Wiping Out Prejudices Before They Start

Teaching Tolerance, p.4

One favorite Miller exercise is "Lemon," for which each child is given his own lemon and asked to get to know it. Kids roll their lemons on the floor, taste them, smell them, examine them. The teacher then collects the lemons, places them in a central basket, and asks the kids to find their fruit. And they do. Some are darker, some have bruises, some have teeth marks from the clever kids who bit them. Then the teacher peels the lemons and asks the kids once again to find their fruit. When they realize they can't, they've learned an important lesson: Though we might be different on the outside, we all look the same on the inside.

Teachers can access the program only by enrolling in Miller's training course, which gets them to examine their own biases. One teacher realized she was discouraging girls from playing with "boy" toys. Others learned they were prejudging students' abilities by how clean and well-dressed they appeared.

Drawing on star power. Until recently, the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles wasn't recommended for kids under 12 because curators thought its focus on the Holocaust was too much for them to handle. But a year and a half ago, the museum opened an entire floor for children ages 5 and up.

One of the exhibits for younger children is "Finding Our Families, Finding Ourselves," a multimedia learning center about ethnicity and immigration. Various celebrities helped re-create the environments where they grew up. For example, children can wander through the Arkansas grocery store where Maya Angelou learned to read by sounding out letters on peach and pickle jars. Or they can hang out in the Brooklyn apartment where Joe Torre's parents moved after emigrating from Italy. Other participating celebrities include Billy Crystal, the program's executive director; Michelle Kwan; Carlos Santana; and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. "Our goal is to get kids to value their own backgrounds at the same time they're learning to appreciate other cultures," says Liebe Geft, the museum's director.

In addition, the Museum of Tolerance reaches young people beyond those who visit its exhibits. It created curricula that are taught throughout the California school system, and last February a branch of the museum opened in New York City.

Standing up to Hate

As the anti-bias movement coalesces and matures, experts are finding that teaching acceptance is not enough. "We need to empower kids to demand that hate go away," says Stern.

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