Kuniko Katz's essays,
articles and letters to the editors
They’ve got to be
carefully taught: Scarsdale Inquirer, July
It was sad to learn from The Scarsdale Inquirer (July 14) of local
manifestations of racial and religious prejudice. When we hear of troubling
incidents of racism in other places, or growing examples of anti-Semitism on
college campuses, we may tend to think that these things don't happen in places
like Scarsdale because of our community's high material and academic
achievements. But acts of prejudice have little to do with personal achievement
and, unfortunately, some of us, from time to dine, bear of unpleasant incidents,
although these incidents don't always appear in the news.
For this reason, 1 think the Board of Education's plan to bring prejudice
reduction programs to our schools is truly an excellent idea. It is time that
the schools do something about it. At the same time, though, I also believe the
schools can do only so much, as it is basically our responsibility as parents to
be aware of these problems and to help our children solve them.
You don't have to be Jewish or Japanese, or black to be the victim of prejudice.
It seems to be human nature to have a tendency to be intolerant of people who
are different. In this sense, I think, most of us are, at one time or another,
the victims of prejudice. In the same sense, we also make others the victims of
our own prejudices. When we live in our own small world, sometimes we don't even
realize other people's unpleasant experiences.
The issue of prejudice is so important that it should not be only the school's
concern. It is also a parent's concern, as much if not more so. And, speaking of
parents' role in fighting prejudice, I would like to share our experience at
Edgewood School as an example of positive parental involvement.
Last February, the Edgewood PTA organized, with the cooperation of the principal
and teachers, an event called "Heritage Week," which had parents working with
the children for an entire week in school. It is obvious that one event can't
change the feelings of children entirely, and I am not so naïve to suggest that
all prejudice will be banished from the schools with one series of events.
However, the impact on the children seemed so enormous that I thought it
worthwhile to mention it here.
We originally planned to have some sort of international event because our
school's population has become ethnically heterogeneous in recent years and our
children have a great opportunity to share their diverse cultural backgrounds
with each other. We decided to call it "Heritage Week" instead of International
Week" because we wanted everyone to be an equally active participant.
A mother who was working with her own family tree led a school wide genealogy
project. She provided ideas and suggestions to teachers, who, in turn, helped
the children explore their own heritages. Parents also helped the children make
flags from all over the world. By the time the actual "Heritage Week" came, the
school had an air of expectation and was in a wonderfully festive mood, with the
children's family trees and flags of the world displayed all over the school.
During "Heritage Week" parents conducted about 100 activities, including one or
two workshops a day in each class. Some came with national costumes and others
brought maps, books, special foods or slides and talked about their or their
family's countries of origin. Others showed the children how to cook ethnic
foods such as egg rolls, sushi, tacos and pizza. Parents taught children games
and songs from their countries. Many activities, such as Chinese painting,
lantern making, South American hanger making and Japanese flower arranging took
place in the art class room, while folkdances of various countries were taught
during the gym classes.
On the last day of "Heritage Week," the children, led by a piper, paraded around
the school in costumes from their own or their ancestral countries or from
countries they had chosen. Afterwards, there was a bazaar in the gym, which was
filled with colourfully displayed crafts and foods from 17 countries, including
the United States.
The theme of the event was '”We are all different, but we can learn from each
other if we try." Our theme was well taken by the children and we are very proud
of them. As parents, we also learned a great deal from one another by working
together for a common goal.
Events like this or the programs that the Board of Education plans to implement
do help. But school activities alone can not solve the problem of prejudice,
which doesn't usually originate in the schools. Rodgers and Hammerstein told us
about this in the musical "South Pacific:"
You've got to be taught, to hate and fear
You've got to be taught, from year to year
It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.