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Fullbright-Hays/Oaxacca Mexico
Larissa Czuchnowsky
August, 2003


Mexican Gold: Corn and it’s Many Connections

Overview: In Mexico as in many Latin American countries, corn is a main staple whose
influence is interwoven throughout local and national culture. Through the study of corn,
students can understand aspects of Oaxacan/Mexican and American culture and will be
able to get a glimpse of the interdependence that exists between the US and Mexico and
between human beings and the environment.

Michigan Curriculum standards for an Upper Elementary class:

Students will:
-Understand interdependence of life forms and the environment.
-Discuss transportation and economic agricultural activity
-Have an understanding of international trade, exports/imports
-Be sympathetic to decades and centuries of values and interests
-Sequence ethical considerations
-Consider and evaluate conflicting viewpoints
-Interview family and friends
-Integrate speaking, listening, writing, reading and viewing for multiple purposes in
varied contexts
-Express responses to oral and written texts
-Use multiple media, develop a short presentation to communicate conclusions based on
the investigation of an issue or problem. Examples include charts, posters, transparencies,
audio tapes, videos and diagrams.
-develop strategies for estimating measures
-collect and explore data through counting, measuring and conducting surveys and
experiments.
-understand that culture is a way of life of a group of people including language, religion,
traditions, family structure.



Opening, Intro Discussion and Pre-Assessment:

 Pop some microwave popcorn and pass it around. Ask students what they know about
corn. (It is one of the world’s staple foods and was first cultivated among the Mayans,
Aztecs and Incas) Pass out the article ―A Short History of Corn‖ from the website
www.cyberspaceag.com/cormhistory.html . In groups of 2-4 have students answer the
following questions:
Who first cultivated corn? Where it is eaten/grown? What are its uses? As a class, make
a time/info line about corn to keep in the classroom.
Bring in a collection of products derived from corn-i.e. Corn flakes, laundry detergent,
anything that uses corn oil or syrup, etc. (At least 40% of all American grocery store
products contain corn derivatives). Have students quess whether a product has corn in it
or not. Some may be surprised! Pass around the products.


From Farm to Table

Show the class a cob of corn. Ask students what it takes to bring this cob of corn from an
American farm to your table. Brainstorm for a minute. Then using a ball of yarn, pass
around the ball for every connection the students make (i.e. the seed manufacturer or the
farmer who saves seed every year, the rain, the sun, nutrients, farm tools, farm workers,
migrant workers, the truckers, packers, government subsidies, grocery store worker, etc.)
until it makes a web.
-Ask what would happen if there wasn’t enough rain (have the person who thought of
rain to pull the yarn web). Who felt the pull? What if the workers go on strike? Etc.
Everyone feels the pull. What happens if the migrant workers get sent back south?
The point is that growing corn is an interconnected process that relies on many factors
and people. Every cob is brought to our table by many hands. What if the cob becomes
refined into a corn product, what extra links on the web would be necessary? Discuss the
concept of ―interdependence‖-what does it mean? We all rely on others and the
environment for our survival.

Make another web from the perspective of a Mexican farmer. What links might have to
be added or taken away? Discuss American farm subsidies (these subsidies make it
cheaper for Iowan farmers to export farm to Mexico then it is for Mexican farmers to
grow their own corn.) Many farmers then leave Mexico for jobs in the United States.
How does that affect the web?

Read the book called ―Three Stalks of Corn‖ by Leo Politi. This book discusses corn
growing from a more traditional, indigenous perspective. (It explains the planting of a
corn with squash and beans (A Milpa), the different hand tools used and the different
view and understanding of the plants and the human relationship to the earth.)
Talk about the different ways that a typical Mexican and American farmer may grow
their corn:the plot sizes, the tools, irrigation systems, relationship with the plants,
companion plant growing, etc.

What if you grew corn in your own garden, what are the differences/similarities with
backyard growing and the other two methods?

Class Project: Plant the three Sisters (corn, squash and beans) (called a Milpa in Mexico
by indigenous farmers) in cups in the classroom. Create a garden outside if possible or
take plants home. Apply garden science experiments in small groups (i.e. soil make-up,
plant reproduction, the life of seeds, etc.). Interpret results in journals with pictures. How
are we like a Milpa? (the Milpa works as a system that is greater than just one plant.
Together, the plants produce more then the plants grown separately. –related to people,
we are more than our individuality etc.)

Extension activity: Talk about a modern farm worker’s day.. Bring in the subject of
migrant workers and read the story by M.E. Cedano called :Cesar Chavez‖. Talk about
the Labor movement and continue the conversation about strikes (You can also read the
book about the LA janitor’s strike called Si Se Puede by Diana Cohn ).

In a journal, have students reflect on their responses to the book and conversation. Justify
or critique Cesar Chavez’ stand. Imagine you were a poorly paid farm hand. How would
you view the situation? DO you think that a boycott is an effective way to get your
message across? Is it justifiable to consider migrant workers as a drain? Who would take
their jobs if they didn’t do them?

Mexico, Nafta, Immigration and Corn

Teachers: Read the following article for background info: Mexico’s Haves and Have-
Nots: NAFTA Sharpens the Divide at
www.nacla.org/art_display_printable.php?.art+530 (The NACLA website)

Begin by asking students who they think of when they hear the word immigrant. Have the
class guess which Californian Governor said this quote: ―Our borders are being overrun
by herds whose entry we cannot control.‖ Allow students to share their guesses. (They
usually guess the most recent govrenor). Ask them who they think the governor was
talking about (they usually quess Mexican immigrants). Then tell them that in fact it was
the Mexican governor of California in 1840 speaking about American immigrants who
were inundating Mexican Borders. Show them a map from that time which details how
California, Texas, Nevada, parts of Utah and Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona were
all part of Mexico. (For a Map, go to pg. 3 in the Venconmigo 1 textbook or look up US/
Mexico Border before the Mexican-American War on the internet).


To Be Contimued……

Additional Activities:

Creative Arts:

-Story time
Read the story called ―The Tortilla Factory‖ by Paulson G. (The life cycle of the plant
from seed to tortilla) or ―Magda’s Tortillas‖ by B.C. Chairez. Review concepts and
newinformation about corn. Discuss ―masa‖ then make masa for tortillas. Have a parent
or relative who may know about tortillas come in and give a lesson ontheir preparation.

-Singing and Rhyming:
Learn a song from the book ―Arroz con Leche‖ by L. Delacre. What does ― Arroz‖ mean?
(rice in Spanish) Sing the bilingual song called ―Somos como los flores‖ and learn the
actions that go with the words. Translate the Spanish words together.

-Corn Husk Art:
Research traditional uses of corn husks from Mexico(mattresses, salt containers,
doormats, baskets, dolls, sports, pottery making tools, Tamale skins etc. Create a corn-
husk poject based on traditional uses of corn husks.

Science:

-Uses of Corn:
As a class, research various modern and traditional herbal reverence books and then
document the medicinal uses of corn. Discuss the medicinal uses of corn silk. Make
a=corn silk tea and drink it as a class. What other uses do we have for corn today (ethanol
fuel for example—but don’t drink that of course!) Add the new research to the class
time/info line on corn.

-Organic vs. Conventional

-What are the differences between alternative, non-chemical pesticides and regular,
chemical pesticides. Bring in examples of both and conduct comparisons/explorations of
the properties of each. Have a guest speaker from a local organic farm or an
environmental group come in talk about alternative vs. regular
 pesticides and farming methods. What are the medical effects on the body? Have a
classroom debate regarding the pros and cons. How are migrant workers in the US
affected?
-discuss the ethical implications of hybrid/open-pollinated seeds or the genetically
modified seeds go to www.southernexposure.com/library/WhyOpenPollinated.htm and
www.primalseeds.org/hybrid.htm for more information. Also read Tainted Tortillas at
www.newint.org/issue353/tainted.htm. This article discusses how Oaxacan corn is being
affected by GMOs. Create a mock trial regarding the advantages and disadvantages from
a Majority/Third world Perspective, American conventional and organic farmers
perspective, a scientist’s perspective, the company’s perspective and the perspective of a
comsumer in the United States and Mexico.

Field Trip:
Visit a nearby farm or Farmer’s market.

Math:

Calculate ratios: How much corn does the U.S. eat/export a year? And Mexico?

Estimate the number of kernels ona cob of corn and then count them.

Measure the volume of dried popcorn, pop it and them measure the volume again.
Triple the tortilla recipe-figure out the ratios before making it for the class.

Look at a seed packet for corn and figure out how many transplants will be needed for a
certain area.

Discuss corn trivia ratios and measurements (go to the American Corn-Growers web
page). There are 56 pounds of corn in one bushel. There are 72,800 kernels in a bushel.
One bushel makes 32 pounds of starch or 33 pounds of sweeteners or 2.5 gallons of
ethanol.
Using a scale and a bushel basket, put 56 pounds and then 32 pounds in the basket and
have students try to lift the basket together (make a connection with the intense work and
low wages of migrant workers/farm workers)

Cultural Measurement:
What other systems of measurement might farmers in Mexico use to way corn?

Language Arts:

Journals:
Keep a food journal-how many times do you eat corn or corn products a day? Compare
with other classmates.

Legends:
Research Latin American Legends on corn. Have students create their own legends that
explain some aspect of the plant cycle and/or corn. Or learn to tell a legend that already
exists. Write, draw, dramatize or sing a legend. Discuss: How do legends help preserve a
culture?

Recipes:
Atole is a famous corn drink. In Oaxaca, corn is often eaten spread with mayo, cayenne
pepper and Oaxacan cheese. What other Mexican corn recipes can you find?

Final Assessment Projects:

    1. In small groups, map out all of the information learned in theis unit. Make a webb
       with writing and pictures or make a puzzle.
    2. In pairs, make a poster focusing on some corn information taken from each
       curriculum area.
    3. Concept Scavenger Hunt: Each student illustrates 5 concepts with some
       information or objects that he/she finds on the school grounds (in the library, in
       the classroom, outside, etc.) Students can use anything they find to demonstrate
       an understanding of a concept or information.
    4. Make a comic strip, play, radio show, essay, dance, song or story book about the
       information learned about corn.

Unit #2
    Monoculture, Diversity and Sustainability
Important vocabulary for this unit:

Globalization- the process that takes place when social life in societies becomes more and more
affected by international influences (business, culture, politics and consumer goods).

Multiculturalism- relating to and reflecting many cultures; where values,
views, tastes, beliefs and ways of living are varied.

Monoculture- a culture of a single kind, where everyone has the same views,
consumer tastes, values, beliefs and ways of living.

Diversity- made up of varied or unlike elements/people/things.

Biodiversity- the natural, rich and complex diversity of plant and animal life in a region


Time: 3 hours (May be broken down into smaller units)

        Rationale: As globalization takes hold, the messages and products of dominant
nations get imported all over the world. Native cultures and traditions are left by the
wayside as new ways bump out the old. The world becomes more similar as corporations
and their markets become larger. The ability to influence culture is powerful. Ideals,
norms and the dominant ideology are reinforced in what we see and hear in our daily
interactions. The institutions which produce images and auditory information (like
Disney) have a lot of control over the ways in which we live our lives.
The Disney corporation is the second largest media corporation in the world. Disney
programming and products are consumed globally and it influences the minds of billions.
How does this affect diversity?

Objectives:
Students will:

     increase their understanding the importance of diversity by participating in the
      activity, ―Who am I?‖
     name themselves in more then one group and identify their own individual
      multiculturalism by participating in the activity called ―Circles of our
      Multicultural Selves‖
     become familiar with the following concepts :culture, monoculture,
      multiculturalism, diversity by way of group discussion
     understand the impact of globalization on the world’s cultures by reading and
      discussing the article ―Racketeers of Illusion‖.
     Foster compassion towards victims of prejudice by reflecting on their own
      experiences of feeling ashamed or devalued through the journal writing exercise
      and the Multicultural selves exercise.
Activities:
-Discuss: What is globalization? How does globalization affect the world? What are some
possible advantages and disadvantages? What is Diversity? Use the example of the
Mexican state of Oaxaca- 16 different languages spoken and the most bio-diverse state in
the country.

-Hand out the D Day comic strip. ( from the New Internationalist Magazine web site,
issue 308 www.oneworld.org/ni/index4.html ) In small groups, ask the students to
discuss the following questions (have one person in the group write the answers) : What
symbols/logos do they see? Why do the Disney characters have guns? Why would
Disney be represented (it’s one of the largest Media corporations in the world and has
played a huge part in exporting Western culture around the world ).Why are the local
people running away? What do they think about the comment at the top of the page?
What is this comic strip trying to say? If Disney is a global corporation whose messages
about life get imported all over the world, what does this mean to other cultures, to the
uniqueness of Oaxaca? How might this affect diversity?


-Share the results in a large group.

Wrap- up: Write a reaction to the cartoon in journals. Is the cartoon a fair
representation? Is it disturbing?

Homework: Email the Institue of Nature and Society Oaxaca for more info on Oaxacan
bio-diversity. Email these sites for more info on the trafficking of the rare plants of
Oaxaca tna@wwfus.org or traffic@trafficint.org Also try the Ethnobotanical gardens of
Oaxaca (Jardin Etnobotanico-Centro Cultural Santo Domingo). Finally, try
http://oaxaca.gob.mx/sedetur. Draw a picture of 3 plants or animals the are new to you.



Monoculture- Are we all “one”?
Activities:

1. Who am I?

-Ask students to make a list of qualities and characteristics that make them who they are.
-Have volunteers to read their list.
-Talk about the beautiful and positive things that each person brings to the class.
-Discuss the question ―What would we lost the differences of the people in the classroom
and everyone was the same? What if there was only one type of person- if everyone
looked and talked and dressed the same? What would the world be like?
-Hand out a paper that has a center circle with five circles connected to the center circle
on it. In the center, students write their names. In the other circles, students write five
groups that they identify with.

Discussion: Think and tell about a time that you were very proud to be a member of a
certain group circle. Think and tell about a time when it felt painful to be a member of a
certain group circle. What is one thing that you wish people would never say about your
group?

Adapted from A Curiculum of Her Own: An International Women’s Studies Course for
High School Girls

2. Connect and Re-connect

-Discuss and review: Who makes culture, where do we get it from? What types of
different cultural categories can we think of (regional cultures, student culture, movie
culture etc) What are the benefits of multiculturalism or cultural diversity? What
influences us the most these days in making popular culture (Who decides what’s in
style, what products to sell, what information we get etc?)

-Go back to the discussion about the D-day comic. Does the media reflect culture to us?
In what ways do we try to mirror what we see? Now ask, what if there was only one
culture on the planet, a monoculture?

-Select and hand out abbreviated sections from the article ―Rackateers of Illusion‖ by
Piers Benatar which talks about the cultural cost of entering into the global market.
www.oneworld.org/ni/issue308/illusion.htm (What is racketeering?)
-Have the class read it to each other in pairs.
(The article explains how companies carefully craft images to sell to Third World
nations, to people who are often poor and insecure. The images seem hopeful so the local
people begin to disregard their own traditions in admiration of a different way of life, a
more consumer way of life. They then lose faith in their own history and traditions and
devalue their own way of living.)

Wrap-up: Think about the D Day cartoon again. What is the connection with
monoculture and the loss of traditional ways of living and of farming? Go to
www.turnpoint.organd read Can Industrial Agriculture Feed the World?. Teachers can
also send away for an info/poster pack (for a small donation).

Journal writing: Write about whether or not you have ever devalued your own primary
culture. What motivated you to do this? What did it feel like? If you have never devalued
your primary culture before, why not? What do you think the reasons are that make you
feel it to be unnecessary?

Homework: Have students do the monoculture quiz ( www.turnpoint.org,) under the title
Global Monoculture in the Economic Globalization Section).
2. What now? Mobilizing for change.

Brainstorm possible actions that the group can undertake in relation to what they have
learned about Globalization, monoculture and diversity. Perhaps they might consider
writing a letter, or teaching workshops to other students. The Kid’s guide to Social Action
by Barbara A. Lewis offers many tips for students and teachers. Let the class know that if
any students who are uncomfortable with an action project can talk with the teacher for
alternative activities- no one is forced to participate.
To help students get started, have them write answers to the following questions in their
journals:

   1.   The things I feel really concerned about are…
   2.   If I were feeling strong and powerful what I’d like to speak about is…
   3.   The person or people I’d really like to address this to is/are…
   4.   The things that will help me speak up are…
   5.   The circumstances that would assist my concerns being listened to are…
   6.   The ways I avoid or stop myself from doing this are…
   7.   My worst fantasy about what might happen if I spoke up is…
   8.   What I am willing to do about speaking up in the next week is…

Adapted from: www.flora.org/mike/poped/transportation.html

				
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