Six in Schools Allows Teachers to Spotlight Difficult Topics in the Classroom

Eighth grade team leader, Erik Hanson, at Ethical Culture Fieldston Middle School in Bronx, NY, heard Michele Norris talking on NPR about a project she developed to foster candid conversations about the touchy subject of racism in a supposedly post-race age. As such, he struck up a poignant, six word dialogue about silence and the all too common act of bullying as an emotional learning activity for students.

Inspired by SMITH Magazine’s Six-Word Memoirs, Michele Norris dubbed her project “The Race Card Project.” She prompted people to send in postcards sharing their thoughts, musings, or frustrations about race in six words. Erik then adapted the social emotional learning activity for his 8th graders. His unique take on Six-Words was timed with The National Day of Silence, a student led, nationwide event that brings attention to anti-LGBT bullying, harassment and name-calling. Students across the nation take a vow of silence to symbolize the silencing effect that bullying can and does have on LGBT students.

“You might be thinking to yourself, Sure, bullying is bad, but we don’t really have that problem at Fieldston,” Erik told his students. “But I want you to reflect on the possibility that bullying doesn’t have to take the form of obvious harassment, but can be very subtle, hard to see, and thus harder to counteract.”

Erik had the entire 8th grade (about 130 students) participate in this awareness-raising, social-emotional learning activity for teens. Although some students took the vow of silence, others acted as “vocal allies.” Regardless of their vocality, they all were asked to reflect on The National Day of Silence and what it meant to them. Then the 8th graders condensed the various reflections into six words or less, and wrote them down on cards to share with their peers.

A few of Erik’s favorite memoirs:

Four silent years. Vowed for him.
I still don’t feel safe yet.
Silence is not fun for anyone.
10% gay, 90% straight, 100% human.
No one should have to hide.
I tried to be quiet today.
Love isn’t conditional. Love is love.
Everyone deserves to love out loud.
Why are people scared of difference?
Love should be expressed, not silenced.
Don’t be afraid to be yourself.
My aunt’s wedding, finally here!
Today being quiet is quite loud.

Adds Erik: “Just think for a moment about a group of friends hanging out on a Saturday afternoon, and the conversation turns to who is the hottest celebrity. With the assumption of straightness, everyone goes around: ‘George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Leo.’ Now it’s your turn, and you have the choice of being honest with your friends, stating your true crush, or hiding your feelings and saying ‘Ashton Kutcher’ just to get a laugh.”

“The day a person in that situation doesn’t have to think twice about being genuine is the day that we are looking for.”