Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Lottery

Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" is one of my very favorite short stories for the whallop it packs at the end, when the villagers set upon poor Mrs. Hutchinson, who drew the paper with the fatal X, with stones. If kids are are going to become peace makers (in their own lives, in the community, in the world), or at least be brought to consider deeply need for peace, we must also talk about the causes of violence. I think "The Lottery" is an amazing little tale of how many times violence just simply becomes ritual or habit. It's tradition, and no one really questions why.

When we'd finished reading, I asked the students to give examples of "real life" Lotteries--ritual violence that a society seems to believe will keep it successful, healthy, fed, safe or redeemed. They mentioned the Aztecs and the Gladiators, which I thought were great examples, as well as various methods of the death penalty and gang initiation. Some kids disagreed with this one, as the DP is, at least in theory, applied to someone guilty of a crime, unlike the Villagers in story. One student even mentioned tattoes, which I would not have thought of. I am not sure I agree, and some other students disagreed as well, but there certainly is a ritual side to many tatooes.

Today, we're going to take a look at my example of a "real-life Lottery", which is the woman in Saudi Arabi who was recently sentenced (and then pardoned) to 200 lashes for having been raped!

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Ladder of Love

Sometimes the kids take control.

"Ms. D, if there's a Ladder of Hate, why is there no Ladder of Love?" (The Ladder of Hate is a graphic and discussion starter I use to illustrate how humanity too often has started at the bottom rung of stereotypes, on to prejudice, to discrimination, to scapegoating and finally to genocide itself.

So why is there no Ladder of Love? A fine question. So I put it back on them. I put "love/peace" at the top of the whiteboard and asked them what specific qualities and steps were needed to get us all there. There answers, honestly, were profound.

Risk. Tolerance. Acceptance. Forgiveness. Communication. Integrity. Honor. Knowledge. When I asked them to order them (after all, the idea here is a progression), the discussion became even more nuanced, with the kids asking themselves and each other questions like, "Shouldn't knowledge be at the beginning?" Others felt that risk should be, since communication won't start until someone takes the plunge. There was also debate about whether integrity or communication should be at the beginning. On one hand, you won't wish to communicate with someone who has no integrity; on the other hand, if you haven't communicated, how do you know if the other person has integrity or not?

My favorite, however, was one student who asked to draw his own graphic on the board. He drew "U" (which means "you" for those of us not as down with hip hop) and "enemy" connected by an arrow forming a circle, explaining that if you forgive an enemy, then that enemy will forgive an enemy of theirs, and so on, until the circle connects back to you.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Ladder of Hate

So as previous posts suggest, I center my classroom here in the Juvenile Detention Center--the discussions, writing and literature--on the themes of peace and tolerance. With a little (actually, a lot) of inspiration from the Anti-Defamation League, I designed a discussion lesson on what I've come to call the Ladder of Hate. It helps kids to think about some of the major themes of important literature, yes, but it's also a too-prevalent theme in their lives. Finally, it helps get them thinking about the concrete connections between stereotypes and actual genocide! I want them to understand how something as "little" as racial cartoons not only can but have led to mass murder.

The Ladder of Hate starts with Stereotypes. From there we escalate to prejudice, and on to discrimination (ACTING on prejudice). I lead us in a discussion of what each of these terms are and the kids never have trouble with examples. (That said, yes I have had kids who had not heard of the Holocaust!). From discrimination, we move up to scapegoating, the blaming of one group for a whole society's problems (paging Lou Dobbs!). Finally, at the top of the ladder, is genocide. I brought in pictures of Nazi doctors measuring noses and ears to determine if the "patient" was Aryan enough. I pass around a copy of the Diary of Anne Frank, as well as The Freedom Writer's Diary, which includes a copy of a ugly racial cartoon drawn by one of the students in that class. I make sure to note that "simple" stereotypes not only can but HAVE led to genocide. Some of the students literally have a hard time imagining, for example, live human crematorioms or "medical experiments" that involved removing the arm of one patient and sewing it on to the arm of another. Since we can't go to the Holocaust Museum, I am planning for it to come to us, in the form of a local Holocaust survivor. I am hoping that will bring to life the Diary of Anne Frank when we begin reading it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

On Relevance

Relevance, as you also may have observed, dear reader, can be a dangerous thing. In preparation for reading a poem from the perspective of an Hispanic immigrant yesterday, I brought in an article on immigration policy in Arlington (only 10 minutes from where our school is located). Many of the kids even knew some of the Vietnamese or El Salvadoran restaurants mentioned in the article, as they were eager to mention in class.

One of the central and vital goals of peace education, of course, is addressing and combating racism. It is ugly, and can come from anyone, even (and perhaps most likely) those who experience racism themselves. As I suspected I might, I encountered some of the stereotypes people can hold against "immigrants" in my classroom today as we discussed the article.

"They take our jobs". This was immediately challenged (by kids clearly of Latina/o background) to note that there is often no choice due to economic or political circumstances in the home country. Other students pointed out that we're a nation of immigrants and unless you're for example Mohawk or Navajo, there is probably immigration--voluntary or otherwise--there somewhere. One student, usually one of my best and most appreciative young men, said he felt that "immigrants are perverts". When pressed on this point, he described some behavior his sister and mother had experienced at the hands of people they assumed to be immigrants (they may well have been right). We've talked endlessly about the danger of stereotypes--the false belief that if one person in a certain identity group holds a certain quality, everyone in that group does. We've talked about how stereotypes have been the seeds that sowed genocide (I call it the "Ladder of Hate", of which more later).

Because I will not tolerate intolerance, I spoke with this student at length after class, along with my principal, who shares my educational goals of character and peace education. He stated to the student that conversations like that are what education is really about, and I couldn't agree more. But I'm aware that it is also quite counter-culture in a nation that can vilify immigrants, that self-segregates and that sees violence as a way to solve problems. We've raised offending others "because it's my right" to an art form and defined it as American. That, however, doesn't mean that peace education is doomed to failure or should end because it can be hard or messy or raise difficult issues. That's all the more reason for it to exist in every classroom!