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Lisa's column

JAN 11

January 11, 2002

A lesson in globalization

Teaching your child - By Lisa Tedrick Prejean


My son and one of his friends were having an interesting conversation while playing with some of their new Christmas toys.

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I walked by just as one of them said, "Yeah, this one's made in China, too."

They were lifting up action figures, cars and building sets to read the labels.

"How come all our toys are made in China, Mom?"

"It's probably a lot cheaper for companies to make them overseas," I told him, feeling a little guilty. Didn't I buy any American-made toys this year?

As it turns out, many toys are made in other countries.

But people living in those countries often own American cars, computers, video games, music and movies.

"It's a two-way street," says Michael Holtzman, who was special adviser to U.S. Trade Ambassador Charlene Barshefsky in the Clinton White House. "When we buy products made elsewhere, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

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"Probably three out of four parents have a job that's dependent on international trade. We're all dependent on the system."

The concept of trade and relating to other countries often isn't taught until middle school, so if your elementary-age child starts asking questions about the labels on his toys, stick to the basics, says Dave Somers, manager of curriculum for Junior Achievement Inc., www.ja.org, an organization that offers programs to teach students about trade.

Start with explaining that international trade is and has been a part of our culture for a really long time, and that it is dependent on one country doing something better than another country.

Jane Hughes, professor of international finance at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., tells her students that trade is like a soccer team. A big, slow kid should be the goalie. A fast, small kid makes a good forward.

"That way, the entire team benefits," Hughes says.

Likewise, each country should do what they do best.

"Then the whole world benefits," Hughes says.

Many companies look to China to produce items that require a lot of people working for low wages, Hughes says.

"The point I would make is that it must cost so little money to make them in China that it's worth it," Hughes says.

That can be a real eye-opener.

As my son traced his finger from Maryland to China on our globe, he looked at me in disbelief.

"That's a long way for those toys to have to travel. How do they get from there to here? Look at those big mountains they have to go over." (The Himalayas) "And there's Afghanistan." (A country he wants to find each time we look at the globe.) "Then there's all this water it has to cross over." (The Atlantic)

So we had a discussion about planes, trucks and transporting goods from one place to another.

It's important for kids to realize how items get to store shelves, says Trey Graham, author of "Lessons for the Journey."

"Children can begin to learn that the world is bigger than their town," says Graham, a graduate of West Point, and a founder of Faith Walk Ministries, www.faithwalkministries.com.

Children should also learn that there are several ways we benefit from international trade.

When foreign products are brought here, they're usually sold in stores owned or managed by Americans.

As we trade with other countries, an increasing number of markets will open up and we'll be able to sell more of our products abroad, Holtzman says.

And while it's a good idea to buy American-made products when we can, many products made here contain parts made in other countries.

Trading also leads to peace.

"International trade makes the world safer," Graham says. "I'm not going to go to war with someone who is an economic partner of mine."

If your child seems curious, try these ideas from Holtzman, Graham, Somers and Hughes:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Make a game of finding out where items were made. Go around a room, lift up items and check labels. List the countries and find them on a map or globe. What's the climate like there? What is grown there? What products are made there?

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Show your child currency from other countries. Let him compare and contrast it with American currency. Children may be surprised that currency is different all over the world. (Don't have any foreign coins? Ask if your bank can obtain some for you.)

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Talk about languages used throughout the world. My son wanted to why the words on his toys made in China were written in English instead of Chinese. I told him we couldn't read it if it were written in Chinese. He wants to know why the Chinese know our language and we don't know theirs. Good question.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at lisap@herald-mail.com.

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