By Anne Collier
“How do we learn from the past?” asks the narrator of the promotional video for “Class Actions,” a 30-min. PBS documentary about three US towns that, with the help of young activists *have* learned from the past and not let hate take over again. “In Oxford, Miss., student leaders find the strength to unify their campus,” says narrator Yul Kwon, who found the strength himself to win “Survivor” in 2006. And PBS’s producers document similar actions against hate and intolerance in Bloomington, Ind., and Lancaster, Calif. So “Not in Our Town” – which began in 1995 and reportedly sparked a movement that spread to hundreds of towns around the US, as well as in South Africa, Ireland, Czech Republic and Ukraine – has become “Not in Our School.” This movement to swamp intolerance and hate with kindness and respect is now doing so in school. It’s happening with the help of student Graeme Taylor in Ann Arbor, Mich.; freshman Aidan McDaniel at Berkeley Springs High School in Morgan County, W.V.; senior Torin Hovander at Sandia High School in Albuquerque, N.M.; teacher Ms. Lasche and her students Concord Middle School in Concord, N.C.; 8th-grader Merna Youssef at North East Middle School in St. Louis; and students at McClure Middle School in Kennesaw, Ga., and Edward Town Middle School in Sanborn, N.Y. To read more about these student leaders, their teachers, and schools, please go to Sprigeo.com. Then there’s youth-initiated bullying prevention online: Young members of WeeWorld.com (likely middle and younger high school students) have organized their own anonymous Anti-Bullying Task Force in that virtual world (see this YouTube video about it). The impact on society of these students and the teachers and sites supporting them is growing – just like that of “Not in Our Town” over the past decade and a half.
“‘Not in Our School’ is based on the idea that students can lead the way,” says its executive producer Patrice O’Neill. And a student in this 3-min. video about the project says why: “People will really listen to you when you try and do something right.” On the documentary’s Web page, there’s a screening kit and discussion guide for any student, school, or household that wants to hold a screening of “Class Actions.”