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close this bookExploding the Hunger Myths - High School Curriculum (FF, 1987, 173 p.)
close this folderLesson 4: Is technology the answer?
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentActivity 1: Is more always better?
View the documentActivity 2: Technology on trial - One person's story

Activity 2: Technology on trial - One person's story

The teacher will take the part of a farmworker from Mexico who has been arrested for crossing the border without a visa and working without a permit in the United States. Students, acting as reporters, will learn by interviewing the teacher how the Green Revolution has had far-reaching effects on the lives of individual people. This activity is best used along with activity 1 of this lesson.


· To develop interviewing and questioning skills
· To analyze the effect of new agricultural technology on ordinary people
· To investigate the many events that may lead up to a particular action such as immigrating to the United States
· To discuss short-term and long-term consequences of technology on society


· Teacher background sheet: Ra>· Student handout: Mexican Peasants and the Green Revolution (optional)


One class period


Written statement for step 8 of procedure can be turned in.


alien, herbicide, immigrant, monoculture, pesticide, undocumented worker


1. Prior to class, read Rad Mexican Peasants and The Green Revolution. Ra a farmworker who has been arrested in Phoenix, Arizona, as an undocumented worker. He is facing deportation from the United States. You will take the role of Rad be interviewed by students who will be acting as reporters for a magazine doing a story on undocumented immigrants.

This sort of reverse role play can be an interesting classroom technique. Often, as teachers, we assign role plays to be performed only by our students and forget how difficult it is to assume the character of another person. This technique puts us in the hot seat. It also allows the students to be the ones asking the questions.

2. If you have not used activity 1 of this lesson, begin by discussing technology. What is technology? (One definition is "the practical application of knowledge.") What are examples of technology familiar to students? How does new technology affect people's lives? How do students think that improving agricultural technology can help improve the lives of hungry people?

Tell students that they will be learning about how the life of one person has been changed by technology and how events have led to actions that weren't predicted when the technology was introduced.

The class will be looking at the life of Ra poor man from northern Mexico. In the 1950s many new agricultural technologies were introduced to Mexico by scientists at technical research centers in the United States and Mexico. In many areas in Mexico, wheat yields became as high (on a per acre basis) as those of breadbasket countries such as Canada. Yields of other crops increased also. Soon the area was growing feed crops, as well as fruits and vegetables for export. We need to ask if this food helped to feed hungry people. Were all farmers able to benefit from this technology?

Students are going to look backwards at Ralife. They will discover how changes in Ravillage thirty years ago affect the decisions Rast make today.

3. Introduce the situation to the class. Ra an undocumented worker who has been picked up in Arizona. He has been scheduled for deportation after a short hearing before the Immigration and Naturalization Service of the U.S. Government. Indicate to the students that they will play reporters interviewing an undocumented immigrant (RaTheir job is to try to understand why Ra in the United States and how the events of his life have led him to cross the border. You may wish to introduce the activity prior to the day of the interview and ask students to go to the library and read a magazine or newspaper article on the topic of immigration, farmworkers, Mexican agriculture, or pesticides.

4. If you have a large class, you can divide the students into groups of three. In a smaller class, each student can develop questions independently.

5. Give students five minutes to develop at least one question per student or group. Remind students that they are trying to find out as much as they can about Ralife.

If students have difficulty with developing questions, here are some you can write on slips of paper for students to randomly pick:

Why are you here?
Do you have a family? Are they here?
What sort of work do you do here?
Isn't there work for you in Mexico?
What was your life like in Mexico?
What did your father do?
Do you want to stay in the United States?
How are your living conditions here? In Mexico?

6. Once students have their questions written, you will take the role of Rad attempt to answer them.

7. At the end of the question/answer session, discuss as a group the following points:

a. How did the new technology affect Ralife?

b. Why did Racide to come to the United States?

c. Could agricultural technology have helped Rad his family? How? Under what

d. How do you feel about Mexican farmworkers who come to the United States looking for work? Has your opinion changed after hearing the story of Rao you think Raould be deported? Why or why not? (This question could be difficult for the students to answer and back up without some outside reading, but an emotional response could be constructive.)

e. What is your solution to Raproblems?

8. (Optional) You can also give students the handout Mexican Peasants and the Green Revolution. The three pie charts point out the inequalities that existed in Mexican agriculture during the 1960s. We see that the vast majority-84 percent - of farmers were poor, but that those same farmers owned only 34 percent of the farmland. We can also see that these farmers had only 2 percent of irrigated land. Irrigation was used predominantly by the wealthy farmers.

9. If you wish to give a written assignment, you can ask each student to write (and illustrate if desired) a one-page article about Rahe articles can be read to the class the next day or posted on a bulletin board.



· Circle of Poison (book), by David Weir and Mark Schapiro
· North American Congress on Latin America (organization)
· Pesticide Education and Action Project (organization)


Students can become involved with local groups that work to protect the rights of undocumented workers. Social service agencies may be able to refer students to these groups.

Students can join groups working to help people gain a greater voice in decision-making about technology, such as citizens" utility boards. Some areas also have public interest research groups, which study the effects of industry on people.

· Public Interest Research Group (organization)

Rap ALIGN="LEFT">Ras born in the northern desert state of Sonora, Mexico, in 1955. His father owned a small plot of ground on which he grew corn, beans, and vegetables and grazed a cow. He also did carpentry work in villages around their farm. The family was poor, but almost always had enough food.

When Ras very young, farming in his area began to change. A government experiment station was established and began promoting new types of seeds to local farmers. Most of the seeds were for wheat, which local people had little experience growing. These wheat seeds could produce huge harvests if they were given enough water and fertilizer. The government of Mexico also spent millions of pesos in constructing huge irrigation networks to supply the area with water. Along with wheat farming, the production of irrigated vegetables for export began to dominate the agriculture of the area. Those farmers with the most wealth and political connections were able to take advantage of the irrigation technology, expanding their landholdings. Rich farmers used other names to buy titles to land in order to get around the government's land reform laws, which limited the amount of land one person could own. The actual average size of farms owned by rich farmers increased dramatically.

Rap ALIGN="LEFT">Rafather refused to give up his land for many years. The family's small farm was soon surrounded on all sides by large farms. These large farmers had access to more irrigation water, to credit on better terms, and to farm supplies at cheaper prices than Rafather. So they were getting wealthier, while Rafather was going deeper into debt. Rafather, wanting to improve conditions for his family, decided to sell the farm.

The family moved to a local village, hoping to get a chance to buy land again in the future.

Rafather made some money for the family by doing carpentry, and his mother worked as a part-time maid and laundry person for a wealthy farmer. During a few months a year, when farm labor was needed, both parents and children worked on other people's farms.

The huge mechanized monoculture farms of new varieties of plants were more susceptible to weeds and to damage by insects than the old, small farms growing a variety of foods. Large farmers in the area began increasing their use of herbicides and insecticides during the 1960s and 1970s. Many of the pesticides were declared illegal in the United States and Europe during the 1970s, but they are still in use in many underdeveloped countries.

On many occasions, members of Rafamily were exposed to pesticides while they worked in the fields. Sometimes planes would fly overhead and spray the fields even though workers were present. Rametimes had to mix the pesticides without using a protective mask or gloves. He and others often had to apply the pesticides to the fields on dry, windy days when the mist from the sprayers would blow into their faces.

The health of Raparents deteriorated. All members of the family experienced problems from the pesticides, ranging from rashes to asthma to severe headaches. They suspected that the pesticides were the cause of many health problems, but they had no proof. By now the increased amount of mechanization had decreased the number of working days for each worker, and no one felt that they could risk losing their job by complaining about the pesticide problems.

When Rat married, he and his wife Ana worked together in the fields. After their first child was born, they realized that it was going to be hard to support a family in Sonora. They worked all the hours they could near their village and would go by bus to other areas when harvests came in. There was absolutely no security for them or their children.

Six months ago, Rade the difficult decision to go to the United States to look for work. Friends and relatives told him that many farmers and factory owners in the United States would hire workers from Mexico even if they did not have work permits. Racided to find work in the United States for a period of time, save money, and then return to his family in Sonora.

He crossed the border into Arizona in the middle of the night so as not to be spotted by immigration authorities. After a three-day trek through the Arizona desert, Rarived in Phoenix. He felt very isolated with no family or friends to turn to, and he was frustrated by his inability to communicate in English.

A Mexican compatriot helped him find work in a factory, where he worked twelve hours a day for two weeks. When payday arrived, the boss announced that immigration authorities were on the premises. Ras forced to run and hide until it was safe to look for another job and hope for better treatment.

Finally he found a dishwashing job and began to earn what appeared to be good money when compared with the average Mexican salary. He missed his family and hoped to be able to return to them with something to show for all his hard work and sacrifice.

While riding in a truck near Phoenix, Arizona, one afternoon, he was picked up by a member of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, told that he was an illegal alien in the United States, and scheduled for deportation.

A friend gave him the phone number of a legal services agency where he could go for advice and help.

- Based on Roger Burbach and Patricia Flynn, Agribusiness In the Americas (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1980); J. P. Dickenson, et al., A Geography of the Third World (London and New York: Methuen, 1983); Mark J. Kurlansky, "Jammed in Mexico's Teeming City,' International Wildlife, January-February, 1986; and personal Interviews.

Mexican peasants and the green revolution

The following graphs are for your background. The three pie charts point out the inequalities that existed in Mexican agriculture during the 1960s. We see that the vast majority (84 percent) of farmers were poor farmers, and that those same farmers owned only 34 percent of the farmland. We can also see that these farmers had only 2 percent of irrigated land. Irrigation was used predominantly by the wealthy farmers.

The bar graphs indicate the decline in the number of people working in agriculture during Rayouth. If people in a rural area do not work in agriculture, what are their choices?

Mexican peasants and the green revolution