A Book by it’s Cover.

In an effort to foster contact between children of different ethnicities and eradicate stereotypes before they form, this social experiment uses storytelling as a vehicle for cultural understanding. Ten very different schools, same format: Books designed to comfortably address race and prejudice are read to 9-10 year olds, ending with each child creating a book expressing their experience with prejudice. The books are then swapped between the schools. The ethnicity of each child’s “book-pal” is finally revealed in the form of a small gift, introducing themselves. Lesson of this story: We’re more alike than different.

Winner of Design Ignites Change’s Implementation Award.

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One reason for stereotypes is the lack of personal concrete familiarity that individuals have with persons in other racial or ethnic groups. Lack of familiarity encourages the lumping together of unknown individuals.

Charles E. Hurst, Social Inequality: Forms, Causes, and Consequences 

PART ONE:

A set of children’s books were designed, inspired by personal experiences of discrimination & prejudice.

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PART TWO:

Ten very different schools in the city were selected. Among them: a private wealthy school, a low-income public school, a suburban school, a Catholic school, an Islamic school, and a Montessori school.

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PART THREE:

Volunteer artists read these books to the children and facilitated conversations afterward relating to race, discrimination and bullying.

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As a part of this exercise, the group of volunteers asked questions as a way of polling the children. We were surprised to find that in every classroom, the response to the following question was the same: “Who has ever felt ashamed, or ever been teased, for something that they couldn’t help?” The response this question garnered was always a unanimous hand-raising. From students, teachers, even the volunteers, no-one we worked with had escaped this feeling. Discrimination is a part of life. Being alienated and alienating others is — unfortunately — a part of coming of age in the modern world. But this common ground is a ready fuel for empathy.

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PART FIVE:

Once finished, each book was paired with a student from another (very different) school. After reading their “book pal’s” story aloud to the class, they responded to their pal’s story with a written note in a dedicated section at the end. The books were then traded back.

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RESULTS:

The project spawned many unlikely friendships. By the end, students were exchanging phone numbers and Facebook information, teachers met each other, and volunteers met people with very different backgrounds. Discrimination comes from a lack of real, physical connection with people who are different from you. For these children and adults to be making connections and friendships with people different from them — that’s something that can make a difference. 

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Not only do I think this was a great project to help kids around Kansas City consider their understanding of diversity but it was a meaningful experience for myself as a volunteer to understand the complex definition of diversity and just how far society has come in wanting to understand and share our common experiences.

Theresa Joy Hitchcock, Volunteer

RECOGNITION:

Worldstudio Design Ignites Change Implementation Award
Featured Project: “Design for Social Change” Andrew Shea, Princeton Architectural Press, 2011