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Think. Discuss. Act. Racism

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Anytown Camp: Moving Bigotry from Brain to Gut

C. Brooks. (6, July, 1995). “Cruel is Uncool.” San Diego Union Tribune, pp. E1, E3.

Summary

(Download Cruel is Uncool overview as a PDF)

In the mountains of Julian, California, a camp called Anytown invites San Diego County high school kids to an annual one-week retreat. The camp is designed to unite young people of various races, religions, and cultures. Emotion has been the lifeblood of Anytown since it started in Arizona in 1957 by the International Council of Christians & Jews. Carol Hallstrom brought Anytown to San Diego County in 1993. The concept behind the camp is to “move the concepts of bigotry and discrimination from the brain to the gut.” At Anytown, kids deal with the effects of racism.”

One day during this summer’s program, the group of 80 teens (chosen from 120 applicants) were seated on the floor of the camp’s meeting room rationally discussing the topic of racism. Then the camp’s advisers sprung a trap. Hallstrom, who is Jewish, and Stan Hay, who is African-American, began a heated argument about which of their groups has suffered the most discrimination. Within minutes, the kids were sobbing, hugging, and trying to shelter one another from the unexpected invasion of hate.

After the initial demonstration between Hallstrom and Hay, Hallstrom explains that they acted out the aggression to illustrate that no one is prejudice-free. As the kids begin to relax in the knowledge that the conflict was staged, Hallstrom prepares to spring another trap. She asks the kids to form 11 groups and write on poster-sized paper all the stereotypes and slurs they can think of pertaining to jocks, nerds, Asians and Pacific Islanders, Latinos, Anglos, gays and lesbians, Native Americans, Jews, and African-Americans.

The kids begin their task, tossing out words and giggling as they work. After a half-hour, Hallstrom asks them to tape their papers to the walls. She then asks the group to move through the room and read each of the papers. The kids spend about 40 minutes reading the lists and then return to their positions on the floor-some in tears-to contemplate the overwhelming problem of racism.

“I wanted to throw up…” one girl said. “Then I realized that, in my group, we were writing (the slurs) down as fast as we could.” A boy said that he was ashamed to see a lot of words he had used before.

The problem of racism seems to be growing in schools despite increasing efforts to teach tolerance in recent years. Kids leaving Anytown have a choice to take what they have learned about the pains of racism away with them. Most will have an opportunity to follow up on their training. Many San Diego County schools now offer classes exposing students to the achievements and customs of a variety of cultures and ethnic groups to ease the problem of racism in schools.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What do you think of the Anytown program?
  2. What do you think of using this “emotional” or personalized approach to teaching kids about racism?

Implications

  1. The Anytown program uses unusual techniques to illustrate the problem of racism. These techniques tend to be effective because they generate emotions that each student must internalize.
  2. Programs such as Anytown need to be supplemented with classes or school-sponsored programs that educate students about the numerous contributions made by people of all races, religions, ethnic backgrounds, and sexual orientations.

Sheila Walsh
© 2017 CYS

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