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Extended lessons about hate and the power of words

Dear Islander Families,

On April 29, our 8th grade students have a culminating experience where they will hear from a Holocaust survivor, George Elbaum.

Over the past several years, our 8th grade Language Arts teachers have been working to build curriculum around human rights and examples of violations of those rights around the world. Out of this work the team adopted the text, Maus by Art Spiegelman. Through the years they have taught students the concepts of upstander, bystander, perpetrator and victim. Students have seen the documentary, “Paperclips,” and participated in the Butterfly memorial project. They have read survivor stories along with research summaries from USHMM articles.

This year our 8th grade Social Studies department partnered with our Language Arts teachers and instructed students over a 2 to 3 week period about the following topics:

  • Change over from German Democracy to Rise of Hitler

  • How Hitler maintained economic and political control

  • Scapegoating

  • History of anti-Semitism

  • Nazi Propaganda

  • Forms of resistance

On April 29, our school will be running on an assembly schedule. This assembly schedule provides us some time in which to engage the rest of our school in an important conversation with the throughline: By understanding hate we will find ways to overcome it.

IMS’s policy is that we do not condone hate speech of any kind. Unpacking what happens to the brain when hearing such words will be part of the learning progression for our sixth and seventh graders. With this in mind, we wanted to inform you of our plans for an extended lesson plan for April 29th.

The plan is to introduce students to the concept of the nature of hate, and then to discuss the brain-science behind emotional safety and learning when words or actions “trigger,” or activate, a fight-or-flight response.  This is to give context for students to understand how much power their words hold. It aligns with our building-wide focus of Social Emotional Learning that is essential to teaching the whole child. We will also focus on the difference between "intent" versus "impact." Students will understand the difference between an intention and the impact the action has. We will look at a pyramid of hate and students will think about unintended to intended decisions that are made.

We understand the difficulties that come when talking about challenging subjects like hate. We respect your decisions around what you think is appropriate for your student to be exposed to. We have linked some videos and resources we plan to use within the lesson.

Lesson Materials 

Please contact Alison Monen (Alison.monen@mercerislandschools.org) if you do not want your student involved in the lesson. 

Regardless, we encourage you to have these incredibly courageous conversations with your children, because they are facing these issues on a daily basis in real life and on social media.

Sincerely,
IMS Staff