With the book,
Mrs. Katz and Tush
, we approach the concept of stereotypes. A stereotype can be defined as a judgment made about a group of people based on only a small amount of information. Stereotypes exaggerate beyond the facts and often use words like all, none, always, never and every. Some examples I might include would be: Athletes are never studious. Teenagers are not respectful of adults. People who wear glasses are always very smart. Girls do not like sports. I would then posit the question: If our main characters didn’t know each other and relied only on stereotyping each other, what might they think? Perhaps the following adjectives would be offered:
interested only in hanging
out with his friends
We would discuss how each stereotype is not really true and in this case does not allow for individual differences. Another activity to help students identify stereotypes would be one where they were given a list of statements that they were to label as either facts or stereotypes. The list would consist of such statements as: Children can never make decisions for themselves. There are mostly women teachers at our school. Girls cannot play basketball. They would complete the exercise working in groups of three or four, later coming together as a large group to discuss their findings.
From this concept we could move into the notion of prejudging people before getting to know them. Taro Yashima’s
will lead us nicely into this new subsection. In this story, set in a Japanese village, a small boy who is known by the name, Chibi, is rejected and continually ridiculed by his classmates. Because he is very quiet and shy, they think he is stupid. No one plays with him and he is left by himself. Yet he comes to school every day, and it is not until five years have passed that an individual breaks the pattern of prejudice and discrimination. A new teacher encourages Chibi and appreciates his drawings and his knowledge of nature. At a school talent-show Chibi demonstrates his talent of birdcalling, specifically imitating the voices of crows. Both adults and children are amazed at his skill and feel ashamed of their thoughtless treatment of him for all those years. From then on Chibi, given the new name, Crow Boy, is accepted and appreciated for what he really is by the village.
To simulate being an outsider like Chibi we might form a circle and lock hands to keep out a select few (who could handle the situation well enough) who would try hard to break through to get in the circle. Then we would all come back together to talk about what it felt like to be an insider and an outsider. Further discussion and writing might center around such topics as: If I were ‘Crow Boy’ I would have __________ . Ways I could have made someone like ‘Crow Boy’ feel accepted in my class are ___________. Think of a time when you felt that no one accepted you. Describe it.
There are direct ways to communicate to others when you find yourself in conflict situations. Lesson #16 (intermediate level of the section on relationships) in the
curriculum advises the person to begin with effective body language which includes: standing or sitting up straight, looking directly at the other person and maintaining eye contact. As you talk in a normal voice, you make your point in an honest and direct way.
Using “I” statements can effectively convey your feelings to the other person without judging, threatening or blaming them. Lesson # 17 in this same section provides students with role-play situations where they gain practice in making these “I” statements. The following structure is suggested:
I feel _______________when you ___________________because it seems
____________________. I want you to __________________.
Another activity to follow the reading of
would be to have each student imagine he/she is either Chibi or his friend. They would then practice making “I” statements addressing jeering classmates or villagers. Below is one possible role-play situation:
Chibi is being teased by other classmates for the different-looking clothes he wears to school. Imagine that you are either Chibi or his friend and write an “I” statement to express your feelings. In order to include practice using good body language, have the students actually “act out” their responses.
To explore the effect of prejudice and discrimination further, I plan to use the immortal Dr. Seuss’s
. Before reading it to the class, I would use the following simulation activity which enables students to experience feeling judged and being excluded because of a physical trait that they have no control over: wearing a star. This activity is outlined in detail in the previously mentioned book,
(pp. 46-48). In brief, the class will be divided into two groups randomly, one being told privately by the teacher that they will wear stars and receive special treatment. The other group remains uninformed and without a star. After a period of time, the teacher declares that a mistake has been made and those with stars are to give them to those without, who then receive special treatment. After more time has passed, the students are told to dispose of the stars, that they are all special and they don’t need stars to prove it. The teacher then promotes a discussion centering around students feelings and insights gained from the experience and their recalling any real-life instances of unfair treatment. I would then read
aloud which, I think, will have a greater impact coming after the simulation activity.
Discrimination based on a trait that one has no control over—in this case, a person’s nationality or ethnicity—is powerfully portrayed in a book by Ken Mochizuki, entitled
Baseball Saved Us
. It is about life in an internment camp in the desert for Japanese immigrants and their children during World War II. The story is told through the eyes of a young Japanese boy. There was no privacy for families in such a camp and they were left with endless hours and nothing to do. Tension among the inhabitants builds until, finally, the boy’s father comes up with the idea of playing baseball, preparing a baseball field and setting up teams. People rally together and are able to channel their feelings of helplessness and anger into a constructive physical and social activity. The boy’s struggle continues even after they leave the internment camp and return home, as he remains excluded in the larger community and is continually ridiculed by his classmates. What finally binds him together with his classmates is a baseball game, where he is able to play an important role in his team’s winning.
Following the reading of this book some students in the class could role-play the following situation:
Ken is on your baseball team and is up to bat next. As he gets into position to hit, the opposing team members start shouting out, “The Jap’s up next. He’s no good! He can’t hit! Easy out!”
After they have finished the role playing, have the students describe how they felt playing the parts they did. Ask the students (actors and audience) to define the problem and come up with possible solutions. Ask them if they have ever been in a similar situation.
The World of Difference Institute Elementary Guide
provides additional role-play situations (pp. 135-137) on the theme of prejudice and discrimination that would effectively extend this lesson. Also, the
curriculum provides ‘We All Lose Situation Cards’ (p. 276) in Lesson # 15 of the intermediate level section on relationships similar in content and format to those just mentioned.
The unit ends with my students just getting their feet wet in the matter of becoming more open to the diversity around them, but it is a beginning, a seed to nurture, as we make our way through the school year together.