When Social Studies teacher Daniel Braunfeld arrived on the Santa Monica High School campus on Friday, February 3, he saw the racially offensive graffiti.As he looked at the hateful words, he asked himself two questions: “How do I talk about this with my students?” and “How is the Samo community going to respond?” He answered the first question by showing his students a documentary called Not in Our Town, which chronicles the coming together of a small Montana town to protest the anti-Semetic acts of the local Ku Klux Klan. In the movie, which History teacher Mary Hendra also showed to her classes that day, all 10,000 members of the town placed menorahs in their windows to show solidarity for their victimized Jewish neighbors.The message, Braunfeld said, is that if you hurt one of us, you hurt all of us. He asked his students, “How does a community respond to hatred?” Though each of his classes had a productive discussion, Braunfeld didn’t like the idea that every teacher in the school was having separate discussions with their classes. “In the case of hate crimes, a fractured response isn’t sufficient,” he said. “We can’t plan as Houses or departments, we need to collaborate and create a multi-tiered, united response.” With this idea in mind, Braunfeld, Hendra and A House Principal Wendy Wax-Gellis met on February 6 and planned a teacher meeting for Thursday, February 9. When asked why he felt the need to plan a meeting, Braunfeld said, “I teach Freshman Seminar, which, among other things, is a class on how to take an active role in one’s community. If I don’t take an active role in the Samo community, how can I teach my students to do the same?”Over 70 teachers attended the meeting and another 30 expressed interest but were unable to attend. This heartened many teachers, such as Math teacher Kelly Okla. “Not only was I thrilled that so many teachers came, a lot of them were new teachers,” said Okla. “Often, new teachers get lost in the day-to-day struggle at Samo, so it was nice to see them take part in this.”Upon arriving at the meeting, each teacher received a form asking what steps he or she had already taken and were willing to take. Braunfeld outlined the three-level plan that he, Hendra and Wax-Gellis designed for Samo. This plan is designed for the classroom setting, in which tolerance can be incorporated into the curriculum, In addition, it can work in student organization settings, enabling sports teams and clubs to address the issues at hand, as well as in a campus-wide setting, enabling the school as a whole to create visible campaigns against hatred. “Braunfeld did a great job articulating his feelings about what happened,” said Okla. “He takes hate issues, as I do, very seriously and personally. He spoke from the heart, but didn’t rant or whine.”Many suggestions were made at the meeting, such as the “What is Your Value?” campaign. This involves making badges that read: “[blank] is My Value.” The idea is that students can fill in the blank with a word meaningful to them. Braunfeld suggested “respect” or “tolerance.” To receive a badge, students would have to sign a “social contract” promising to contribute to a peaceful campus. The collected signatures would be displayed on posters all over campus as a reminder to those who signed to keep their promises, and as a means of encouraging others to sign up. Another suggestion was bringing “Mix It Up Day”—a national November event in which kids must sit in racially mixed groups at lunch—to Samo. Braunfeld, who has pictures of Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. on his classroom walls, commented on all the suggestions: “If the ideas come from the top down, they’ll never work. We need to find a way for students to buy into these ideas and make them their own.” He has been working closely with Associated Student Body advisor Cathy Marsh to give students more say in the developing programs. Another meeting—this one led by CEO Ilene Straus and the Samo administration—was held yesterday morning, February 14, to discuss the implementation of the ideas discussed in the last meeting. According to Braunfeld, the meeting raised larger questions about the nature of the graffiti: “This isn’t just an issue of racism, but a larger one of general intolerance,” he said. “We are faced with the task of changing the entire culture of the campus from apathy to pro-activity.” The teachers also expressed clear ideas of what must be done: “The school needs to send out a clear message that we do not tolerate any hate crimes under any circumstances,” said Okla. “There needs to be a zero tolerance policy for any hate crime, and each hate crime should be made public. If we cover it up, we can’t generate the outrage needed to work towards peace.”Braunfeld summarized his fellow teachers’ veiws: “The refusal to accept hate must be louder than the hate itself.”
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