Teaching Some Shocking Stuff

May 14, 2009 1 min read

“The Story of Stuff,” a short environmental-activism cartoon, has been making the rounds on the internet since 2007 and evoking the controversy you’d expect from a video about such a heated topic. The New York Times reported recently that teachers from elementary to high school are using the video as a tool in their classroom to spark conversation about the environment.

The video—produced and narrated by activist, independent lecturer, and former Greenpeace employee Annie Leonard—takes an in-depth but accessible look at where our products come from, how they’re procured, how they’re disposed of, and the impact this process, called “the materials economy,” has on the environment. Along the way, Leonard takes a few jabs at the military-industrial complex and multi-national corporations.

After the video was posted in 2007, word spread amongst educators that it was a “brief, provocative way of drawing students into a dialogue about how buying a cellphone or jeans could contribute to environmental devastation.” According to the Times, 6 million people have viewed the video on the “Stuff” Web site, millions more on YouTube, and over 7,000 schools, churches, and others have purchased the DVD.

Mark Lukach, a college-preparatory teacher in California, admits that the video is edgy, but sees it as a good learning tool. “Compared to An Inconvenient Truth, it is much shorter and easier to compact into a class segment. You can watch it and then segue into a discussion.”

Not everyone thinks so highly of Leonard’s video, however. Mark Zuber, a parent in Missoula, Mo., objected to the video noting that, while well done, it didn’t say “one positive thing about capitalism in the whole thing.” Zuber took his issue to the local school board citing a violation of the district’s standards of bias. The board voted 4-3 to ban the video.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.