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27 November 2006

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gosia

I teach video at a High School in Hell’s Kitchen. The curriculum and structure of the school has been developed by Facing History and Ourselves, an educational organization which encourages leading the students in critical examination of history, with particular focus on genocide and mass violence. The Holocaust is thoroughly studied, so are more current issues, like conflict in Sudan, etc.

The ethnicity of the students is 3% white, 22 % black, 74 % Hispanic and 1% Asian. When I came to the school I wanted to see past color and culture but I was immediately confronted with it the very first day.

The teacher whose class I was observing to familiarize myself with school’s teaching methods, discipline rules, etc. was leading a lesson on integrity. The questions students were to discuss was “If you found a wallet with $20 in it and an ID, what would you do”. The first response I heard came from a Latino 10th grader was: “If it belonged to a white person, I would take the money, if not, I would give it back”. Some other students cheered in approval. I was the only white person in the room at that moment and I froze. The teacher asked “why so?” and the boy replied: “white people have enough money already”.

Another day I was encouraging a student to complete an assignment, which required writing a short proposal for a movie project. He kept saying “I can’t do it”. When asked “why”, he said, “I can’t do it, I’m black”.

Tolerance is the core of Facing History School’s curriculum and I do believe that education should be the catalyst for an end to stereotypes, prejudice, violence, and injustice. I believe that we are evolving as a society, but it will take time and a good amount of effort from both educators and students to get rid off signs of typecasting, like the “N” word I hear in the school hallways at least 50 times a day.

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