March 7, 2004
Putting a Number
on Global Interdependence
By Doug McGill
The McGill Report
ROCHESTER, MN --
Jerry Hrabe starts his high school geography class at Lourdes every
year by giving three tests -- the T-shirt test, the newspaper test
and the company test.
For the T-shirt test,
students must examine every T-shirt in their homes and note down the
countries where they were made. Then, moving through each room in the
house, they're assigned to turn over every serving dish, peek behind
every computer, and take notes on every pillow and stuffed toy and
other object made in a foreign country and tally the results.
The newspaper test
does the same thing with the day's paper -- students make a note of
every foreign influence in every local story. A John Marshall basketball
star from Sudan? That counts. An article noting that Thailand, like
southern Minnesota, is struggling with a methamphetamine epidemic?
You bet. Job outsourcing, Asian bird flu, SARS, WMDs, deployments to
Iraq? Check, check, check, check, check.
The company test
is the most demanding. Students go to local companies (Mayo Clinic
and IBM not allowed) and interview the owners, asking them for total
foreign sales, component parts they buy from abroad, specialized positions
they've hired from abroad, and low-wage jobs they've sent abroad.
The final result
of all three tests combined? The creation of a kind of Global Interdependence
Index (my phrase) for Rochester -- a rough measure of just how interconnected
our town is to the rest of the world, and just how dependent it is
economically, culturally, and for physical security.
"If you took
away foreign products and personal connections, many Rochester companies
would simply fold," Hrabe said. "It's not just the foreign
restaurants and grocery stores, either. The big grocery stores, the
Hy-Vees, would have to close, too. So would several local technology
companies working in computer parts and fiber optics."
to mention that without our foreign-made clothing we'd be mighty cold
in the winter. And if every "Made in China" item magically
disappeared we'd be late to work (no alarm clock), unhygienic (no toothbrush),
grumpy (no electric coffee grinder), and out of touch (no telephone).
"I try to teach
a philosophy of life," said Hrabe, whose schoolroom is hung with
art and crafts and maps of the world. "We need to get past the
American arrogance that we are the most important people in the world.
We have a lot to learn from other countries and other people."
A native of Rochester,
and a graduate of Lourdes, in his early 20s Hrabe had never traveled
farther than to his father's home in Pukwana, S.D., a dot on the map
where I-90 crosses the Missouri River.
He signed up for
two years in the Peace Corps, which he spent in Kota Kinabalu, the
capital of Malaysia's Sabah province, next to Borneo.
"I lived with
them, sat down with them for two years, ate their food," he recalls. "I
played ball with them. I became enmeshed in their lives, which is a
totally different thing from being a tourist for a week or two. I learned
that 'they' aren't any different from 'us.' Internally, there's no
difference. It made me much more tolerant at an early age of people
of other ethnicities."
The Peace Corps years
set his course for life. Back in Minnesota he attended graduate school
in history and in 1969 joined the Lourdes staff, where he's taught
geography and history ever since.
In recent years,
he and a colleague have organized annual trips abroad for students
and parents -- jam-packed 10-day teaching tours through China, Spain,
Europe, and Greece.
This year, Hrabe's
class is raising money to help farmers in developing nations buy livestock
such as chickens ($20 each), goats ($50), sheep ($150), and heifers
The idea is that
livestock provide a regular source of food, relieving hunger while
affecting the environment minimally.
students to get involved in the Channel One Food Bank and Community
Food Response, two welfare services in Rochester. He directs them to
a Web site where, thanks to a roster of commercial sponsors, one click
of the mouse pays for a cup of staple food added to giant aid deliveries
sent to more than 25 developing countries.
"I tell my students
'You don't have to spend money. You can spend time. You can volunteer.
You can write your congressman.' I'm trying to impart that even as
students they have some responsibility, and also some wherewithal,
to do something to improve the world."
That's a high bar
for us all, and a good final test.
@ 2004 The McGill Report