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November Issue

Vol 32|No 2|November 2021


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Buyer beware!

By Jamie McKenzie
(about author)


You can order Laptop Thinking and Writing here



With all the attention provoked by sales during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, how might we and our students take advantage of online resources to make smart choices?

Back in the 1970s, consumer ed enjoyed a brief period of popularity in schools, as teachers tried to equip students to make smart decisions in the market place and avoid various nefarious business practices such as “bait and switch.”

Some states persisted with consumer education, as you can see in this excellent report published by Illinois -- "Consumer Education in Illinois Schools" (2009)


As recently as October of 2021, Illinois still requires nine weeks of consumer education:

23 Ill. Admin. Code 1.420(k)(2).

Each district must provide a comprehensive curriculum that includes Consumer Education in its high school course offerings. 23 Ill. Admin. Code 1.440(a)(11). Each high school student shall be required to take consumer education for 50 minutes per day for a period of nine weeks in any of the grades 9-12.

Some other states like California publish impressive resource documents but leave the decision to offer such courses up to each local school district.

How online resources may support smart shopping

Online resources now make comparison shopping quite easy and support smart consumer behaviors unthinkable back then.

Example: Shopping for headphones

The teacher may assign the class the challenge of using Google Shopping to find the best price for headphones including shipping. They will soon discover that prices vary dramatically while some sites offer "free shipping" until you go to checkout and suddenly want another $10 or more.

Example: Shopping for a frozen duck

The teacher may assign the class the challenge of using Google Shopping to find the best price for a frozen duck including shipping. They will soon discover that prices vary dramatically while some sites offer "free shipping" until you go to checkout and suddenly want another $25 or more.

Example: Shopping for cat food

The teacher may assign the class the challenge of using Google Shopping to find the best price for a box of 24 cans of special cat food (Purina Pro Plan Urinary Tract Health Wet Cat Food Chicken) including shipping.

The students will rapidly learn that prices vary dramatically, especially when shipping costs are considered.

Reading customer product reviews

Many online vendors like Amazon and Chewy publish customer reviews of products that can warn you away from those whose quality may be lacking.

Looking for a blanket to keep you warm on the couch? Sometimes the photo looks good but the comments of customers are mixed or negative.

  • I got this blanket for decor purposes, but I also intended for it to be functional... this is the scratchiest blanket ever. It’s like nails on a chalkboard. For the price I really don’t know what I expected, though.... It’s good for the trunk in the car and that’s about it... doesn’t even look good for decor. Spend $10 extra and buy something better.
  • This is not a blanket to cozy up under. I bought it for looks only and it does the job at this low price. This is not a high quality blanket but it is pretty. It looks a little more plush in the photo than in real life but, again, for this price it does the job.
  • Decent blanket. Made cheaper than it looked like it would be and darker than I thought with no actual white in the blocks, only gray. Good for decor.
  • Pretty plaid. Not the usual in throws (colorwise). Good enough quality for the price. I use throws on my bed. Cats! Lots of them!...Easier to wash ( and quicker drying) than a blanket.
  • Seemed a lot smaller. Very lightweight. The Dollar store have better blankets for $5! Nice enough blanket. I have washed it twice now and it held up, tumbled dry on low heat. I use it as a throw blanket. Not an extremely high quality for decor, but just to cover your legs in the evening or wrap around the arms.
  • It’s super soft and I loved how it is thin but still provides enough heat to your body...it is really good for use during winter while watching a TV.

Reading professional product reviews

Back in the 1970s, you had to drive to the library to consult Consumer Reports if you wanted to read reliable product reviews. Even so, finding the product you wanted to learn about required some skillful use of an index to point you to the pertinent issue of the magazine.

Today you can access the articles in the comfort of your home on your laptop or you can use their app on your smart phone.



Want to buy a mask to protect you as COVID seems to rage on and on? Consumer Reports offers the following helpful article published in October of 2021: "Yes, You Need to Use a Better Mask."

The New York Times provides Wirecutter as a guide to smart purchasing. The site offers a search box that allows the visitor to ask "Show me the best . . . "

If you type in "ear pods," Wirecutter offers 42 results! The most recent at the time of this article is "The Best Wireless Bluetooth Earbuds" -- Updated November 27, 2021

Looking for effective face masks? "Where to Buy N95s, KN95s, and Surgical-Style Masks You Can Trust."



Smart shopping is easier now than ever before, so schools should make sure students are made aware of these resources and are shown how to use them.


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