Norman Rockwell's rendering of the desegregation of schools in the South of the USA, in his painting "The Problem We All Live With", inspired by an incident which happened in 1960 at William Franz School, New Orleans, Louisianna. The girl is reminiscent of the real life Ruby Bridges who wrote her own story of the day, Through My Eyes.
Over the holidays past, a friend shared with me the following slide show, which was created at the public elementary school where she teaches, by the Vice-Principal and another teacher, and which the Principal approved, to be shown to all the students of all grades JK-Grade 5 inclusive (ages 3 1/2 to 11). It was part of a fundraising campaign to raise enough money to buy a play yard (swings, slide, climbing bars) for the playground of what is a relatively new school.
Each year a similar fundraiser--called a Move-A-Thon because the students get sponsors to pay them to skip rope, or jump, or run, or whatever, for a set time period--is held for a variety of goals, and the money earned by a class usually goes toward something special for that classroom or class. This year the funds were to be combined toward the large school goal.
The school is located in a new development which is ~ 90% recent South Asian immigrants from the same area and ethno- religious (Dharmic, not Muslim) group of North India. Of the 610 students at the school 6 are Anglo-Canadian, 10 are African-Canadian Evangelical Christians, and the rest are from that South Asian group, as are 20% of the teaching staff. Although the development is one of large single family dwellings, in fact many families live in one home, as is consistent both culturally and socio-economically for this group of new arrivals from North India.
Given the economic downturn, and the challenges of immigration, the school had in September of the same year used discretionary funds to create a year long free breakfast program, open to any student who wished, to be sure that all students started the day with a nutritious breakfast, and that no stigma was attached to participation.
The slide show below was shown in early December, for the annual Move-A-Thon fundraiser activity. My friend showed it to me with only the following information: "This year's fundraiser is to buy a play yard for the school with a goal of $20,000 which is much higher than usual. This slide show was shown to all students on the same day during 1st period to increase the amount of funds being raised. Watch it, and tell me what you think."
I would ask you to do the same, that is, look at the slide show reproduced here (but anonymously, and from screen shots), and collect your own thoughts before reading the additional material below it.
Slides for School Fundraising Campaign
for a Play Yard
What are your thoughts so far?
What impressions do you have from this slide show?
How do you imagine the children were impacted? by age? by ethnicity? by race? by economic status?
Any other cultural factors that may have been at play for these children?
What about their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings, cousins, either hearing about this or receiving requests for sponsorship?
Further elements for consideration
My friend went to speak to the Vice-Principal in advance of the scheduled showing to try to point out her concerns. The Vice-Principal was oblivious, and confirmed the approval by the Principal. My friend then approached the one African-Canadian teacher on staff at that school, and asked her if she had previewed the slide show. Since she hadn't, my friend warned her she had best do so, and then decide whether she wanted to show this to her students. They watched together, and my friend stood by as the other teacher's face decomposed emotionally; and my friend said "I am so sorry..." repeatedly as the woman walked to the window, looked out, and said "You can't understand...I thought...it seemed...I thought we were...past this...you can't know...".
That teacher did not show the slide show during the scheduled time, nor did my friend. My friend had no intention of showing any slide show aimed at older children to her JK's and SK's (Junior and Senior Kindergarten students), and decided not to show that one to her Grade 5 students either. There were no repercussions for this, although the Principal did express months later her concern that she hadn't been approached directly as a friend of my friend, but stood by the fundraising strategy.
Although usually the annual fundraiser has a more modest goal (about $11,000) and slightly exceeds it (about $12,500) this year the target of $20,000 was not met, and the amount raised lower than average (about $12,000).
What are your further thoughts?
What would you have done in my friend's place, or that of the African-Canadian teacher?
How would you respond if you were a parent and your child told you about this slide show?
Are all of the children at the school equally affected by this? How so, or how not?
Is there any connection with schoolyard bullying? with later adult bullying?
What does this example say about targeting, whether for race or socio-economic status, and its lifelong impact?
What is your experience of similar discrimination whether in others or yourself?
How relevant is this to Saudi society, and experiences in public or private schools there?
Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?
Addendum: Eman of Saudiwoman's Weblog just posted on an experience of discrimination against her Saudi daughter for being a Saudi passport holder in Saudi--Discriminated against by a foreigner in my own country