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June 1997 - Issue No. #27 (p.10 - 11)
Sadako Sasaki was an innocent victim of the Hiroshima atomic bomb who was killed long after the explosion. She was two years old when she was exposed to the A-bomb in 1945 and was a healthy young girl until she suddenly developed leukemia at the age of 12. She believed that if she folded 1,000 origami paper cranes, her wish to recover would come true. In hospital, growing weaker day by day, she managed to fold 644 cranes. She died on October 25, 1955. Sadako's classmates were shocked at her death. They decided to build a monument to her to express their wish for peace and appealed to schools around the world for funds. On May 5, 1958, a statue of Sadako was erected in Hiroshima Peace Park with the words "This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace in the world."
The book "Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes" was written by Eleanor Coerr in 1977 and has since been translated into 20 different languages. In 1990, American children at Arroyo del Oso Elementary School in New Mexico read the book in their conflict resolution class and decided to build a similar peace statue in Los Alamos - the birthplace of the atomic bomb.
To achieve this, they set up a Peace Statue "Kids Committee" and collected the names of 44,000 children from around the world. To raise funds, they suggested a donation of one dollar per child but wanted the statue built with American children's money as a symbol of their willingness to find peaceful solutions to global problems. They eventually managed to raise $25,000. The children then moved to the design stage and asked kids from around the country what they thought peace looked like. After a nation-wide peace statue contest, a design entitled "A Peace Garden" was selected as the final design in 1994.
To support this unique project, a group called "Peace Rainbow" was established in Japan, consisting of Shin Eiken English teachers, other peace loving educators and schoolchildren. This held peace concerts and peace symposia to learn about peace and raise money, and encouraged students to fold and send paper cranes to the children in the US.
The peace statue project wasn't without difficulties. The Kids Committee had wanted to locate the statue on public land in Los Alamos but, after a heated debate including bitter comments about Pearl Harbor, the Los Alamos county council rejected the plan. The Albuquerque Museum, however, warmly offered to become the site for the statue and organized a whole month of peace activities for this in August 1995 (see pgs. 12-13).
My school, Tokyo Metropolitan Hoya Senior High School, stresses students' individuality and doesn't have the notorious school regulations of most high schools in Japan. In our school festival, for example, more than 20 classes actively performed plays such as "Sarafina", "Dead Poets Society" and "The Sound of Music."
In my 1995 twelfth grade elective English Conversation Class, my Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) Michael Madison and I decided to design a six-part eight-hour English unit on the theme of peace and the US children's peace statue project.
First our students watched a video from the US in which the American children on the Kids Committee appealed confidently to the Los Alamos County Council for public land on which to build their Children's Peace Statue. This was really inspiring and surprising, since we never hear of little kids making appeals to local councils in Japan. We hoped our students would be stimulated by this, and they watched it earnestly in spite of the difficult English.
Next, we had our students write "peace messages" to the US Kids Committee. I took these to New Mexico in August, 1995 and presented them at the Peace Statue dedication ceremony. I also brought along peace messages and thousand-origami-crane bunches that teachers had asked me to take from other schools in Japan.
When I returned from the US, I showed students my video of the dedication ceremony. The English was difficult, but with interpreting and a handout, they were able to understand eve
rything. The fact that I appeared in the video added to their interest.
Next, we asked our students "What would you like to say about peace?" and had them prepare speeches. Some students wrote directly in English, but most wrote their ideas first in Japanese, then translated them into English. We helped them prepare their speeches by circulating around the class, conferencing with students and correcting only global errors.
Next, we asked students to give their speeches in front of the class and videotaped these to add some excitement. The first performances weren't very good, since we didn't make them memorise their talks. So, we decided to have them do the speeches again. This time, we asked them not to look down at their scripts all the time, but to glance at their scripts, then speak looking at the camera. We were surprised and moved when 3 girls voluntaril target=0y sang "We Are the World." It was the first time any of my students had sung voluntarily. A big applause ended the class.
For the final activity, we had a class discussion about the students' speeches and their ideas of peace. We wondered how much they'd understand only by listening to their classmates' speeches, so we prepared handouts of all the speeches and asked students to prepare questions about each one. Sitting in a circle, they asked at least 3 questions after thinking for a few minutes. We taught expressions such as "You said... in your speech, but what do you mean by that?" and "It's true.... but I think...". One girl asked a boy, "You said peace is love, but what do you think love is?" The boy hugged the boy next to him and said "This is love, love is touch." The theme "peace" seemed difficult to discuss, but I was glad they did their best.
Themes such as "peace" might seem difficult for beginner and intermediate English students to deal with, but my students showed great interest, probably because they understood that peace is a most important topic when we communicate with each other, especially with those from foreign countries.
There are some students who get good marks on tests by memorizing the textbook but who aren't eager to express themselves. Other students don't get good marks on tests but express themselves well. One such boy made a spontaneous poetic farewell speech as a representative of his class in our graduation ceremony. I was very proud of him.
The conflict resolution class at Arroyo del Oso Elementary School in New Mexico and the Children's Peace Statue Project enabled us to understand how effective it is to learn through participation, interaction, experience and creation. It also made us understand the importance of learning about the future and peace, since many children feel uneasy about the future and are rarely taught anything about peace in the world.CLICK HERE TO READ SOME OF THE STUDENTS MESSAGES FOR PEACE.
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