By Jennifer Block
and Farnosh Family
Cold Spring Harbor High School
Prejudice is a real problem in the world today. On I*EARN (the International Education and Resource Network) there are two, exciting, on-line projects which have recently shared ideas and discussed ways in which education can help overcome prejudice. These two telecommunications projects are the Beyond Tolerance Project and The Holocaust/Genocide Project. Each has its own teleconference: <iearn.tolerance> and <iearn.hgp> on the Internet.
Students at A:Shiwi Elementary School in New Mexico, and their teacher Cathy Bullock, initiated a "prejudice awareness" program for young students on the <iearn.tolerance> conference believing that it is important to teach about tolerance at an early age. Cathy uploaded her project idea, "Prejudice Project," to the <iearn.tolerance> teleconference in September, 1995 during the United Nations' Year of Tolerance.
According to Cathy's proposal, students would:
Eventually, the goal was to have students at A:Shiwi and other schools take positive action to change prejudicial attitudes. Although this project was to end November 17, 1995, it has been so successful that it has expanded and is continuing to this day.
Cold Spring Harbor High School students, ages 13-17, who were working on the Holocaust/Genocide Project (HGP), became involved in Cathy's project because we have a topic entitled, PREJUDICE, on our <iearn.hgp> teleconference and thought students from both schools could help each other. We began corresponding with the teachers and students at A:Shiwi, a Zuni reservation elementary school in New Mexico.
The children at Zuni were ages six to nine. As the project began, Brooke Estren, co-editor of the HGP student magazine, An End To Intolerance, shared her excitement of this project with the Zuni children after HGP members received a package of books, postcards and photos in the mail: "...I was delighted to hear that you were going to start correspondence with us, and I was overjoyed and very thankful when we received all of the literature you sent us. I loved the pictures of your class and the book that you sent us titled, The Zunis. That was so nice of you, and on behalf of the HGP I would like to thank you...."
In one of the first letters the elementary students sent us, they described their class:
"The children in our room are different from each other. We have different color hair. Emma is Jewish. Other students are Zuni. Some of us have lived in different places like Albuquerque. David can't hear. He talks with sign language. Karl can't see and has special glasses. Kagney, Kevin, Tami, and Christopher wear glasses. Some children speak Zuni and some don't. Some children know sign language good and the new ones are just learning. Cathy has different skin and is Anglo. 'It's not boring because we are all different,'" wrote Emma Coates-Finke, Tilden Peynetsa, Christopher Simplicio, Ashley Segura, and Shalay Bowannie.
We responded to their letter by telling them a little about us in the high school, "In our school there are many different races and religions. Some of us are Jewish and celebrate Channukah. Others are Catholic and Christian and celebrate Christmas. What is the holiday, Sha-lak-o? We don't celebrate that holiday here, but are interested in learning about it," wrote Jennifer Block, Farnosh Family, and Melanie Mayer.
Many e-mail messages were exchanged as well as books, magazines, and photos. Cathy sent us a list of suggested books for elementary age students, and we sent Cathy a book for young students that is an allegory of the Holocaust entitled, Terrible Things, by Eve Bunting. We also learned that Juanita, the teaching assistant, was reading the book we read in 10th grade, Night, by Elie Wiesel. While learning about prejudice, the students from A:Shiwi sent us some of their thoughts:
"Prejudice is being mean to someone you don't like because they are different. It is not sharing and hurting someone's feelings and fighting," wrote Joshua Peynetsa and Tami Ewa (both age 7).
Michael Panteah (age 8) and Tricia Kaskalla (age 7) shared their definition of how, "...prejudice means hating and not sharing and fighting and not playing and not being friends and calling names to others who are different."
Hawk Segura (age 9) and Kevin Bowannie (age 6) felt that, "We need to stop having prejudice and war. We need to stop being mean to other people who are different. We need to tell people who are being mean to stop. We need to stop killing people who are different from us."
Farnosh Family, a tenth grade student at Cold Spring Harbor High School, sent her definition to the younger students, "I think prejudice is not liking people when you first see them but don't know anything about them except for what they look like. People might be prejudiced against others because of their skin color or anything that doesn't have to do with the person inside. I hope you will never allow yourself to be prejudiced against others by getting to know someone before you decide on whether or not you like them."
Jen Block, Jen Insardi and Leah Trabich, also tenth graders, wrote to Zuni saying, "Prejudice is a bad thing because it hurts people's feelings."
Mary Pottanant, grade 11, pointed out that, "Sometimes when I am at stores, the salesperson thinks that I do not have any money to buy anything because I am young, and so they do not help me to find what I want. Another example is that sometimes the boys say that they are stronger than I because I am a girl. Both of these are examples of prejudice."
Along with their definitions and ideas, Cathy's students read books dealing with feelings and thoughts about how people throughout the world are the same and different. They touched upon how Zuni people have had to deal with prejudice and discrimination, too. The books Molly's Pilgrim and The Big Orange Splot dealt with the treatment of other human beings, and taught the lesson that one can learn from people who are different.
Zuni Class Portrait:
A:Shiwi Elementary School
The children discussed the Holocaust, as well, according to Cathy:
"...they did so in a manner appropriate to their age. The children learned that Hitler wanted to expand the borders of his country and wanted to mistreat the groups of people he did not like: Jews, Gypsies, Black people. The children then read The Lily Cupboard by Shulamit Levey Oppenheim, which tells of a Jewish couple in Holland who take their small daughter to live with a Dutch family in the country. Little Miriam is taught to hide in a secret cupboard when soldiers come.
After hearing the story, a student, Shalay said, 'I wonder why the little girl's parents weren't in the book at the end of the story?' The group thought about this question but did not try to respond," said Cathy.
The class will follow this beginning book with other relevant books such as A Picture Book of Anne Frank by David A. Adler; The Number on My Grandfather's Arm, also by Adler; Terrible Things by Eve Bunting; and, Rose Blanche by Robert Innocenti. The teacher, Cathy, with help from Pam Tsadiasi, and Juanita Edaakie, was excited to see the children recognize prejudice in the books they read and discussed in class. These discussions led the elementary students to think of situations where prejudice occurred closer to home.
In Cathy's class, there was a seven-year-old boy who was albino, deaf, nearly blind, and developmentally delayed. During a discussion of similarities and differences between people, a student commented on the skin color of this seven year old boy. This led Cathy to consult with a fellow teacher who had approximately thirty animals in his classroom. Among these thirty animals, he brought the students a litter of albino mice.
These mice inspired the students to explore albinism. Cathy wrote us that, "...a child shared that his dad and uncles had seen an albino deer when they went hunting this month. Juanita told of climbing Dowa Yalanne Mountain and coming across a huge, albino rattlesnake. We discussed the fact that albino or white buffalo are considered sacred to many Native American tribes.... The children learned that albinism is due to a change in the genes and that it occurred about once in every twenty thousand births although it is much more prevalent in Zuni. They also learned that albino plants, animals, and humans are unable to produce pigment in their organs."
Through observation of the animals, the children noticed how the albino mice behaved just like the other mice. They saw that color was the only difference. They also learned that the color of a creature does not determine whether the creature is good or bad. Coloring is just another aspect of life. From this study, the children changed their behavior toward their albino classmate. The kids, who once teased him and made rude remarks, began to protect him. They saw how the albino student was ridiculed on the playground, and now they came to his defense. All of the children cared about him and began to protect him and act against the prejudice the albino boy had suffered.
Cathy also wrote of other ways that the lessons were working, "...all of the children in our class are Zunis except one little girl who is Jewish. She has just realized this year that she does not look like the other children...She and the other children are responding well to our parallel discussions of prejudice against Zunis and prejudice against Jews...."
The entire Zuni community got involved, according to Cathy:
"To combat the negative results of prejudice, children in three classes brainstormed some of the similarities and differences among peoples and why some groups of people feel prejudice toward others.... Families were asked to explore feelings and emotions and define "love" through words or art.... Families contributed collages, photographic displays, pottery, paper mobiles, and family stories. The final display was on exhibit in the main hall of the school...."
Here are some of the children's comments:
"Love is caring. Love is peace. Love is sharing. Love is loving. Love is hugging. Love is kissing. Love means to be friends. Love is a family. Love is holding hands."
"I love my mom because we read together, go to the park, and play together. I love my dad because he taught me how to swing, play 'hide and go seek,' and swim. Love is being happy, being nice, and having snacks."
"Love means a birthday party, going for picnics, and bringing flowers for your grandma."
"Love is my heart."
"Love is hugging your mom and dad. Love is kissing your mom and dad on the cheek and giving them flowers."
"Love is joy and caring and peace. I love my family. I love them so much that they love me too. I love them and my grandma and my grandpa. I hope they love me too. I love me too. I love dogs."
These poems were only a small part of the three pages of poems they wrote to us. Along with these poems, the children sent us bright drawings of what "Love" made them think of. Students from Cold Spring Harbor loved the poems and wrote back to thank the students from A: Shiwi:
"We really enjoyed reading the love poems that you wrote. We think writing poems about love helps to show that, even though there is so much prejudice in the world, love will always shine through," wrote Pooja Badlani and Erin Browne.
Jen, Mairead and Farnosh,
with Zuni Display at CSHHS
The pictures sent to us by the Zunis were so adorable that it inspired us at Cold Spring Harbor High School to create a display of A: Shiwi students' drawings, together with their photos, in the main library window of the high school during the week of Valentine's Day. It was a great success. In addition, Cathy and the teachers at Zuni posted our messages and drawings in their classrooms and even sent copies home to the children's families. Near the end of our work together this year, Cathy Bullock sent us this message:
"The nicest thing happened today. Often when we teach little ones, we are not sure they are understanding what we say. As you may realize, the Zuni people are known for their fine turquoise and silver jewelry. This morning six-year-old Daniel and his seven-year-old brother, Terence, came to school and placed around Emma's neck a lovely child-size turquoise Star of David necklace. Daniel informed us that his grandmother made the Star for Emma, and his nana (grandfather) bought the chain.
These are the same two children who last month salvaged pictures of neo-Nazi hate groups giving the Nazi salute from newspapers they were wadding for their woodburning stove. They came to school with the pictures and informed us that the people in the pictures were doing bad things. I think families must be giving serious thought to what we are studying."
Because of its success, this Tolerance Project has not ended. Currently, the Zuni children are learning about Africa, and Cathy writes that she and the other teachers are hoping to correspond with children in Africa to further understand issues occurring there. We wish them luck and love.
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Access the HGP's An End to Intolerance Web page.
Access the Holocaust/Genocide Project's Home Page.