Thursday, July 4, 2013

Playlists Posts #2: Songs for America's Birthday

I've written about music before in this space, and those posts have proven to be among the most popular.  As of this week, my post on guitar solos has received over 230 hits, my post on songs about the radio has over 380 hits, and my post on the album Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs has been viewed over 1250 times.  Based on this success, I am returning with a timely post for today: songs  with titles that have something to do with America's birthday.  The songs below are not necessarily "patriotic" and they do not necessarily relate to the United States, but their titles make them perfect for listening to today.  Let me know if I've missed any of your favorite tunes in the comments.  Happy listening, and Happy Birthday America!


#1: "Fourth of July"--Dave Alvin

The first song on this list is by one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Dave Alvin.  Alvin, who is almost invariably referred to as "Dave Alvin, formerly of the Blasters", even though he hasn't been part of that group for decades, released this song on his first solo record, Romeo's Escape in 1987.  The lyrics paint the picture of a relationship falling apart, and the singer is grasping at whatever he can to salvage things:
She gives me her cheek
When I want her lips
And I don't have the strength to go.
On the lost side of town, in a dark apartment
We gave up trying so long ago. 
On the steps I smoke a cigarette alone
The Mexican kids are shooting fireworks below.
Hey baby, it's the Fourth of July
Hey baby, it's the Fourth of July. 
Whatever happened I apologize
So dry your tears and baby walk outside
It's the Fourth of July.

This video comes from a performance on Austin City Limits, and features some nice solos from Alvin and steel guitar wizard Greg Leisz:

#2: "Fourth of July"--Pete Droge

This song by alternative rocker  Pete Droge has a pretty melody but the message is pretty heavy, as the singer is talking to a friend who committed suicide on Independence Day.  He is saddened and disappointed by the friend's decision to take his own life, and the bittersweet refrain reveals some of his mixed emotions:

On the Fourth of July
You see the sparks in the sky
When your sick of the trying
And you're tired of the crying
Then the Fourth of July is a good day to die.
They'll celebrate each year 
Your independence from here. 

I can't find a video of the song, but you can listen to the song on Spotify:

#3: "Fourth of July"--Brian McKnight

Brian McKnight is a super talented, do-it-all musician who has written and recorded all types of music. This piece of lightweight pop music is very sweet, and the chorus is one that anyone who is in love can relate to:

When we kiss it's like Christmas
I still feel butterflies
Every time we're together
Like the fourth of July
Here is the official video on Vevo:

#4: "Fourth of July Rodeos"--Chris LeDoux

The late rodeo riding country singer Chris LeDoux put out this fun little honky-tonker on his 1975 record "Rodeo and Living Free". In the song LeDoux sings about riding in a rodeo on Independence Day, and wanting to be home with his wife.
It's the Fourth of July on the rodeo trail
And it'll drive you insane.
My wife's worried home by the telephone
I'm on the road again. 
It's the Fourth of July on the rodeo trail
If I ever make it home I swear
I'm gonna hang up my hat
Put up my rigging sack
And for a month I'm gonna stay right there.

Here is the link on Spotify:

#5: "One More Fourth of July"--Jackson Rohm

This sprightly number from country/pop songster Jackson Rohm (who looks remarkably like former Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Pat Burrell) is a song of regret for the "one that got away".  It's pretty catchy!

#6: "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)"--Bruce Springsteen

No playlist of songs about America would be complete without the Boss, so the next two songs give us a double shot of songs from Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.  The first tune, "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)", comes from his second album, The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle.  It is a beautiful, though somewhat wistful song.  To me, it has always had a bit of a humorous aspect, as it seems like the more the singer tells Sandy about what a loser he is, the less likely it is that she will "unsnap her jeans" for him.  Here is a live clip from the 1970's:

#7: "Independence Day"--Bruce Springsteen

This song, off Springsteen's double album The River, is part of Springsteen's series of songs that relate to the father-son conflict he experienced growing up (think of songs like "Factory" from Darkness on the Edge of Town).  In this song, the son recognizes that he and his dad will never agree, and that it is time to move out of the house.  As someone who often had trouble getting along with his father, I find this song to be very moving, especially the following lines:

'Cause the darkness of this house has got the best of us
There's a darkness in this town that's got us too
But they can't touch me now
And you can't touch me now
They ain't gonna do to me
What I watched them do to you 
So say goodbye it's Independence Day
It's Independence Day all down the line
Just say goodbye it's Independence Day
It's Independence Day this time.

#8: "Independence Day"--Ellis Paul

This number by Boston singer-songwriter Ellis Paul is another one that combines freedom from a bad relationship with the national holiday. When he learns that his woman has been unfaithful, the hypocrisy of their life together causes a breakup:
I'll shed some light on the mystery
Of why I kicked her out on Independence Day
With the fireworks burning I found myself learning
Couldn't lay in my bed the same way

#9: "Independence Day"--Elliott Smith

Elliott Smith and I were contemporaries at Hampshire College in the late 1980's.  This song is a good example of how he could blend lovely melodies with inscrutable lyrics.  I recently spoke with author William Todd Schultz about what life was like at Hampshire in those days, to provide some background information for his upcoming new book "Torment Saint: The Life of Elliott Smith".

#10:"Independence Day"--Ani Difranco

Ani DiFranco's songs are often heartbreaking, and this one is no exception.  The haunting chords combine with the lyrics and the tortured vocal to describe the sadness of someone who knows that the one she loves doesn't feel the same.  The words are very evocative, especially the introduction:

We drove the car to the top of the parking ramp on the 4th of July
We sat out on the hood with a couple of warm beers
And watched the fireworks explode in the sky
And there was an exodus of birds from the trees
But they didn't know we were only pretending

#11:"Independence Day"--Martina McBride

This is an outstanding song which once again combines the national holiday of Independence Day with that of an abused woman who gains her independence from her husband by killing him.  The song is told through the eyes of the woman's daughter, who is looking back to when she was a child.  It is a great song to listen to, and the words really make you think.  On the one hand, the eight year-old narrator loses both of her parents (her mother is arrested) and is sent to to "the county home", but on the other hand, while she "ain't saying if it's right or it's wrong", she seems to think that her father deserved it.  The video below is fraught with extra meaning, as it was shot at Farm Aid in 2001, just a couple of weeks after 9/11.  One can discern a little bit of the pride and determination that Americans displayed back then when Martina McBride sings "let freedom ring".

#12:"Happy Birthday America"--the Soul Survivors

Well after all of these grim, gloomy songs, we might as well end on a positive, upbeat note.  This song, written for the 1976 Bicentennial celebration, is a great example of Philly soul and you can't argue with the lyrics.  Happy Birthday America, it's party time in the USA!!!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Everything I Needed To Know I Learned From Pro Wrestling (Pt. 4--The Anti-American All-American)

If you've followed this blog over the past few years, you would know that professional wrestling is a huge interest of mine.  I've already written about cage matches and about "the original Pearl Harbor job", but this post will focus more sharply on the aspect of professional wrestling characters, specifically those who are identified as "American Heroes".

While professional wrestlers are above all else, outstanding athletes, part of the appeal to "sports entertainment" is that each of the wrestlers portrays an easy to understand character.  Some are good guys, or "faces", while others are the bad guys, also known as "heels".  In rare cases, characters inhabit a middle ground, and thus are known as "tweeners" (bad guys who get cheers, or good guys who get boos).  Sometimes these personae are derived from the actions of the wrestler, such as when Stone Cold Steve Austin represented the blue collar worker against the treacherous, exploitative management of WWE owner Vince McMahon.  But often times, a wrestler's character comes from more primitive-level appeals, such as nationalism. I've previously linked to some articles about national and ethnic stereotypes in wrestling, and how they can serve as a short-hand way to explain a wrestler's motivations and actions.  

Over the years, a reliable way to get a wrestler "over" (popular with the fans) has been to make him appear to be very patriotic.  Perhaps the best example is that of legendary wrestler Hulk Hogan, whose theme song proclaimed that he was "a real American/fighting for the right of every man".

At one point, due to storyline exigencies I won't go into here, Hogan was forced to wrestle in a mask, coming out as "The American Patriot", a star-spangled heavyweight whose moves, voice and theme song were remarkably identical to the then-banned Hulkster.  Naturally the fans were aware of what was going on and cheered lustily whenever the masked hero managed to prevail over the dastardly Vince McMahon and his minions.

Other examples of characters who have gained popularity through their appeal to pro-Americanism include Sgt. Slaughter, a real-life former Marine, Kurt Angle, the only American Olympic gold medalist to wrestle professionally, and "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan, who appealed to a very base level of patriotism, usually by putting down other countries and getting fans to chant "U-S-A, U-S-A" in response to his every action.   Duggan gained his appeal early on when, in the midst of Reagan-era Cold War tensions he prevented "Russian" Nikolai Volkoff and the Iranian Iron Sheik from singing the Soviet national anthem prior to a match.  

This video gives a good example of Duggan's shtick, including a "flag match" versus "Russian" Boris Zhukov, in which the winner's national banner will fly proudly in the arena. In the interview prior to the match, Duggan runs down Quebecois heel Dino Bravo as well as the Soviet strongman Zhukov. 

Besides Duggan's antics, listen to the classic commentary between face play-by-play man Vince McMahon (who at the time was not known to be the owner of the company) and heel color commentator Jesse "The Body" Ventura.  Ventura, a real-life former Navy SEAL and future governor of Minnesota is a classic heel, putting down both Duggan and his fans.  For what it's worth, the announcing is a great example of why Jesse "The Body" was my favorite when I was a kid.  Even though his grammar is poor, and he supports the bad guys, he comes off as rational and intelligent, even when making excuses for Zhukov's loss. 

Sometimes, in an effort to freshen up someone's character, good guys do a "heel turn" and become bad guys.  When this happens to someone known for patriotism, it can be confusing. In 1991, Sgt. Slaughter became a pro-Iraqi heel. This turn is still talked about today, and especially to younger viewers, it must have been shocking to see an American hero go against his country like that. 


All of this is mere prologue to discuss a fascinating variation on this classic theme currently being aired on WWE programming.  For the past five or six years, a wrestler known as Jack Swagger  (real name Jake Hager) has hovered around the top echelons of the WWE.  Whether a face or a heel, Swagger has proclaimed himself to be "the All-American American", alluding to twice winning academic all-American awards at the University of Oklahoma.  Swagger has great size and can be intimidating in the ring, though a speech impediment makes him less threatening on the microphone.  He has briefly been the World Heavyweight Champion, and until 2012 was usually seen as a serious main-event wrestler.   For some reason (storyline or falling into disfavor with management due to multiple failed tests for marijuana) Swagger went on a months-long losing streak in 2012, culminating in him "walking out" on WWE for several months. 

Swagger returned out of the blue in February 2013, winning the Elimination Chamber match to become the #1 contender for the Heavyweight title, which at the time was held by Alberto Del Rio.  Del  Rio had been a heel (the "Mexican Aristocrat") who came to the ring in a different luxury car every day but had made a face turn, and was now seen as a plucky Everyman who was living the American dream through his success in the WWE.

Swagger didn't return alone.  He brought with him a manager/mouthpiece named "Zeb Colter".  Colter is portrayed by former wrestler "Dirty Dutch" Mantel.  Colter is billed as Swagger's "Founding Father",  the man who inspires Swagger to new heights by motivating him to "restore America for real Americans".  He even encouraged Swagger to rename his signature ankle lock hold the "Patriot Lock" (it was called the "Patriot Act" for a week or so, but that was a bit too charged, I guess). 

It turns out that Swagger and Colter hate undocumented immigrants, and much like Arizona Sherrif Joe Arpaio, assume that all Latinos are in the country illegally.  Swagger's new slogan "We The People" applies to the "us versus them" approach that has him accusing Del Rio of being an illegal immigrant, while Del Rio can present himself as a American success story; as a man who found a land of opportunity in the USA. 

Swagger and Colter may be a great pair, but Mantel and Hager do not seem to be ideal companions.  Swagger has been known to have problems with marijuana, and shortly after the two were brought together, he was arrested for driving under the influence after a show in Mississippi.  That is morally reprehensible enough, but it must have been especially hard for Dutch, considering that only a few months before, his granddaughter was killed by a person driving under the influence. Mantel is an old pro, but Swagger is an accident-prone goof who has more than once injured people in the ring, including broadcaster Jim Ross a few years ago, and current champion Dolph Ziggler a few weeks ago. 

Despite the arrest and injuring the top wrestler in the company, Swagger has continued to get a "push", perhaps because the WWE hope that the politically tinged message will garner them extra publicity.  At the beginning of their pairing, some right-wing media picked up on what seemed to be attacks on the Tea Party movement.  Radio host Glenn Beck got in the act, which led to Swagger and Colter inviting Beck onto Monday Night Raw to debate them (naturally, Beck didn't show up).  

The thing that interests me the most about this character development is that Swagger has NEVER been cheered for his xenophobia.  In fact, in an effort to protect the character, announcers are careful to make sure to speculate that Colter has "brainwashed" Swagger, thus putting the blame on the manager, not the wrestler. The only one to stand up for the duo is heel color commentator John "Bradshaw" Layfield, a brash Texan who praises Colter for being a Vietnam Vet (and thus, an American hero).  At one point, on "Old-School" Raw, WWE legends Dusty "The American Dream" Rhodes and Sgt. Slaughter accompanied "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan as he came out to face Swagger and Colter. 

As you can tell from the video, Swagger gets a huge amount of heel "heat" for beating up three legends known for their patriotism, but he also gets berated by the announcers, saying that they want no part of Swagger's America.

I have found the audience reaction to Swagger and Colter to be very interesting. It is well-known that despite what the writers want, it is up to the "WWE Universe" to decide what will be popular (or not).  Swagger and Colter have been booed from the outset, despite the fact that they would seem to represent the views of many "real" Americans.   The "non-partisan" (not really) Federation for American Immigration Reform has collated the results of numerous surveys that seem to show that the majority of Americans believe that porous borders (mainly to the south) are a serious threat to the United States and that illegal immigrants "harm" American workers.

If the numbers are so convincing, then why do wrestling fans boo Swagger and cheer Del Rio?   I think that it has to do with fairness and familiarity.  When Americans answer pollsters' questions on immigration, they equate "following the rules" with fairness, and so naturally someone who breaks immigration laws is not deserving of approbation.  But when they see and hear the venom coming from Colter and Swagger, it turns them off.  Similarly, the idea of a generic Latino "stealing jobs and draining resources" is unpopular, but the charismatic Del Rio is a fan favorite for his fighting spirit, charm and resiliency.  And then when Swagger and Colter have also run down other fan favorites like heel Englishman Wade Barrett:

and Canadian-American face Chris Jericho:

the fans rebel against such unfair, discriminatory and rude behavior toward people that they think they "know".  I think that this is not unlike the way that homophobes change their minds and support same-sex marriage once they learn that someone they know and like is gay.

I wonder if the powers-that-be in the WWE expected such a negative reaction to Swagger's new persona?   And if they did, what does that say about America?  WWE fans are a cross-section of the population, with a weekly total viewership of 14,000,000.  According to the WWE's corporate website, 58% of the WWE audience has at least some college education, nearly half have household incomes over $60,000 and 36% of viewers are female.  Perhaps most telling is the number of Hispanic viewers.  According to WWE research, Monday Night Raw is the most watched weekly show among Hispanic men (also African Americans) and Friday Night Smackdown is the most watched Friday night show among Hispanic men. By the end of this decade, 12 states and the District of Columbia will have "majority-minority" populations, and California and New Mexico will have a plurality of Latinos.  The WWE is a publicly traded company and they know that to increase shareholder value they must keep viewership high.  By building up characters like Del Rio the WWE is creating strong Hispanic fan favorites who will help the company maintain their grip on minority viewership.  And there is no better way to do that than to have a big, xenophobic bully drawing heat.  I think that the WWE knew exactly what they were doing.  Because anti-immigration bigots can now feel that their views are being freely aired on WWE programming, and more progressive people can feel glad when announcers criticize Swagger and Colter and can cheer when he loses a big match.  This way, more people will tune in, and the company will continue to succeed.

I'd love to know what your thoughts are on this topic.  Please feel free to leave a comment!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Notes From The Classroom, pt. II--Civil War Casualties

As I mentioned in my last post, I spend a lot of time teaching my high school students about the American Civil War.  Or, to be more accurate, I should say "the Civil War era".  As I tell them on the first day of the school year, I'm a pacifist, and I don't like war.  As a result, I spend a lot of time talking about life during wartime, and the effects of wars on American society, but not a lot of time on the "bang bang, shoot shoot" part.  This usually disappoints a few students (mostly boys) but of course I still make time to cover certain major battles as well as key military leaders and their tactics, so even the more "bloodthirsty" kids have something to look forward to.

This past week I taught the kids about the scale of Civil War casualties, as well as the terrible conditions faced by soldiers of that era, especially those who were wounded in battle. When I teach this class, I have several goals in mind; first, to put the event into a global perspective, and second, to try to relate the information to the wars the United States have been fighting for most of their lives.

I find it helpful to put the Civil War into a global perspective for a couple of reasons.  Primarily, since I teach students from all over the world (my school draws from over 20 nations) I don't want to seem chauvinistic.  And secondly, if I am successful in driving home the point that the Civil War was the most significant event in our nation's history, it stands to reason that civil wars in other countries are equally important.  I start the class by sharing the following facts with the class:

  • 3,000,000 soldiers (USA and CSA) fought in the Civil War, which was about 10% of the total population. 
  • Approximately 620,000 soldiers died in the war (about 2% of the total population). An equivalent today would be  six million deaths.

I then share the casualty totals of some significant 20th Century civil wars for comparison:

These numbers typically elicit a strong response, but someone usually raises the significant differences between 19th and 20th century technology.  So I mention that contemporary with the US Civil War was the Taiping Rebellion in China. This civil conflict lasted from 1850-1864 and claimed at least 20 million lives

After this perspective, I try to make a comparison to something with which they should be familiar, the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.  At this point I am teaching students who were only four or five years old in 2001, so their recollections are naturally hazy.  But they are quite aware that 9/11 changed their world. Nearly 3,000 people died that day (with many more dying since then, especially rescue workers at Ground Zero).   Our country was horrified by the carnage in 2001, but (thank God) nothing similar has happened to America since then.  But imagine living here 150 years ago.  In the space of four and a half months in 1863, the following battles took place (among others): 

Chancellorsville, Virginia: May 1-4 1863: 30,099 casualties (17,278 USA / 12,821 CSA)

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: July 1-3 1863: 51,112 casualties (23,049 USA / 28.063 CSA)

Chickamauga, Georgia:Sept. 19-20 1863: 32,624 casualties (16,170 USA / 18,464 CSA)

and that was after two hard years of war, with another year and a half to go.  I ask the students to consider what it must have been like to live in the country back then.  I imagine that people must have been almost in a state of shock.  Everyone must have known someone connected to the war and the tension of never knowing when a loved one's name would show up in the newspaper's death rolls must have been terrible. 

And that is a useful point of contrast to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have gone on for most of  my students' lives. According to The New York Times, during the last decade, less than 1% of the total population has been on active military duty, compared to 9% during WWII and 10% in the Civil War. This makes it easier for people to have an "out of sight, out of mind" approach to war.  

I also spend time discussing medical science and technological advances in the last 150 years.  We talk about how wounds to the extremities were the most common injury in the Civil War, and that most resulted in amputation.  After grossing the students out with discussions of the highly septic conditions of operating rooms 150 years ago, I ask if they know what the most common injuries are for American soldiers today. According to Catherine Lutz of Brown University, [.pdf] they fall into four categories:

  • Traumatic Brain Injury:  A Rand report in 2008 found 19 percent of returning service members reported having experienced a possible traumatic brain injury...Whatever the true number, TBI cases range from severe, penetrating TBI to the more common mild TBI which can display itself in psychosocial dysfunction, seizures, irritability and aggression, depression, confusion and memory loss.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Mental injuries, including PTSD, have also been common.  The Veterans  Administration reported 192,114 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had been diagnosed with PTSD through the end of 2010, with these numbers, however, excluding anyone diagnosed and treated outside the VA system...Several features of these two wars have made emotional and cognitive impairment more common, including multiple and extended deployments with less rest between deployments (39 percent of all soldiers who have been to Iraq and Afghanistan have had two or more deployments, even after wounding, and more exposure to handling body parts and seeing friends killed, surviving with more grievous wounds, and higher rates of  TBI.  Other predictors for PTSD include “killing of innocent bystanders, or having to  witness such killings without the ability to intercede, [which] is also associated with more intense psychiatric manifestations. This is of significant concern due to the large numbers  of civilians killed during this current conflict by both coalition forces and the insurgency.”
  • Amputation:  More soldiers survive their wounds now than ever before in human history. The widespread use of body armor protecting the vital organs has also  meant an unusually high number of wounded soldiers with multiple amputations (including limbs and genitals) and complex combinations of injuries, including burns,  blindness and deafness, and massive facial injuries.  According to the Army Office of the Surgeon-General, there were 1,621 amputations among US troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and “unaffiliated conflicts” through September 1, 2010. Half of these were caused by  improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Blast injuries from IEDs often combine penetrating, blunt, and burn injuries. IED shrapnel can include nails, dirt, and clothing and create enough small wounds to exsanguinate the victim. There has also been a high incidence of blinding injuries. 
  • Spinal Cord Injury: US News reports that  "explosions are the main cause of spine injuries among wounded U.S. military personnel...Researchers analyzed more than eight years of data on back, spinal column and spinal cord injuries suffered by American military personnel serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. Of nearly 11,000 evacuated casualties, about 600 (nearly 5.5 percent) had a total of more than 2,100 spinal injuries. Explosions accounted for 56 percent of spine injuries, motor vehicle collisions for 29 percent and gunshots for 15 percent, the study found. In 17 percent of spine injuries, the spinal cord also was injured. Fifty-three percent of gunshot wounds to the spine led to a spinal cord injury. 

One of my students pointed out that it is a shame that since so many injuries are "invisible" it will be hard to recognize and thank these veterans for their service to the country.  I thought that was an excellent example of being able to discuss "current events" in the context of a history class.  Thanks for reading!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Notes From The Classroom, Pt. I-Slavery Footprint

So in my day job I teach American history (and since I work at a boarding school, it is often my night job as well). One of my classes is a survey course on U.S. history.  I believe that it is impossible to understand America without understanding the Civil War, so every year in the winter I spend about seven weeks covering the Civil War (about four weeks on the lead-up to the war, and the rest on the conflict itself) followed by another two weeks on Reconstruction (you can see my full syllabus for details).  Most of my students are 10th and 11th graders and I strive to try to make the material that we cover relevant to their daily lives.  As the slogan on my history webpage says, we study history to make sense of our world today. 

This week we covered the midpoint of the war.  The students wrote an essay evaluating whether Lincoln or the slaves themselves deserve the most credit for emancipation, and we also discussed the Gettysburg Address.  It also helps that the movie Lincoln has been so well-received this winter; my school took all of our students to see the film, which led me to write a "who's who" of the characters.  Because this month is the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, numerous articles have been published discussing the significance of that landmark declaration.   One article that I found especially compelling, entitled "How Many Slaves Work For You?"  was in the New York Times on Dec. 31, 2012.  In it, Louis Masur, a history professor at Rutgers proposed that it was time for a new Emancipation Proclamation one "written for our times".  

Masur draws our attention to the problem of human trafficking, which President Obama has correctly identified as modern slavery.  Estimates are that up to 27 million people worldwide are enslaved right now; these people are exploited for their labor and their bodies.  "Trafficking" can include forced labor, bonded labor, debt bondage among migrant workers, child labor, involuntary domestic servitude and sex trafficking.  I don't usually share my personal viewpoints with my students, but I have traditionally revealed that I consider the kidnapping and sale of 13.5 million Africans from roughly 1450-1850 the worst thing ever.  But twice that many people are enslaved right now!  

Masur linked to a very provocative website ,  The site uses clever animations and informative blurbs to educate visitors about the scope of human trafficking, and more importantly, to show how our modern Western lifestyles benefit from the labor of the victims of modern slavery.  When I took the test I was told: 

So this week I shared the site with my students, asking them to take the survey for homework, and to write a response.  I was very interested to see what they would say.  I teach at a private school, where many of the students come from relatively privileged backgrounds.  Further, I have students from 8 different countries in my classes (our school draws from over 20 nations).  The responses were quite gratifying:  the students took the project seriously, and several wrote deeply meaningful responses.

One American boy wrote: 

Upon completion of the slavery activity I found that I have 102 slaves working for me. The main contributers to this score included, in order, Lightbulbs, Ibuprophen, Cars, T-shirts, and Ballpoint pens. 
This number is very disappointing. The number of companies involved with slavery was quite extensive. This activity proved the reality of slavery. Slavery is still a major issue in not only foreign countries but also in our homeland. Human trafficking is a major issue in the US as well as around the world. This activity has shown me that people are still living under slave-like conditions and that there are options to end this maltreatment.... The US is a leading cause of the slavery in these areas because of our demand for their products. If the US and other countries refused to buy products manufactured by slaves the slaves would be freed form their bondage....I feel that the Slave Footprint activity was a great way to relate how slavery was back then and how it is now since these periods are very similar and require the same legislation and human effort to end slavery. 
An American girl wrote:

63 slaves work for me.  
This is a great program. It makes it visually appealing so anyone would be interested in taking the survey, and it's really eye-opening.  Even if it doesn't make people give away anything or stop buying anything, at least they can have a greater appreciation for what they have. 
A Chinese boy wrote:

The place I chose was not Shanghai, instead, I chose my hometown Zhengzhou. It is a city in northern China. It is no doubt that China is the “World Factory”. 60% of commodities we use have the label of “Made in China”. It is true that Chinese economy booms and people think that Chinese people are getting rich. It is true that the families which can send their kids to our school are already rich. Radically speaking, it is also true that those families are those 5% people who hold 90% of the wealth of China. 
I was born in a very little town in northern China and I knew what the circumstance it was ten years ago. My father only had two hundred dollars when he got out from college and those money were his entire family property. 10 years, things changed. From a little town without more than 20 apartments and fancy cars to crowded shiny business buildings and Mercedes and BMW cars. People do become rich; however, does everyone get rich? Absolutely not. There is a lot to say the negative impact of the increasing economy. So I decided to pick one example. I am an electronic geek. Computers, headphones, speakers, cameras and programing equipment are my favorite. Apparently 95% of them are made in China. Every Chinese knows a company knows a company called Foxconn. My home town Zhengzhou has the largest Foxconn factory in China. I believe every student at least owns one product from Foxconn. If you flip your iPhone or Macbook, you will read: “Designed by California. Assembled in China”. Foxconn, the largest electronics assembler on the earth. People believe their iPhones were made by machines and robots. True, but only 5% of the jobs are done by machines. The other 95% percent of the work are entirely done by hands. The workers in Foxconn only have the wages 1600 Chinese Yuan (240 USD) per month. 
Nowadays slavery is given  a new definition. Those “slaves” are free. They can talk they can do whatever they want. However, their wages do not equal to the amount of work. An American can make at least 7 dollars an hour but for those workers they can only make 7 dollars a day (12 hours working). I traveled from one of the poorest town on the earth to New York and this is what I do several times. It is very frustrating once you have this kind of experience. 
A Vietnamese girl wrote:

After I did the survey I got the result that approximately 42 slaves worked for me. Although the survey is not 100% correct, it does reflect the truth that slavery exists within modern society and in our daily life. By looking at the estimated number of “slaves” working for us from Slavery Footprint, it seems hard to believe that somewhere in the world people still have to suffer from social inequality. Last November, I had the chance to join the simulation of the UN Human Rights Council at Brown’s Model UN conference. One of the three topics I had to work on that time was the issue of unpaid bondage in Southeast Asia. In the process of preparing for the conference and writing up my position papers, I had the opportunity to read a lot of articles and useful information on unpaid bondage....According to the International Labor Organization, there are about 20.9 million victims at any time. I was totally shocked the first time I saw that number in ILO’s report. More surprisingly, 11.7 million of them, making up about 56% of the total, are from the Asia and Pacific region. These numbers should alert people about the seriousness of this issue. This is the consequence of social hierarchy and the lack of legal protections in this region....Anyway, I think that everyone should be aware of this issue and take it seriously. Moreover, we should all maybe avoid using products that are the results of forced labors. Although the issue of modern slavery requires long-term solutions, I believe that small changes can make a huge difference! 
An American daughter of Indian immigrants wrote:

My slavery footprint was 51 slaves.  This made me sad.  I know--or at least I have a general idea--of who they might be, where they might come from.  I've seen the kind of people that might be forced to work under slavish conditions, sat in taxis driving by them.  I've listened to them beg and been told not to get too close.  In India, giant megacities like Kolkata and Bombay they are everywhere.  Except for the malls--those are gleaming white things with security guards at the doors, meant strictly for the rising middle class.   
...I sit in some aunt's house  and I listen and I watch.  And there are people who aren't slaves, who technically are paid, but still... 
[My grandparent's house], it's normal by our standards but for them it's huge.  So there's a woman who comes and cleans the rooms and does other chores.  After a week of staying with them, we took a train back to Kolkata...The tickets might have cost a few hundred rupees (rupees are 40-50 to a dollar).  I was told that the train tickets were equivalent to one month's salary for the woman.  Not quite slavery, but not the ideal life either... 
And how to respond to this sort of thing?  It might be possible for people to cut back on some products associated with slaves, but not completely.  Inequality has been a part of the world since the beginning of time.  And we're all just teenagers.  What can we do?  So yes, it made me sad.  
 These responses are only a few examples.  I feel proud that I was able to make the students aware of a serious issue, and that I was able to do it in a "holistic" way that meshed with the syllabus and was a natural outgrowth of the historical material.  As a follow-up, I also shared the following links with the class:

Feel free to share this with your children, your worship communities and your friends.  Hopefully if more of us have our consciousness raised we will be able to make a contribution to curbing this scourge.  As Prof. Masur wrote at the conclusion of his article, "today we should celebrate the extraordinary moment in the nation’s history when slavery yielded to freedom. But the work must continue. For those who insist they would have been abolitionists during the Civil War, now is the chance to become one."