The controversial standoff between a tribal elder and a high school student that went viral has captivated the media and those on all sides of the political aisle. While all the details are still being uncovered, what strikes me is the climate that permeates our nation. We have devolved to a state of “othering” our countrymen, without reflecting on how our own actions may affect one another. We have stopped seeking to understand one another and instead just attack, sometimes even when the facts are not clear.
As Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ralph McGill wrote in response to the 1958 bombing of the Atlanta Jewish Temple, “You do not preach and encourage hatred for the Negro and hope to restrict it to that field. It is an old, old story. It is one repeated over and over again in history. When the wolves of hate are loosed on one people, then no one is safe.”
Well, the wolves of hate are again on the prowl. The antidote for this is education that builds empathy and agency in our students. As a K-12 social studies educational consultant, I have had the opportunity to observe students and teachers, as well as explore vast array of materials available to educators. One that stands out is the IWitness program by USC Shoah Foundation.
This program uses the power of story to connect students with the survivors of genocide on an emotional level that no textbook program can. In fact, because it uses video testimony, kids are hooked by the modality as well as the first-person experience they explore. It makes learning come alive and builds students’ social-emotional skills through developing empathy and agency to change the world around them.
For example, juxtaposing the testimonies of Floyd Dade and Marion Blumenthal, allows students to consider the impact of both hate and acceptance. Using these testimonies can support students as they reflect on how best to handle conflict and their interactions with those who seem to be different than them.
At times such as these, with hate unleashed, it has no bounds. It is up to us as educators to use powerful resources like IWitness that help students consider the kind of world and community they want to live in and develop the tools and skills to act in democratic ways towards those goals.