Friday, September 29, 2006

Diversity, awareness and paper clips

It is perhaps fitting that I just finished watching Paper Clips. This afternoon was spent in a diversity training session. I find such sessions great opportunities to see the world a little differently than I had before. Today was no different in that respect. I had the chance to conciously consider and discuss matters that are too often left undiscussed. To then wrap-up my day with a film dedicated to a project undertaken by a middle school in rural Tennessee specifically targeting awareness of a diversity of experience felt right. The Paper Clip Project saw the children of an 8th grade class begin to collect paper clips. This ubiquitous office tool was chosen for a significance assigned it by Norwegians during the second World War. Paper clips were worn by some to represent resistance to Nazism. Over the past 6-7 years, the students at Whitwell Middle School have received over 30 million paper clips from around the world. Many come with stories relating the enclosed clips to the lives of those who were lost during the Holocaust. As a memorial and educational tool, a rail car used to transport jews, homosexuals, romas, jehovah's witnesses and other "undesireables" was found and shipped to the school to serve as a memorial. Not only did a WASPy town see beyond it's borders and experience through this endeavour. It is now the children of the community that are raising the awareness of others who visit regularly.

Discussion today came up of our earliest messages about different populations and ethnic or racial groups. While we are all likely to move beyond what we originally are shown and taught (hopefully with the goal of improving ourselves and the world around us), those messages can still act on us if we revert to them unconciously. I feel like anyone who receives early messages about the horrors that hate and ignorance can cause is much less likely to propagate those things or accept them in the world around them. One can only hope that learning about such opportunities after childhood can still serve the same purpose.

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