Today was the first day we started our activity in the School Without Walls. After we prepared ourselves by moving our desks in a circle, we first discussed the program for Japanese lessons for elementary students scheduled in the afternoon. I think it was a great opportunity also for the students from DC because after the Japanese students came up with some activities, Japanese students lectured about some Japanese expressions and games to the DC kids. Soon after that, we got to hear from our first guest, James Jones, the Communications Director of DC Vote. DC Vote is an organization that fights for full voting representation in Congress for the more than 600,000 residents of the District of Colombia. As he explained the history of DC, we learned that since Washington D.C. was made as a federal district, residents in DC literally have no right in US House of representatives. They get to vote for their own representative in house, only she actually has no right to say the opinion in house. I found it very interesting because it was a great example of factors what makes DC very special and different from any other cities. These facts were things that I wouldn’t know about if I hadn’t come here. I was really surprised that residents in DC struggle with this problem because voting rights are what Japanese obviously have when they get to the certain age.
Our next guest was Operation Understanding DC. They are an organization that prepares leadership development programs to promote more respect for black and Jewish people in DC community. Their workshop included two very interesting activities; first, we hold someone else’s hand, each hand with different person, then we had to untangle our hands. Second, we split up into three groups, and each groups got two cards with the name of different groups of people written on them, like Christians, Black people, or teenagers. Then we came up with stereotypes toward those group of people. We realized that we done our second activity very quickly, which meant that we already knew many stereotypes toward those groups of people, and we are unconsciously using these knowledge when we judge someone. Living in one of homogeneous nations, Japan, it is more difficult to notice such diversity of people and stereotypes we have toward them so these activity opened my eyes to those facts.
After lunch, we all took metro and went to Malcolm X Elementary School, where the next activity took place in. If I would name the morning we just had as ‘knowing US activities’, the afternoon activities more focused on Japanese culture. Malcolm X Elementary is one of these Freedom Schools, that students are from not very wealthy families. It was interesting though to hear that one of the aim they are trying to achieve is to help kids to gain knowledge just like the black people whom participated in lunch counter sitting-in on 1963 had. In other words, black people at that time could take action to fight against discrimination because they were educated to do so. And one of the important things they have learned earlier should be ‘non violence’. Since we already learned about this event when we visited the Museum of American History a few days ago, this example was understandable for us; it was one of these great moments that we could connect something new with what we have learned earlier in this program. Anyways, after we were taught about the Freedom School policy, we split up into two groups and gave 30 minute lessons of Japanese culture to each of two different groups of 1st grade students. Our group taught Origami and some games. Afterwards, we all went to the cafeteria, and we sang some songs together and moved our bodies along with rhythms and lyrics.
Overall, we had fun teaching small children, and at the same time, we learned a lot from children. We could see that kids enjoyed learning new things, and we were surprised by how quickly they learned them. To be honest, it was very difficult to teach something to kids, or even just to get their attention. However, we also realized that once they were interested in something, they can really concentrate on that topic, and they can absorb many things. By seeing their smiles with origami hearts and cranes they have made, and by hearing them saying some Japanese words like ‘konnichiwa’ or ‘arigato’ that they have learned, we could be proud of ourselves that we could help those kids to take a very first step into learning different cultures and international mind set.
Our last guest today was Rock Newman, a boxing promoter. We noticed his enthusiasm and passion by the way he talked, and he explained his own background about stereotypes, using some good examples. The most outstanding example was about a black man who married with Chinese woman, lived in China, and was discriminated by Chinese people, just because they were ‘afraid’ of black people by the image they had in their mind about black people. As I summarize today’s activity, I came up with one of these absolute key words of the day: stereotypes. From the workshop by OUDC and Rock Newman’s story, we have learnt that we can not get rid of stereotypes and return to pure minds like kids in Malcolm X Elementary had, but at least we need to be aware of them.
Keio Shonan Fujisawa High School