IT IS TIME – CLASSROOM CONNECTIONS
IT IS TIME to create a world where people from different cultures and backgrounds will get along with each other!
There is a way, through our schools, that we can engage in a project that has the potential to dramatically shift the social fabric of the United States and the entire world to that of a new domain – a domain of respect, cooperation, and harmony. How?
Visualize virtually every school that exists, public and private, elementary and secondary (and some colleges), being actively involved in intercultural partnerships similar to what will be described in these next paragraphs. These partnerships can exist with other schools and/or within individual schools.
Suppose, for example, that you and I are both secondary school teachers. Your students are primarily white and affluent; mine are primarily students of color and are not affluent. Geographically our schools are close to each other, but the worlds our students live in are very far apart. Our young people have pretty strong feelings about the other group, but their opinions have been formed without their having had the opportunity to REALLY get to know ‘the others’. So you and I form a partnership.
A Partnership has four components:
*In-House Curriculum Exchanges
PREPARATORY EXERCISES (PE’s) – A series of exercises designed to increase the self-esteem of our students, teach them how to express their feelings honestly and respectfully, encourage them to actively listen to others, introduce them to the importance of honoring the qualities and opinions of themselves and others (while reserving their right to disagree), and challenge them to think critically about how they form their opinions.
IN-HOUSE CURRICULUM EXCHANGES (ICE’s) – Together you and I decide on an initial assignment to give to our students. After the completed assignments are collected we exchange them. My students read what your students wrote, and vive versa. Each group then responds to the responses of the other group, and these too get exchanged. And so on. The responses may continue to be in writing (including email) and/or we may decide to use audiotape and/or videotape – or more recent technology. This process continues throughout the school year.
IN-PERSON EXCHANGES (IPE’s) – Together we decide when, how often, and with what agenda, we will bring our students together to meet and interact with each other. IPE’s may occur at one of the schools or at a ‘neutral’ site. They may include doing a reading and discussing it, or engaging in an open discussion on topics that may have arisen via the In-House Curriculum. They might include experiential exercises, watching a movie, or going on a picnic and just having fun. (I have orchestrated more than a hundred IPE’s over the years, ranging in duration from three hours to four days. In every case the large majority of students from both groups reacted with comments like “Hey, they were OK” and “I thought they were all going to be ‘such and such’ but most of them were really nice” and “When can we do this again?”)
JOINT PROJECTS (JP’s) – Those individuals from both groups who choose to will have the opportunity to work together in designing and implementing some form of community improvement or social action project. This may include introducing an intercultural relations program, or a tutoring or anti-drug program, to local elementary students. Or it might be a joint venture with Senior citizens. Or something involving their parents. It might be a Solution Plan, play, a video, a mural; perhaps a book. The adults will support them and help them, but these joint undertakings belong to the students. The JP’s will really break down walls and create an emotional bonding because students experience a roller-coaster of feelings while working cooperatively with young people from a completely different background – negotiating and processing to solve problems, supporting each other through difficult times, and rejoicing when their creation comes to fruition.
WHAT WILL ALL THIS MEAN? Consider:
If the partnership you and I create exists over the course of just one school year imagine the effect it will have on the thirty to fifty young people who participate. The large majority of students will make improvements – often substantial – in at least one, and probably more than one, of the following areas: open-mindedness, interpersonal communication skills, respect for and understanding of other individuals and cultures, critical thinking, problem-solving, self-esteem, academics, attitude, sense of hopefulness, etc. And think about the likely spill-over effect that the students’ new awareness may have on their friends and family members.
And this is just one partnership! What if there were millions of partnerships going on simultaneously all over the world?! Not just between whites and people of color, or rich and poor, but Israelis and Palestinians, Pakistanis and Indians, Irish Catholics and Protestants, Americans and Iraqis, girls and boys, gay and ‘straight’, visually impaired and sighted, etc., etc., etc.
And not just one year, but every year!! What effect would there be if these partnerships became part of the curriculum in every school in the world?!
For comments, questions, or help in implementing this contact Roger Dennis at 212-662-8781 (firstname.lastname@example.org)