Jane H. Platt
A problem confronted daily at the New Haven Urban Youth Center, is prejudice. Our students are predominately black and Hispanic, our staff mostly white. This problem, of course, is not unique to our school. Discrimination has a history. It can be subtle, insidious, unconscious, subconscious, hidden, or overt. For these reasons prejudice is both a powerful and a difficult factor to deal with. Prejudice may never be eradicated; therefore there is a constant need for awareness and confrontation. This project will provide a disciplined way of clarifying and deepening my understanding of the multi-cultural context in which prejudice develops.
To apply my unit to the students at Urban Youth Center, I need to plan activities that are concrete, interesting, and on their level. My unit takes its title from the song, “Carefully Taught,” in
We learn at an early age “to hate all the people our relatives hate.” My project would be to have my classes and a class in North Carolina do audiotaped oral histories of older people. The questions asked would focus on regional background and experiences of discrimination based on age, sex, religion, class, or race. Both classes would use the same questions and exchange copies of the tapes in order to compare the results. We can tabulate the answers on charts for comparison.
I expect to find that the region where a person lives tends to determine which groups are discriminated against and the ways in which prejudice is shown. For example, in the North prejudice has been denied and repressed. Its manifestation has therefore been more subtle than in the South. In the South it seems to have been more organized, open, and taken for granted. More recently, dramatic changes have been made in the South, and I think both regions are more open about discussing race relations. It will be interesting to see if the project shows this, and how the expression of prejudice has changed over time.
My own awareness of racial discrimination developed slowly. As I was growing up, we were taught to be tolerant. It seemed to be all right to say negative things about blacks but not to say them in front of blacks and hurt their feelings. Only as an adult did I become aware of the pervasive effect this hidden racism had on housing, employment, social acceptance, and equal opportunities for blacks. I didn’t know that if one’s voice sounded black on the telephone that the apartment would suddenly become “taken.” When I read
Black Like Me
by John Howard Griffin, I was shocked to learn of the blatant racism in the South. I didn’t know there was a “hate stare” and such complete segregation in schools and public accommodations. I had trouble understanding how people could be so open about treating Negroes as inferior.
In introducing the unit I will attempt to start discussion of the manifestation of prejudice and contrast the Northeast and the South as regions, using a variety of materials. The words to “Carefully Taught” could spark the writing of a paragraph or an essay agreeing or disagreeing with the idea that prejudice is learned. The class could read excerpts from
Black Like Me
, and view and discuss the film
, which is a more humorous treatment of a white man posing as a black. The class can bring in magazine and newspaper accounts of women’s struggles for equal treatment. The class can measure the number of column inches devoted to positive versus negative coverage of teens and children. Consideration has to be given to the placement of the articles. Is it on page one or buried in the back of the newspaper? Religious issues could receive similar treatment.
To put prejudice in context, we could discuss how the 19th century Protestants in New England treated the Irish immigrants and later how they viewed the French Canadians. The concept is that historically new groups of immigrants are seen as beneath or outside of the established group and have problems during the period of assimilation.
As preparation for the oral history project itself, we would develop the idea of what oral history is. Excerpts from Alex Haley’s
and a discussion of the Foxfire project can set the stage. We will need to discuss good interviewing techniques. There are technical matters on handling the taping equipment and starting the tape by giving the date and naming the participants in the conversation.
Good interviewers set the subject at ease, ask questions to get the person talking and ask additional questions only to clarify a point or keep the conversation on track. It is a good idea to jot down questions as they occur and, when possible, keep them for the end of the talk. At this point we will contact the cooperating class in the South and share written accounts of our activities. Some practice in mock interviews will give students a chance to role play and become comfortable before starting the project.
The following is a tentative list of the kinds of questions to be used in the interviews. Questions are intended to draw out experiences of discrimination on the basis of age, sex, color, religion, or class. The premise is that the way prejudice is manifested differs from one region of the country to another. In the process the students will be exposed to new information and may develop an understanding of how prejudice is formed.
Where were you born?
Where did you grow up?
To what groups do you belong? or, How would you classify yourself? (By this we mean race, religion sex, age, ethic group, political party etc.)
What was (or were) the dominant group(s) in your area?
Did you experience incidents that showed someone was discriminating against you or someone you knew? Describe them.
How did you (your family) treat other groups? (access to public facilities, quality of education, acceptance at social functions ) Why?
How did they treat you? (Same as above) Why?Have you moved from where you grew up? If yes, how are groups treated in the new area? Is this different from what you were used to? If no, is there a difference in the same area since you grew up? Why did you or your family move?
What do you miss the most about the area you left?
When were you first aware of prejudice? Were there specific incidents or just a growing awareness?
Were the people who were prejudiced aware of it?
Did you ever have a close friendship with a person who was from another group (or race)? If so, what was the basis of that friendship? Common neighborhood or school? Common job? Just a friendly outgoing person (i.e. personality)?
Did you ever discuss prejudice with a member of another group?
Who were the well-known figures when you were growing up (public figures, movie stars, singers, athletes)?
In addition to the content of the interviews themselves, students will get practice in many subject areas. Skills learned will include interviewing, listening, editing, and analyzing. Other expected advantages are: a wider perspective, recognition of the students’ own prejudices, preservation of histories of minorities, exposure to role models, a sense of pride in their heritage and an appreciation of others, and formation of links with an older generation.
The objectives for this unit fall into four categories, the process of doing the oral history research project, knowledge of the Northeast and South as regions, social skills, and language arts skills.
Oral History Research Project
The project will be an opportunity for the students to go through the process of doing research from a primary source. We will talk about what oral history is. My students may not have thought about how people preserved their traditions before the time of tape recorders and video cameras. Excerpts of Alex Haley’s
and perhaps some selections from
will illustrate this. The accuracy of the oral tradition and the sense of pride and belonging that are evident are some of the points I hope to make.
The students will learn interviewing techniques.
1. We will review and practice effective use of a tape recorder.
2. The students will learn to put the subject of the interview at ease, so he/she is not conscious of the tape recorder and can concentrate on the content of the interview.
3. The students will learn to ask open-ended questions and follow-up questions to encourage the subject to keep talking. The interviewer stays in the background.
4. The interviewer should be polite and thank the subject for spending time on the project.
5. A typescript can be made of the interview and the subject asked to review it for corrections, additions or deletions.
6. The results of the interviews will be tabulated and the data compared.
7. Students will analyze the information and report the results.
8. The class will discuss the results and see if conclusions can be made.
1. The students will gain social skills in interaction with their subjects, classmates, and the other class.
2. Through the project the students will focus on listening to the experiences of others and thereby should gain a wider perspective on the subject of prejudice.
3. The students may become more aware of their own feelings of prejudice.
4. Since the subjects of the interviews are older than the students, the students will be exposed to a variety of role models. These may be positive or negative. Some adults may relate stories of experiences they regret, or give examples of things they do better now as a result of learning from their mistakes.
5. The students will have a sense of pride in their heritage and respect and appreciation for others’ heritage as a result of forming this link with an older generation.
Awareness of Regions
1. An awareness of the characteristics of the Northeast and the South as regions will develop as a result of the exchange between the classes.
2. Contact with the other students will help motivate them to read about their own region and that of the South.
3. Interviewing people who have moved from one region to another will be especially informative. There are profound implications for individuals or groups who have been displaced either for economic reasons or by being forced to relocate.
Language Arts Skills
1. The students will use critical reading skills in getting background information. They will compare and contrast, summarize, analyze, and draw conclusions.
2. They will extend their speaking and listening skills doing the interviews.
3. In contacting the other class and in writing thank you letters to the subjects of the interviews they will improve their writing and spelling skills, tailoring their writing to the purpose and to their audience.
My students will read examples of discrimination because of age, sex, race, class, religion, or appearance. They will discuss their own experiences of such prejudice. Using the book
by Irene Gersten, they will try to discover why people treat others differently on the basis of group membership. Other exercises will help develop this theme. My students can measure the column inches devoted to teenagers in a local newspaper.
They can rate them as positive or negative and examine the balance.
We can use the song, “Carefully Taught,” to write an essay or start a debate on whether people are taught to be prejudiced or are born that way.
We can watch excerpts of the movie
and list the stereotypes portrayed—e.g. All blacks are great basketball players.
They can bring in magazine and newspaper articles of women’s struggles for equal treatment.
Religious issues can be discussed such as school prayer, public funds for religious schools, nativity scenes or menorahs on public property etc.
We will discuss the fact that each new group of immigrants had to struggle for acceptance. A documentary,
An Immigrant’s Story, A Long, Long
on videotape, through the experiences of a young Polish boy, presents a vivid example.
For each of these areas of prejudice the class can develop a chart listing examples from readings or personal experience.
The class in North Carolina will be contacted and the project explained. We could do the same exercise as we are doing in the seminar. Each group could list what they think are characteristics of the other region and compare that with the response of the students living in that region. They can exchange photos of themselves and thumbnail biographies. A packet of information on the schools can be prepared and exchanged.
The class can develop a list of questions to be used in the interviews through brainstorming and testing in mock interviews. They should be similar to the ones listed in this paper.
The class will practice interviewing techniques by interviewing each other and perhaps a few adults in the building. A warm-up exercise is for students to be paired and given 10 minutes to ask each other some questions. Then, going around the class, each person introduces the other person to the class.
Contacts will be made with the adults to be interviewed and then the actual interviews will be done.
The interviews will be reviewed, discussed, tabulated and analyzed. The tapes will be copied and exchanged with the other school.
When I first mentioned this project to my class, their reaction was “You’re dead wrong. We don’t need to do no project like that. We’re not prejudiced.” I tried to explain that it wasn’t personal. We were going to look at prejudice as a phenomenon, but they persisted in their belief that I was directing this at them. Although developing clarity and consciousness about one’s own biases is part of my purpose, the strategy needs to be oblique. Emerging consciousness and changing attitudes will be by-products, rather the the actual content of this project.
We will have ongoing correspondence with the other class. After exchanging ideas of what the other area is like the class can break into cooperative groups to research different aspects of both regions and report to the class. They can write what their perception is and ask the other class “Have you had experience with this?”
Large charts on butcher paper or newsprint can be used to compare information from the interviews and can guide class discussion about the significance of the results. When the interviews are completed, we will try to tabulate the answers and compare the information. We will look at the similarities and differences in the responses. Are there patterns according to region or age, or do we have just a collection of individual responses? Did it matter which part of the country one grew up in? How did moving from one region to another affect a person’s experience with prejudice? Are people taught to treat others as individuals or as members of a group? What things did you learn that surprised you? Did you learn anything new about yourself?
Part of the discussion of the results will include the concept of going beyond prejudice to an appreciation of differentness. I would use the following quote from
by Kathlyn Gay p. 119 to introduce a discussion of positive things we have learned about others and ourselves.
Reducing prejudice usually begins with personal attitudes, exploring how one feels toward people who appear different or act in a different way from oneself. People who have low self-esteem and feel threatened by difference or who need the security of group acceptance may have problems appreciating differences—whether those differences are in color, religion, gender, income, physical shape, size, and abilities, or mental capacity.
A person with a strong sense of self-worth is probably well aware that each of us is unique in her or his own way. At the same time, all people have similar basic physical and emotional needs. To live peacefully in a multicultural society, we need to understand our commonalities as well as learn about and respect different lifestyles and traditions. It also helps to have empathy, or be able to ‘walk in another’s shoes.’
We can list qualities we admired in the people we interviewed and in each other. In my church every spring, we have a Flower Communion. The idea came from a Unitarian minister in Prague, Czechoslovakia, named Norbert Capek, who was martyred at Dachau in 1942 for his anti-Nazi preaching. Each person brings a flower to the service to be placed in a large container. At the end of the service each person takes a different flower. This symbolizes the fact that each of us brings a unique gift to the community and we all take something away as a result of our fellowship with each other. Perhaps the class can do something similar.
The class can give a reception for parents and the subjects of the interviews. Information gained in the project can be displayed and cooperative groups can select various ways of presenting their findings, such as preparing skits, debates, displays, or booklets.