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Warriors Don't Cry: Acting for Justice

By Linda Christensen

Once students have been steeped in historical and literary descriptions of ally behavior, I ask them to create a chart on their paper with four categories: Ally, Target, Perpetrator, and Bystander.

First, they categorize the historical/ literary characters from Warriors Don't Cry: Link and Grandma India were allies, Melba was a target, many white students and teachers were perpetrators, Danny was both an ally and a bystander.

We read my former student Sarah Stucki's story, "The Music Lesson" (see page 51), about Mr. Dunn, a music teacher who humiliated Mark Hubble, a Native-American student in class. Mark never returned to class—or school—after that incident. Because a student wrote the story, "The Music Lesson" provides a clear, accessible model. We return to the categories, and students discuss each character's role in Sarah's story. Once students are clear about the categories, I ask them to brainstorm a list from their own lives. When have they acted as allies? Were they ever targets? Perpetrators? Bystanders?

When I first started using this activity, I developed "scenes" for students to act out because I wanted to get at injustices that I wasn't sure they would cover. Over the years, I discovered that it was far more powerful for students to write from their own experiences. When I taught this unit to a sophomore class, I was astounded at how many students confessed to being perpetrators, targets, and bystanders, and how few acted as allies. One student offered that he was a "jackass" in middle school and regularly tormented other students. Many talked about making fun of younger, weaker students. Sometimes their abuse was physical. Few students had stories of acting as allies. In our discussion, it was clear that students didn't feel good about their participation or their lack of intervention, but they didn't feel powerful enough to stop the racist, homophobic, or belittling behavior and comments.

After students make their lists, I encourage a handful of students to share their incidents. Mario, an African-American sophomore, talked about store clerks following him because they thought he might steal clothes. Adam, an African-American student, discussed how the counselor automatically placed him in a "regular" English class without checking his test scores. Michelle shared the story of acting as an ally for several special education students who were teased by a group of boys.

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