In the US, we find the enormity of the Laogai system fantastical. Its reach extends into our homes, our holiday decorations and our pantries; its size is unfathomable, the population of our largest cities; and its abuses are unbelievable, including the harvest and sale of prisoners' organs. The Laogai system is one of the world's best-kept secrets in large part because it is so difficult for us to grasp, and so difficult for us to teach. How do we make meaningful to students a system of such scale that contradicts our own morality so strikingly and yet touches our lives in so many quiet ways?
Last week, two 8th-grade classes in a Brooklyn, New York public school spent an afternoon calling Apple, Payless, Samsung, Aeropostale, and other corporations asking where their product factories are located and inquiring how much their factory workers earn. They are participants in the Mission Laogai digital curriculum, piloting the educational creation of a small group of University of Michigan-Flint graduate students in partnership with LRF. Middle- and high-school students participate in an online simulation of a Laogai camp and a variety of academic and advocacy activities exploring the Laogai system, including examination of the Chinese sources of many major US corporations' products. Not your average social studies lesson, at the end of the week the students had a lot to say about the Laogai system, with reactions ranging from outrage to resignation, and an encouraging note of activist energy:
"I find it hard to believe and hurtful to know that something like this is still going on in the world. I had thought that all activities like this had come to the end after WWII, or at least all on this scale... It almost makes me sick knowing that the people running and supporting this type of activity work so closely with the united states."
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"Innocent lives are being taken away and no one can do anything about it. It really is sad and upsetting."
"This is so sad i cant believe that people are actually treated this way its just makes me want to do something to help them."
"I cant believe us (America) and the rest of the world can simply look away and pretend this is not happening ... We're all guilty for allowing this to continue and its time for us to confront this situation and fix it once and for all."
"We should have more pride and stand against this."