Scarsdale station area

Kuniko Katz's essays, articles and letters to the editors

They’ve got to be carefully taught:
Scarsdale Inquirer, July 28, 1989

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.

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