It's hard to get kids interested in learning about economics and the environment in the classroom, especially when textbooks have outdated information about it or none at all. That's why a 20-minute video called The Story of Stuff is becoming a sleeper hit in American classrooms.

It's a condensed explanation of where consumer goods come from, where they go when we're done with them, and how much havoc they wreak on the earth. It doesn't shed a flattering light on U.S. government or corporations (a school board in Missoula, Montana ruled against screening the video in classrooms after a parent complained it was too anti-capitalist).
But "Stuff" creator and narrator Annie Leonard does a good job explaining how the Third World plays a big role in the U.S. economy, and how Americans changed from "We the People" into just plain "consumers." While Leonard does insert economic terms like "perceived value" and highlights 1950s economist Victor Lebow as the man who paved the way for modern-day conspicuous consumption, her stick figures and straightforward explanation make "Stuff" easy for most grade-schoolers to follow.

The New York Times reports that kids are taking the video to heart. After watching it, Rafael de la Torre Batker, age 9, was worried whether it would be bad for the planet if he got a new set of Legos. His dad said Rafael debated with himself, then said it was okay to buy them because "I'm going to keep them for a very long time."

For a third-period Economics class, "Stuff" is easier to watch and discuss afterwards than the 90-minute film An Inconvenient Truth. That's why more than 7,000 schools and educational organizations have ordered the DVD version, and hundreds of teachers are assigning students to view it on the web. Facing the Future, a curriculum developer for schools in all 50 states, is drafting lesson plans based on "Stuff," and Leonard now has a book contract.

While pro-capitalists may take issue against Leonard's stance on consumer goods, at least her video does a good job making kids think about how much stuff is too much and when, especially regarding the environment, enough is enough. Watch it with your kids.

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