The group of students visiting Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) today was from an elementary school in York Region. They came into the FSWC classroom to learn about Media Literacy and Propaganda. They were a group of 45 inquisitive, intelligent students who were clearly very tied in to the digital world. They loved all the tech in the main office; one student even said he thought it was what Google might look like with all the screens so visibly displayed.
The students were really dialed into the topics FSWC Educator Emily covered, and were able to really engage with the material. Social media comes as second nature to them, so today was about creating that link between the historical uses of media—newspapers, radio, theatre—to these more modern forms of mass communication and the caution that needs to be exercised in using it. In light of the events over the weekend, Emily was sure to draw the connection between hate speech online and how it can easily translate into violence in the off-line world. Emily ended the day with a discussion about how students can be active on their own social media accounts to report hateful or racist messages that they might see online.
A discussion with the teachers after the presentation was also very enlightening, as they both mentioned how the topics Emily covered today were exactly the topics they wanted to cover back in class. They were happy that Emily was able to give students a starting point to be able to have more meaningful conversations once back in their classroom.
The Tour for Humanity was in Barrie at a Catholic elementary school in the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board. FSWC Educator Elena was working with Grades 6-8 students and all of the five workshops taught were the Canadian Experience. Tour for Humanity caused quite a stir for the students who arrived to take part in the program and that excitement carried on throughout the day. Many of the teachers who brought students throughout the day didn't know what the presentation was going to be about but by the end of each workshop they were really blown away by the facility and the information provided. One teacher wrote that the workshop was "exceptional" and "addressed sensitive information in a professional way. [It] helped present hard material covered in many curriculum topics." Another teacher said that he was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was for his students to sit and listen for the full hour,
Elena also had a lot of great feedback from students themselves. One group had prepared for our visit the day before by reading up on the Holocaust and World War II. Elena had several questions about the progression of events during World War II including: the alliance between Germany and Japan, the Allied response to the existence of concentration camps, and the reasons behind America dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Many students had also heard about Anne Frank so Elena talked about her experiences during the Holocaust and the broader context of Jewish people in hiding during the Holocaust.
Students were less familiar with Canadian examples of intolerance so many students were shocked to learn about residential schools and the fact that slavery was legal in Canada for more than two hundred years. Elena also discussed the sad reality that hate crimes still occur today and the resurgence of violent antisemitism. Elena emphasized that for young people, the most important way to fight hatred is by speaking up when you see it around you. Elena watched the Speaker's Idol video and encouraged all students to submit speeches on issues they are passionate about.