerns me. I’m very thankful that I’ve never had to deal with any issues in my classroom about it.

DG:  Wow, great discussion so far on teachers' fashion in the classroom. I would like to encourage us to continue that discussion, but also to address Leah's suggestion that perhaps we may want to think about students' fashion in the classroom. I remember last year, there was some interest in the issues such as: dress codes for students, student fashion which express religious convictions (such as veils, head coverings, etc), t-shirts with messages, gang related clothing, etc., etc. And of course Leah mentions the practical situations that many of our students face such as long distances to walk, not enough money to buy new clothes that fit a new body type, etc. Any thoughts to share?

MP:  I understand the idea of fashion, and all things related to outward / visible physical appearance, as being within the realm of personal expression for students, individual identity, basic human rights, etc. I agree that it is important to look past stereotypes, and to try to get past first impressions, if necessary, by thinking about why one's first impression might have been a negative one, and by thinking along the lines of, "Is that really how I want to judge people?" (In my case, it isn't.)

I have a little story from the world of college EAP classes. A male student in his early thirties was taking my EAP Level 6 Writing class, and also an English Speaking-Listening 6 class with a different professor during the same semester. He appeared on a motorcycle (carrying his helmet in to classes), very heavily tattooed on almost all his visible skin, with long & rather unruly hair, baggy-saggy jeans, rap and hip-hop music blaring through his earphones so that we could all tell what music he preferred to listen to, wearing sort-of-vaguely-inappropriate shirts. It's true that he didn't look very "professional" or"serious about college" (whatever THAT means in this day and age)....he looked like a thug, frankly! To some people he might have even looked a bit menacing or scary if they met him in a dark alley.

I'll call him Luis. He would always turn off his iPod music as soon as he sat down in class. He listened extremely politely and attentively throughout every single Writing class. His bright, engaged eyes never wavered from the instruction going on, the white-board, or the class discussions and speakers. He asked excellent questions whenever he didn't understand a point being made during instruction in class. He tried and did his very, very best on every single assignment. Again, he would ask me clarification questions if he made any kind of error in his writing. He obviously spent lots of time on his homework, and also studying for tests. He was extremely polite and respectful, and had a nice sense of humor. He turned out to be a U.S. Army veteran who had done 2 full tours of duty in Iraq. He had a career as a mechanic there in the army, but chose to go to college to improve himself, his grammar, his ability to read and write correctly in Standard English, etc., and hoped to not be a mechanic anymore -- some day.

Luis and I had long talks about his outward appearance -- talks initiated by Luis to me, in private. He was choosing to dress the way he did, to have all his tattoos "out there", to listen to the Spanish-language hip-hop music he preferred, etc. He felt comfortable with himself in his preferred mode, and he defended his right to dress and be the way he wanted; rights I did not and do not contest. I did not go so far as to even hint that his looking less-than-professional in his outward appearance choices might impact his ability to get a good job, etc. etc. I thought and still think that he was bright enough to figure this out on his own.

Luis worked very, very hard in my college EAP Writing class, and although he struggled, and had a few very-low grades, he ended up with a B grade for the semester. I was proud of him, and he was proud of himself. I liked Luis very much. I was so glad that I had gotten to know him as a person. I liked his bravery, his motivation, his dedication, his convictions, and his sincere desire to improve himself.

And the other professor he had, the one for English Speaking-Listening class? She never got past his outward appearance. She couldn't stand him (on sight -- from first impression) -- she told me that directly. She never talked to him. She told me also that he looked like a scary thug, and sounded like one too when he talked, that his English grammar was horrible. Luis told me privately that she couldn't stand his outward appearance, and that he was sure she had never gotten past that point. And he ended up with a D grade in her class for the semester, too. I felt that D was sad, very sad. Knowing that other professor, I think that Luis got a D based on his appearance, not on his work-ethic or motivation or attempts on the actual work involved in her course. But it was not my place to accost her directly and  accuse her of that.

And of course, nobody would ever admit that they graded a student based on his/ her outward appearance (and their bias against it) or on their impressions of the student, would they? Are there any studies already done and published about that? How students' outward appearance or behaviors influence teachers and professors when grading? Soft, subjective judgment domains versus hard data, objective judgment domains?

CM:  What a shame that the other teacher couldn't get past her negative first impression. Was it your understanding that she was intimidated by Luis or did she find his appearance offensive?

It is interesting to me that Luis was aware (and maybe enjoyed) that his appearance made such a strong statement. He may not be aware; however, that self-expression can cost opportunities (even though this is unfair). Kudos to him for living life on his own terms. There is probably scholarly research about this in the field of sociology.

CYNTHIA:  MP, thanks so much for taking the time to share this very interesting story. One thing I find very interesting is your attention to the details of his behavior -- his "bright, engaged eyes," his attentiveness, the way he asks questions and demonstrates courtesy and respect, etc.

Those were powerful cues he was giving you that he "wanted" to be in class, and that he cared about the work, etc. Those are great messages to a teacher (or to any other human being, really), often creating a positive feedback loop of human relations. He treated you in an engaged, respectful way. So you do the same to him. So he responded with more engagement and more respect, which caused you to do the same.

The clothes and tattoos became less and less relevant.

It is a great example of moving past a powerful first impression -- not letting that first impression determine how you treat the person. It seems very liberating.

But...here's the wrinkle I have for you: What about the students who wear their "attitude" like a mask? Forget the clothes! It's the hate darts they're sending from their eyes, from the way they slump in the chair, from the frozen expression on their faces -- those are the "masks" that send out powerful first impressions, such as: I don't care about this, I don't really want to be here, I am powerless in the face of having to get this credential, and I'm gonna make sure you know exactly how angry I am.

In other words, what if your student, Luis, not only dressed like a thug, but acted like one too? (Not literally violently, but in that way that shows lots of anger simmering just below the surface.) Sometimes attitude seems like part and parcel of the fashion choice.

I have just started teaching a GED class mostly populated by older teens. I've only taught two classes so far, but I find the most challenging thing is to remind myself that these expressions are partly protective masks and partly real attempts to communicate real emotions. I have to work hard to not let it create a "negative" feedback loop.

It is interesting: No matter what we do as teachers, it is so important to keep trying to relate to the real person who is definitely there no matter what they're wearing or projecting.

How sad for the other teacher that she missed a chance to relate well to Luis and get to know him the way you did. And there is something sad about Luis too. I'm not sure how to say it. But by choosing to look menacing (as you say), he's clearly setting himself up to be misunderstood or reacted to in a certain way that he must understand will not be positive, thus cutting himself off from resources that would otherwise be available to him.

On the other hand, he is holding on to his identity in the best way he can figure out. The more power to him!

Have others out there had a "Luis" in your class? What came up for you? How did you handle it? What about the attitude "mask" we sometimes see?

BL:  I really appreciate this post and questions. I teach General Education Diploma preparation classes and many of my students are mandated by the court or TANF to attend. Breaking through those "masks" in a gentle way is something I must consider daily.

RM:  This is an activity that came to mind as an introduction to discussing attire with students and the message your appearance can send: Show the class a picture of a neat but casually dressed young woman who has attractive features, and show them a picture of a sloppy unkempt young woman and ask the guys who they would want to ask on a date. Do the same type of activity with the girls. Then ask them if the appearance did make a difference.

JM:  I think it is possible to ask the question so that it is not gender exclusive. You would give men and women the opportunity to speak about whether they would date the man or woman on the screen.

As I think about this a little more, I am wondering if asking people who would they date is the most effective way to have people think about how they appear to others. I understand the connection being made here but I would rather focus on helping students see how their appearance can impact their ability to get a potential job. I think when we ask, "Would you date her/him?" we open up the conversation to a lot of potentially harmful comments. For example, someone might say, "Oh, someone in wrinkled clothes doesn't care about his/her appearance." Maybe they would go further, if talking about a woman, "If she doesn't care about her clothes, how can she be a good mother." It might be asked if men can be a good father. We just do not know where the conversation could go. I just see some issues around talking about whether people would date someone.

I think we might ask them, "How do you think this person's clothing impacts how a potential employer would evaluate him or her?" Sharing the article that was previously put on the list where people make judgments in less than a second would be a good match with this discussion. It would help put things into context.

DG:  Thanks for the suggestion of a class activity! I wonder how we could easily include participation of lesbian and gay students in this type of exercise, so they wouldn't feel excluded?

KW:  Good question, DG, about how to include lesbians and gay men. One of  the things I think is interesting in this discussion is how gendered fashion is in our society, and I wonder what impact these activities and discussion have on lesbians, gay men, and transgender people. I'm not sure there would be a comfortable "on-ramp" into the conversation for us in many of these conversations and activities.

One education organization I know of has students in its work/life skills class approach the issue of dress through collage-making. I think they do a "What Not To Wear" collage which usually brings lots of laughter to the topic, and then they make a "What to Wear" collage. They include both pictures of clothing and words to describe the image you want to create. It could be interesting to have different students or groups of students create collages about what to wear in different settings, i.e. at work, at school, at the grocery store, at places of worship, at a community event, in a courtroom, etc.

HG:  I love that question, DG. I would hold up the same images and ask the class at large the same question, only slightly shifted: "Which person is 'dateable'?" For that matter, "Which person would you rather have serving you as wait staff?" Or, "Which person would you hire?" For my groups, that would solve the issue of exclusion.

CM:  That is a good point. When DG asked in an earlier post, how you would include gays and lesbians in the slide exercise about "date-ability", I tried to think about my gay and lesbian friends. It really depends on the culture of the classroom. Sometimes, they would feel as though they need to be discreet about themselves because they may not feel safe and accepted. I don't think that you can sensitively do this exercise until you know your group. Before doing exercises, teachers could talk about sensitivity and how students should think about the potential good or bad feelings that can be caused by their judgments and words and speak accordingly.

I see value in talking about dress and what it means to dress professionally -- maybe this should be a general conversation about multiple meanings and complexity in navigating school and work.

JM:  I think activities like this can be beneficial but we have to be careful in how they are facilitated. This activity just reminded me of an experience a friend of mine just had in a college class. He is an adult student as he did not go to college in his late teens or twenties. He was sitting in his health class when the teacher put a picture of an overweight person on the screen. She asked the class to give their first impressions about this person on the screen. The teacher than put a picture of the same person up being very active and doing all kinds of great things. The point was that we shouldn't make snap judgments or stereotype people.

My friend is overweight and he understood, intellectually, the point of the exercise but he was horrified and devastated at the comments people were making based solely off the fact that this person was overweight. When he saw the overweight person on the screen, he identified with that person so when the class started saying things, he internalized it. Emotionally, he was very upset. He even commented to me that if he had been 19 or 20 and sat through that class, it would have been one more "reason" for attempting to commit suicide. When he was younger, he had a number of emotional challenges which he has worked through. With my encouragement, he went and spoke to the teacher about his experience and luckily she was not threatened by feedback. He had a very positive conversation with her and my friend said that she seemed genuinely upset by the idea that she could have negatively harmed someone in her class with the exercise. Obviously, her intention was good but the impact was negative. I am fairly confident that my friend was not the first overweight person to have this experience in the classroom.

I do want to clarify one thing. I am not trying to make it seem dramatic with the suicide piece. In the end, someone who commits suicide is responsible for that suicide and no one else can be blamed for it. I debated whether I should put it in this email but it was my friend's experience and what he was thinking as he sat in the class and then later reflected on it. I thought it was good to mention his entire experience. I think others may sit through a similar class and be negatively impacted though they would never think of suicide.

My main point is we need to think about how someone in our classroom may identify with the person on the screen who is being criticized. Unintentionally, we could marginalize someone in the classroom. If someone is in class with wrinkled clothes because she does not have an iron or does not have time (or whatever the reason) and suddenly a group of men (and maybe a few women in the class) are sitting in the classroom discussing why they wouldn't date the woman on the screen who has wrinkled clothes, we may cause some problems for her. This does not mean we don't have conversations about professional dress or appropriate dress but we need to do it in a way that does not cause harm.

TC:  There continues to be a double standard in numerous areas. But that is life and I don't know if it can ever really be changed. And as a grandmother, I am very concerned for my granddaughters being fed marketed images that are fake and unrealistic. Lately, I have begun to tell them that "TV lies to them". Go ahead and find an ad on TV and/or a magazine for mascara where the model is not wearing false eye-lashes. Okay, that is enough complaining from me.

When I do find unkind thoughts in my head about others, most of the time, I keep them inside. I see no practical use to dump strange thoughts on others. However, since perfection is still a long way away, if someone pushes my buttons, I am capable of sarcastic words....

JR:  Apropos revealing clothes in class: Has anyone else had a female student's dress offend male students?  A woman, who was appropriate in terms of her own culture, squatted down to write on the lower portion of the board with her back to the class, and her hip-huggers sank low enough to reveal the top of her thong. Two men from very conservative cultures looked shocked (in my opinion), so I stood behind her until she finished writing. But I have not addressed such sensitivities in class discussion, partly because the offended parties never returned to class, but mainly because I don't know how to approach the matter without seeming to blame an innocent party (in terms of her frame of reference) or blame the way she was raised. Talk about relativism!

CYNTHIA:  Funny you should mention thongs. During my bike ride to work yesterday, I rode right behind a woman flashing a pink polka-dotted butt thong. I wondered if it would be an act of sisterly solidarity to let her know her thong was showing. But then I reasoned that perhaps she meant for it to be showing. And believe me, with temperatures being as freezing as they are right now, not to mention the wind chill factor, this person must be very dedicated to her fashion statement! Okay, being on the bike path is one thing. What do we do as teachers?

I personally have a strong libertarian bent when it comes to fashion. I can't really see telling adults what they can and can't wear. But, I can see a couple of ways of dealing with this in the classroom.

1. Teacher shows a lot of humility. There's a lot we don't understand about people and      their personal choices. I feel horrified when I see women walking around with full face   coverings in my neighborhood. I make all sorts of assumptions about them. What I wish           for myself is to acknowledge those feelings but also acknowledge that there's a lot I don't             know about those women. If I had one in my class, I hope I would be able to approach          her in an open and warm way -- unclouded by my hugely populated imagination about      her life. One of the young women in my GED class lets her bangs hang right down the            front of her face. Underneath the bangs, I can make out multiple piercings, and I can             barely see her eyes. She is hiding and presenting in a different sort of way, and it would    be best if I didn't presume too much about her.

  1. We look for teachable moments. JR -- I can't imagine you raising the issue directly. I think you're right that it would seem blaming of an innocent party. But what if you brought in materials about fashion and fostered some discussion that way? People would have a chance to air their opinions and hear about how their clothing might affect others. Over time, this could even lead to a discussion about how a diverse group of people that come together for class could look out for each other and respect each other's needs and wishes. Some people might adjust their clothing choices. Others might learn to not take offense. Everyone might understand other people's clothing choices and begin to see each other less in terms of their clothing. It wouldn't be a quick or easy process, but it would be a democratic process that invited participation -- which in itself builds community. That in itself is something!

MO:  Two years ago, I had a couple women from Brazil in my class. Brazil is very liberal in their dress. One evening, my class (all women) met at a local restaurant for dinner - ordering from the menu was part of our lesson. While we were there, an older man who worked at the restaurant kept staring at the young Brazilian woman (who is well endowed and was wearing a very low cut top). He began to flirt with her as well. I was feeling very protective, so I explained as best that I could that what she was wearing was giving the man a certain message. She was quite taken aback and said that she is a "good girl". I agreed with her that she is indeed a good person, but her dress was giving a different message. She said that in Brazil every woman dresses that way and no one thinks anything of it. I told her that in America, men will think otherwise. I think that evening's experience gave her some awareness, but I'm not sure she "got it" completely. I think it is okay to explain to our students that certain ways of dressing do in fact give out certain messages regardless of our character. Then it's up to them to decide what they will do with the information.

TC:  Not even addressing the different cultures, the difference in the male's visual draw to the female body, it just seems inconsiderate. However, I agree that "maybe" the young woman doesn't know that it affects most men in the way it does. So, here we go again, needing to introduce students to a broader understanding of social respect and social graces. Yes, some times when I am walking to class, I see some young women some trim and some not so trim, wearing clothing that my generation would not have considered. The world has changed, but there are still some expectations. Again, for those who want to find work, they will be expected to dress a certain way. If Emily Post was still alive we could ask her to write a new book about this. Oh, oh, she would be of an older generation than me.

BG:  I think these conversations can be very, very tricky. On the one hand, revealing dress, in particular that worn by women, may get recognized in our culture in a particular (here we indicate negative) way. However, when it comes to explaining that to female students, I want to be sure I'm careful not to run to close to that cultural cliché, the argument that emerges in conversations about rape, dress, and who deserves or does not deserve particular sexual offenses.

I teach college students. In addition, I have a teenage niece. I find that as a straight, female teacher, it is really difficult not to notice when a student is dressed in really revealing ways. I think talking about how clothing can be rhetorical is important. However, as I indicate above, I really don't want to send the message that women alone are responsible for sexual messages. There are a lot of power assumptions contained there, and it seems wise to at least acknowledge them. For example, the man at the restaurant also had professional obligations. He, no less than a teacher or a lawyer, had an obligation to observe and reserve his own behavior in that situation. [I am just musing here. Playing "Monday Morning quarterback" to think through the dilemmas so thoughtfully presented.] The girl with the thong exposed at the black board (the infamous "whale tail") might have been made aware that it was exposed, leaving her to consider if that was okay with her or not. The men in the room who were offended could be asked after class if they were offended. If it is a cultural issue (i.e., strict religious or moral codes of dress), then it seems like a GREAT conversation to have. I mean, clothing is a kind of rhetoric. (As someone made the point that they wear a professional costume to work). Reading the clothing expectations in a particular environment is a particular kind of literacy as well, it seems.

In such a cultural discussion, in fact, I think it would be fascinating and fruitful to include cultures in warm climates where clothing is much more minimal than our own. I don't know if it is true, but I once heard an apocryphal account that women in a particular tribe in Africa were provided with shirts to cover up by missionaries in the area. The women were very pleased with their gifts and took them to their huts immediately. They came out shortly thereafter sporting the new fashion, only with holes cut in their shirts to allow their breasts out. It makes a lot of sense within the culture, right? However, I imagine they were thinking about feeding their children and not so much about distracting the missionaries. Is there a clear right or wrong here?

HG:  That's a tricky one. We deal with things in the same vein here, as in Abilene we have a rather large refugee contingent in our adult education classrooms. Many refugees come to classes dressed in traditional attire and markings. How could we possibly tell one group of students not to dress according to their culture when our refugees have been brought here to experience freedom of their own?

DG:  I know that an issue of concern for many adult literacy programs is whether to have dress codes for students? And if the answer is yes, who constructs them-staff and/or students? And what is included in the dress code-issues related to messages on t-shirts, religious garb, revealing clothes? And what are the consequences for students who don't follow the codes? Who makes these decisions, and what kinds of attitudes/beliefs are expressed by these codes?  Any thoughts? Has anyone on this list struggled with dress code issues in their adult literacy programs?

CC:  We do not have a dress code. There have been several occasions where students arrived sporting the "f" word boldly on t-shirts or jerseys. I never hesitate to ask them nicely not to wear that item again. While we are certainly not "prudish" and try to keep up with changing styles, that word is offensive to many. I always explain that while the clothing might be fine to hang with friends, it is not suitable for a work or educational setting.

SA:  … t-shirts with writing on them have repeatedly caused problems with dress codes. I remember a friend of mine in high school was forced to turn his shirt inside-out or to go come because a teacher found the shirt offensive. What did the shirt say? "God is dead-"Nietzsche, and then below it "Nietzsche is dead,"-God. Right or wrong, though, high schools and other institutions dealing with the under 18 groups have more authority when it comes to dress codes. It is much trickier with adults.

RF:  We at our site do have a dress code policy. We ask that students who attend classes here dress as if they were going to work. We don’t expect students to wear a skirt, dress suits or a tie. We expect that clothing attire is appropriate. No pants for either males or females that exposes their underwear or inappropriate prints that may be seen as insulting or offensive to others. We have a dress code for one other reason. We have guest speakers from local trade/ colleges and employers who visit our center at least twice a month. Most discuss dress attire in the workplace and for the interview. Luckily, dress attire has not been seen as a negative experience at our center.

GS:  The issue of a dress code is covered by the Board of Education. Adult Education is an arm of the Board of Education and as such we are governed by the dress codes set by the system.

SA:  Related to the discussion we are having on fashion, I thought that people would be interested in reading the following article. It is about a North Carolina high school changing its dress code for the promotion of literacy.

BL:  I have worked in a family literacy program for the last six months, including GED tutoring, and I have been a tutor for some time even before my current position. I personally have not had anyone show up for either our family programs or tutoring in clothing that was distracting to others. I have been considering this more since this discussion began and I cannot think of a single instance where this has come up... yet.

As for the instructors, we have to be both professional and comfortable, because we have to set up and break down the activities we present. That means tables, chairs, food, etc., as well as storytelling, book reading, and other activities. Needless to say, low cut tops don't lend themselves to bending over children and families while reading and modeling good parenting techniques. Expensive, delicate clothing doesn't hold up well when you carting boxes of books or setting up 6-foot tables. We do have some guidelines, such as no jeans and no "open" shoes but beyond that it is pretty much finding that middle ground between appearing professional and being practical that drives our clothing choices.

LEAH: It seems a lot of the posts have assumed that people dress the way they do because they choose to, but maybe some of the time, even with the cases of "inappropriate" dress, people aren't so much making a fashion statement or expressing their individuality as they are unable to change their habits/trapped in a certain look. It's easy to get comfortable with what you're used to wearing, even when it isn't necessarily in your own best interest.

LS:  If a person is clean, neat, and appropriate along with doing their work and assignments why does gender dress even have to come into the subject? The persons dress represents how they want to be seen. That should be enough. So respect the dress of the person regardless of gender as long as it is appropriate for the setting.

DG:  I found the following article that I thought may be of interest from The Association for Psychological Science, July, 2006, issue. In the article, "A series of experiments by Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov reveal that all it takes is a tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger from their face, and that longer exposures don't significantly alter those impressions" Although I don't have the literature citation to support this, I remember that someone once told me that if your students evaluate your class, research has indicated that the evaluations you would get after the first class session are not too different from the evaluations you would get after a complete quarter/semester of teaching that class..."

KH:  I recently had a teacher send a student home because she was wearing a playboy bunny costume to class (it was not Halloween). The thing about a dress code is that we are talking about adults. So, what do we compare the adult education classroom to? Not really a "regular" classroom, because we are in fact not talking about underage youth. Isn't it more like a college class--i.e., an educational facility for adults? What are the policies at those places? There are many places adults go where they may be dressed in a distracting manner, and it depends on that place whether or not they will be asked to leave. Ex: at a church or the grocery store, they may be frowned upon or laughed at, but probably allowed to stay. At a job, the boss may say their attire is not appropriate for the job and send them home. I don't know if a dress code per se is required, but I think it is appropriate for a teacher to request a student to leave if they are too distracting to a good portion of the rest of the class. We might ask the same if they are being distracting in other ways like being noisy or cussing or whatever. If they refuse--would we push the issue??

GB:  This discussion seems to be focused on dress codes for students. What about dress codes for teachers? It is difficult to set a standard for students if we don't set one for teachers, and then that gets into sensitive territory. We have had situations in which female teachers have worn very revealing clothing and also situations where teachers have come to work in flip flops and jeans, which is questionable. We do not have an official dress code, although it has been discussed. Meanwhile one of our male teachers comes to work every day in a nice shirt and tie and he has one of the highest persistence rates. I think students respect this level of formality from
their teachers.

KN:  GB, I'm wondering if it's really the shirt and tie that improves student persistence. I don't know his situation, but I can imagine that he might be wearing the shirt and tie because he likes his job, likes his students, feels good about himself, is confident about his abilities and is not distracted by money worries. Perhaps his students respond to those qualities and not the shirt and tie (at least after the first half hour).

VY:  I really think the students think that he respects them. There could be an experiment. The other teachers could turn up in shirts and ties or neat women's attire. He could come in a t-shirt and jeans. That might solve the issue.

HG:  So many of our students are simply not self-aware enough to recognize that their clothing projects so much about their personalities. I think in this teacher’s case, his clothing is an outward display of his sense of professionalism. It’s an effect, not a cause, as it were, but it is part of the whole package and inextricably bound with his performance.

That said, I have had diligent, persistent students (much like the earlier-mentioned Luis) who don’t dress the part at all. I have never really bothered to be surprised at the fact that students with plainly-visible body modifications tend to be very polite, well-mannered and attentive. I have an acquaintance who is in his 60s and is the classic "old hippie"—long, stringy gray hair in a ponytail, dingy jeans, out-of-date plaid shirts—and he is all but ignored when he goes into a ritzy department store because people assume he has no money to spend. That is right up until the point at which he whips out the platinum American Express card and has to tap it on the counter to get someone’s attention.

I guess what I’m leaning toward is the fact that we have to find a way to strike a balance between explaining what is considered appropriate without a) making our students think we want to shove them into cookie-cutter molds or b) judging (or sounding like we’re judging) based on appearance.

KH:  Right, think of every time there is a biker rally in town--doesn't every business owner say the bikers are the most polite nice etc people they've ever dealt w/? I always hear that, and I love it...being a bit of a tattooed, pierced gal myself (all easily covered by my business attire)

GB:  Several years ago I was involved with a leadership training exercise in a corporation where data indicated that no minority male had EVER received a promotion. All men who were ethnic minorities were invited to attend a series of brown bag lunches (on their own time) in which they engaged in a series of discussions on a variety of business related topics -- and worked on business problem-solving and communication skills.

When we had a discussion on dress codes --they all said they had no interest in management - because they didn't want to give up wearing jeans -- didn't want to have to wear ties -- further discussion brought out that only a few owned a suit jacket of any kind. The person organizing the workshop series brought in a fashion consultant from a local department store -- with several jackets in several sizes, some ties and shirts -- which the men tried on -- their excitement was that they "liked the way they looked" -- one of the men had the idea to photograph everyone wearing those jacket and tie - -- the discussion about wardrobe -- changed dramatically -- when the possibilities changed.

The men went on to create their own project where they made a book with their resumes and photographs -- and took them around to various managers in the organization -- essentially shopping the sum total of their knowledge and experience. Within a short period of time, 2/3 of the men in that group had management positions in some organization. While I would like to think that my communication workshops had something to do with that -- in reality the experience of wearing the jacket and tie -- and feeling good doing that -- was the key to changing not only the self-image but opening up imaginative possibilities for their futures

PJT:  What about "color psychology", which discusses the affect colors have on individuals interesting. I used to include it in the job training curriculum I did for mothers receiving federal funding, as it pertains to how the colors an individual would wear on an interview can affect the person who is doing interview.

When I was employed by Wake County Schools in Raleigh, NC, to work with emotionally traumatized children our "time out" room was painted a deep rose color which at that time was attributed to providing a feeling of calm. When one of our students became physically unruly and couldn't calm down they would be placed in this room and as I recall within 3-5 minutes the student would become calm and manageable. At this time my office is painted that same color because I work with women who have experienced emotional trauma and it appears to have the same affect on them. There is a curriculum entitled "Power of Communication" for women which discusses this phenomenon, but I can't seem to locate it on line at this time.

CM:  My dress tends to be fairly conservative which is probably more reflective of my habitat than anything else -- middle class, suburban, etc. When I worry about it, I wish that I appeared younger (I am in my early 40s) and it isn't just because of attractiveness, it is because of diminishing economic opportunities. Boy, does that happen fast.

What strikes me so far in this conversation is that men, of whatever culture, seem to be the arbiters of whatever is acceptable and in good taste. Isn't that ironic? What if, instead of sticking up for rebel Luis, we stuck up for rebel Louisa?

KW:  CM makes a powerful observation, "What strikes me so far in this conversation is that men, of whatever culture, seem to be the arbiters of whatever is acceptable and in good taste. Isn't that ironic? What if, instead of sticking up for rebel Luis, we stuck up for rebel Louisa?

This is such a good question, and I really appreciate this insight. We often, both men and women, reinforce without thinking, the norms that are established. Those norms are generally created by, and for the benefit of, men. I am so impressed with the educators on this list who have described their sincere efforts at overcoming their visual judgments of students, whether because of race, dress, gender, or gender expression. We all have biases and prejudices, and I think it is powerful to commit to being aware of them and questioning whether or not they are legitimate and valuable. We need to ask ourselves, "Does this enhance or inhibit my ability to teach and my students’ ability to learn?" If the answer is no, then I think we need to work on re-learning our beliefs about whatever it is – a particular culture or religion, a style of dress, a hairdo, or behavioral traits.

KN:  I love the examples that people have come up with in this discussion, so complex a subject and so fascinating. Can we have the discussion with students that takes up the question "How will various people interpret different ways of dress?" so that we know that everyone is "fashion literate." (Various activities mentioned here could be used to accomplish that end.) Then we can let them decide what message they want to send in their fashion statement. Sometimes people want to be "inappropriate" because they don't agree with the rules.

For example, many years ago I came to a feminist analysis of the societal code for women's appearance, and I stopped wearing make-up and stopped shaving my legs. I have been "inappropriately dressed" in nearly every social and work situation since then, and have had the luxury of being able to pay the price for my political actions.

TC:  Excellent observations that you have had to pay the price for your political actions. It seems to me that is still the case in just about every environment. Females in tight or revealing garments appear one way, men in business attire another. Rock stars and athletes have a lot more lee-way along with Hollywood.  For the rest of us there seems to be an unstated code. Not sure.

As a community college student and a grandmother at the same time, I make a choice to line up with the code to some degree. When there are students who have not been told the business world has that silent code, is there an obligation to tell them without the hammer of enforcement at that same time?

BG:  I think talking about how clothing can be rhetorical is important. However, I really don't want to send the message that women alone are responsible for sexual messages. There is a lot of power assumptions contained there, and it seems wise to at least acknowledge them . . . I mean, clothing is a kind of rhetoric. (As someone made the point that they wear a professional costume to work). Reading the clothing expectations in a particular environment is a particular kind of literacy as well, it seems.

CM:  Since you are dealing with adults, you could bring up the topic of how people dress in different contexts. It might be an opening for explicitly talking about the concept of cultural capital in the contexts of education and work. Until I heard this concept defined and discussed, I had never articulated for myself why I dress in different ways at different times. It may help people understand how different systems work -- especially systems which may disenfranchise them. Understanding unspoken rules may help empower them.

CYNTHIA:  …"unspoken rules" … is a hugely important concept for students who are bridging class, race, and other divides. It seems to me that it would be a great exercise for a class to put unspoken rules into words. Then individuals can make more conscious decisions about how to respond to those rules and maybe even the class (as a community) will decide together how to respond to those rules. Interesting stuff -- very educational and potentially empowering for everyone!

CC:  When I joined the educational institution with which I am affiliated, the students referred to the faculty by their first names. When I started, I introduced myself as Mrs. Clark and I always dressed in a suit and heels. The students were very respectful and all of them referred to me as Mrs. Clark, while referring to the other instructors using their first names. So, I think the clothes (in addition to the personality) have a lot to do with how people perceive and respond to individuals.

CM:  How do you refer to adult students - by their first names or as Mr. ___ or Mrs. ___? Do you talk about how you wish to be addressed?

VY:  It's always instructive to find out the students' names for their teachers, among themselves.

KH:  I am a social worker and not a teacher, although I am the Coordinator of our Adult Ed. program. I am not that young, age 41, but I think because of my profession, I cannot imagine students calling me "Mrs. Harris", although I expect them to call their teachers by Mr./Mrs., unless the teacher prefers otherwise. I have never thought of this until this moment. I cannot imagine myself calling students by Mr. or Mrs. either, but I would if they preferred.

KW:  When I was an instructor in ABE, I used my first name. I've never felt comfortable being addressed as Ms. Wyman. I asked students what they liked to be called, and most preferred their first names, though I think one or two preferred to be Mrs. or Mr. I think both of these issues, names and dress, are opportunities to learn more about one's self and one's students. I think the learning is a two-way street. For instance, some students may dress like Luis because it is safer for them in their neighborhoods; it may or may not be personal expression. Similarly, teachers often adopt a style of dress that is "safe" career-wise.


3. Perfume

BL:  Perfume is an issue as an instructor/tutor. I am very careful not to wear much scent, if I wear any at all, because I work very closely with my tutoring students. Not really clothing but perfume can be as much as a "statement" and as offensive as inappropriate clothing.

KH:  Interesting, I always wear scent, but I am just sure not to douse myself or anything.

DB:  Perfume has the added dimension of allergies. Members of my family are quite allergic, and have physical reactions to some scents. I don’t use anything with a scent, including deodorant, shampoo, and soap.

SA:  In classes I have taught, it has (luckily) never been an issue, but the smells issue others have brought up has been. Not just perfume, but students reeking of alcohol makes it uncomfortable for the people around them. I’m not sure how to address something like this where there are obvious underlying issues, like possible substance abuse, etc.

LS:  In years past, I worked for the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), where we became very aware of the effects of scented products and other chemicals in the air and in the environment that can have a significant effect on people, over time making them severely allergic or chemically sensitive, and having deleterious effect on their health. There are many people who are "chemically sensitive" or allergic to a variety of substances. We often had to hold trainings in rooms where there had been and was present no one with scented products at all, since there were so many people with "multiple chemical sensitivity". I myself cannot walk up the detergent aisle in the supermarket without having a strong allergic reaction, probably because of past workplace chemical exposures. But many people suffer much worse than I do.

In a society where perfume and other scented products are so prevalent, people can develop allergies that become so bad that they are allergic to almost anything and everything, and this has a huge effect on their quality of life. It can cause "brain fog," a flu-like syndrome, and various severe allergic symptoms that really make people sick, and sometimes unable to work or even be in many ordinary environments.

It's common also in many occupations where people typically work with or around a variety of chemicals. One huge example is hospital nurses who may be exposed to anesthesia gases, medications, latex from rubber gloves, and many other hazards during the course of their work. Many become unable to work in their "trade" and/or become very sick from it.

So, to me, avoiding scented body products is not only a question of living more environmentally friendly way, or "green," but being respectful and protective of the health of our friends and colleagues. It's a balancing act-for many people--avoiding "body odor" and fears of offending others, vs. avoiding allergic reactions in ourselves and others.

KW:  Perfumes and other scents, even scented laundry detergents, can cause serious reactions in people who are sensitive to them. I’ve been scent-free (mostly) for quite some time. First, it was because my spirituality group had a scent-free policy; then it was because my allergies and sensitivities got worse.

This is a delicate issue as people really love their perfumes, lotions, room sprays, incense, and detergents, but it is a health issue for many people. I have had to discontinue attendance at meetings and classes due to the use of fragrances, and it is a big loss when someone can’t participate for this reason. There is no way for someone to get away from another person’s perfume or cologne in a classroom or tutoring space.

It’s often very hard to bring this issue up in a way that doesn’t offend the "scented" person. It is often taken as a criticism of the particular scent or the individual, and that is not it. I often like the way fragranced products smell, but I don’t like the headache, flu-like symptoms, cough, etc. that result from being around them. If a student is sensitive to a teacher’s use of scented products, the chances of the student feeling comfortable speaking up are pretty low, I think, given the power difference.

More and more places are instituting scent-free policies, and I ask participants in my training programs to agree to not using scents for the duration of the program. I receive a good number of appreciative comments from people who have just put up with it in the past and were able to be more fully present and attentive without the health effects of other people’s scented products. I receive very few negative comments. There are online resources about this issue.


4. Clothing Production

JI:  I am wondering if anyone wants to speak to issues around labor and production of clothing.

TC:  Wow, and yes, and thank you. Recently I changed size and needed to buy some jeans for a bigger me. Looking around … I found that very little is manufactured in the US any more. Even the high end clothes are often made in China.

There is not an ounce of confidence that means that people are paid a living wage or treated with any respect. Personally I chose to NOT buy "made in China" products and that keeps me out of the stores. Is there any way to know that people mass producing any product outside the country are paid a living wage and are there sweat shops in American?

CYNTHIA:  I think labor and production is another great way to crack open the nut of fashion.

There's no such thing as just a blouse or just a pair of shoes. It came from somewhere, certain resources went into making it, and it will have to end up somewhere when it moves on from your closet. You can take a simple piece of clothing and turn it into a wonderful investigation and thought piece.

There's a wonderful activity by Tricia Donovan called, "What Countries Are in Your Closet?" It was originally published in Issue 13 of The Change Agent (Sept. 2001), "Economic Security and Justice".

In the current issue of The Change Agent, there are multi-level reading and math activities on pp. 28-31. One is a math activity: Which Sweatshirt Would You Buy? There is also a picture story that invites students to explore the hidden cost of cheap. And there is a wonderful longer article by Jan Lichtenwalter called, "The Hidden Cost of Cheap Clothing."  There are also some math and critical thinking lessons about Bangladeshi garment workers (pp. 34-35) and there is a nice piece by two English Language instructors who teach at the Brooks Brothers factory in Haverhill, Massachusetts. All of these pieces are available on our website. I hope others will chime in if they know of other activities related to exploring the labor and production of clothing.

RM:  I haven't had an opportunity to read the current issue of The Change Agent, so this may be mentioned there. In reading these entries I was reminded of what I have read in recent years about the cost to the environment caused by the increased demand for cashmere. In some areas overgrazing on marginal lands by the goats that produce the cashmere fibers has rendered the land unusable. On the flip side, the peasants raising the goats were able to increase their income to support their families, and cashmere fiber is 'green' because it is a renewable resource. There aren't always easy answers, but I agree that this is an important topic for discussion.


5. Resources of Interest


6. Thank you from Cynthia and Leah

I really enjoyed interacting with everyone as well. Thank you all so much for your contributions, your insights, your humor, and your respectful exchanges. One thing this discussion did for me was to remind me of the many complex dimensions of human relationships. Part of the richness of being in this field is having these opportunities to make sense of our own selves, our students, and our experiences together. Thank you! And thanks to Daphne for inviting us to take part!