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.