My Town, Your Town
Take-home assignment with in-class discussion.
Why do it?
This take-home assignment helps students compare the demographics of the town where they live to Kettleman City, a historic environmental justice community in California. When done in privileged communities, this activity reinforces the point that poorer towns of color are more likely to suffer from environmental degradation. In disadvantaged towns, this activity may help to provide an example of another “town like us” that has waged a successful campaign to prevent more pollution from entering their community. This assignment also helps students learn how to access census data.
- My Town, Your Town handout
- Access to the Internet
- Do this assignment ahead of time so that you know the correct answers to give the class when they turn in their work.
- Hand out the worksheet above to students in class, and ask them to use American Fact Finder (factfinder.census.gov/home/saff/main.html) to fill it in at home. Assign them all the same town to research in the “Your Town” column.
- Ask students to familiarize themselves with the history of environmental injustice in Kettleman City by assigning one or more of the pieces below. This will help contextualize the data they find on American Fact Finder.
- Read the stories of Mary Lou Mares and Maricela Alatorre at www.voicesfromthevalley.org/environmental-justice-stories/
- Listen to an interview with Mary Lou Mares on the Invisible 5 website at invisible5.org/?page=kettlemancity
- See photos in our exhibit
- Read an overview in the preface of the 2000 book From the Ground Up: Environmental Racism and the Rise of the Environmental Justice Movement (Cole/Foster; NYU Press, New York)
- Watch the 7.5 minute video from the LA Times: A Debilitating Medical Mystery.
- After the students have turned in the assignment, take a few moments to reflect on the exercise together. Questions to guide the discussion could include:
- Did anything surprise you?
- Why are the categories of statistics you looked up important in shaping the environmental experience of the town? What other factors might be important?
- To get the message across in less time, consider using this chart in an interactive lecture format instead of asking the students to research the data themselves. Start with a blank chart and fill it in one square at a time using PowerPoint, an overhead projector or a blackboard. Ask students to guess the answer for their town, and then give them the correct answer. Then go through the same process for the data for Kettleman City. Work your way down the chart one category at a time. Conclude by emphasizing the link between race and poverty with a toxic environment. This should take about five minutes.
- Instead of asking all the students to research the same town, ask students to research their hometowns or a community of their choice. Before turning in their assignments, ask students to divide into pairs or small groups to present their maps to each other. After sharing with their partners, bring the students back to the large group for a general discussion. The downside to this approach is that you will not be able to check their work.
- Replace the Kettleman City example with another town suffering from environmental racism in your area to bring the lesson closer to home.
- Adjust the categories that you ask students to research based on data available on American Fact Finder.
- Watch the 3 minute segment about Kettleman City that begins 7 minutes and 50 seconds into the video Sowing Change.