High school summit draws both young, old aiming to end bigotry

Those at conference speak of shift away from apathy, overt racism

March 14, 2000|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Francis Scott Key High School senior Heather Black said she has seen her fellow students and even teachers and administrators become smarter over the past four years.

"They've already taken that first step," said Black, one of a relative handful of African-American students at Key. "They already realize racism is wrong. They're thinking, `What do we do now?' "

At yesterday's fourth annual Multicultural Leadership Conference for selected Carroll County high school students, Black -- who has attended all four meetings -- said students appear to have evolved from talking about whether racism is harmful, to debating what to do about it.

The daylong conference at Western Maryland College offered a series of small discussion groups and presentations for students to think about notions of race and culture. More than 200 teens from the county's five high schools attended.

In Black's view, administrators provide better support for students who are members of racial and ethnic minority groups: "You don't hear people whispering to each other or making racist comments -- they know now it will get to the administration and something's going to happen."

Steve Findeisen, a social studies teacher at Key, said he has noticed a change in attitude this year. "In years past, I've heard students in these discussions just look at the problem as insurmountable," he said, "What I'm hearing now is, `Yes, it's daunting, but that's not going to stop me.'

"It's more mature," he said. "It's more optimistic."

A group of eight students -- whites, African-Americans, Asian-American and Middle Eastern -- began their discussion by noting their disapproval of racism and bigotry, and then debated how to persuade others to move beyond prejudice.

"The people who are coming here, they've already taken the first step," said Tiffany Seal, a 10th-grader at South Carroll High School. "The people who are racist aren't here." Seal said racists are smart enough not to provoke confrontation.

"If they go to a place where they're the minority, they're not going to talk that way," Seal said. "They just think they're powerful because they're the majority."

Students agreed that county schools need to add more information about different cultures to the curriculum and not shy away from debate.

Findeisen teaches a world history course and has expanded the section devoted to non-Western cultures well beyond the curriculum. He includes more information on China, India and the rise of Islam.

Asked if he has the flexibility to do that in the county curriculum, he smiled, and said, "Yes, I suppose I have the flexibility to do that, because no one told me not to do that." He has to teach the core of the course and still find a way to squeeze in more Eastern history.

The conference was co-sponsored by Carroll County public schools and Carroll County Citizens for Racial Equality.

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