America Responds
Rescue workers raising the flag
Grieving man
Rescue workers
President and Mrs. Bush
Classroom Resources

Tolerance in Times of Trial
Grade Level: Middle and High (6-12)
Estimated Time: Three-four one-hour sessions

Lesson Overview:
Use the treatment of citizens of Japanese and German ancestry during World War II--looking specifically at media portrayals of these groups and internment camps--as historical examples of ethnic conflict during times of trial; explore the problems inherent in assigning blame to populations or nations of people. Students will also look at contemporary examples of ethnic conflict, discrimination, and stereotyping at home and abroad.

Related National Standards from McREL:

  • Understands the influence of social change and the entertainment industry in shaping views on art, gender, and culture (e.g., how social change and renewed ethnic diversity affects artistic expression in contemporary American society, the reflection of values in popular TV shows)
  • Understands important factors that have helped shape American society (e.g., religious freedom; large scale immigration; diversity of the population; relative social equality; universal public education)
  • Understands the interdependence among certain values and principles (e.g., individual liberty and diversity)
  • Knows a variety of forms of diversity in American society (e.g., regional, linguistic, socioeconomic)
  • Knows ways in which conflicts about diversity can be resolved in a peaceful manner that respects individual rights and promotes the common good
  • Knows different viewpoints regarding the role and value of diversity in American life
  • Knows examples of conflicts stemming from diversity, and understands how some conflicts have been managed and why some of them have not yet been successfully resolved
  • Understands events on the U.S. home front during World War II (e.g., economic and military mobilization; the internment of Japanese Americans and the implications for civil liberties)
  • Understands how minority groups were affected by World War II (e.g., how minority groups organized to gain access to wartime jobs and discrimination they faced, factors that led to the internment of Japanese Americans)
  • Uses strategies to analyze stereotypes in visual media (e.g., recognizes stereotypes that serve the interests of some groups in society at the expense of others; identifies techniques used in visual media that perpetuate stereotypes)


  • Computer(s) with Internet connection
  • Paper, pen


  1. Begin by showing students one or more of the following propaganda posters:

  2. Ask students the following:
    • When was this artwork created? How do you know?
    • What does the artwork imply about German and Japanese people?
    • Does the artwork send messages about German and Japanese soldiers, or German and Japanese people in general?
    • How would German-American or Japanese-American citizens have felt if these posters were displayed in their communities?

  3. Ask students to research treatment of German-Americans and Japanese-Americans during World War II. Here are some good places to start:

  4. Ask students to write letters or diary entries imagining that they are one of the following:
    • A recent German or Japanese immigrant, living in the U.S. during World War II
    • The parent or spouse of a U.S. soldier killed by German or Japanese soldiers during World War II
    Do students think that these people could live and work together in the same communities?

  5. Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, many reporters compared this to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941. Ask students about this comparison. How valid does it seem? What are the differences in the two situations? What are the similarities? Use class discussion to create a chart on the blackboard or overhead projector.

  6. During coverage of the terrorist attacks, many news organizations showed video footage of Palestinians celebrating the terrorist attacks. Sentiment against the Palestinians--and Arab people more generally--increased as a result of this reporting, though at the time it was unclear who was responsible for the attacks, or how widespread such celebrations were in the Middle East.

  7. Ask students to brainstorm a list of descriptors that come to mind when they hear the word "terrorist." Ask students to share their ideas (verbally, or anonymously by collecting papers and reading aloud). Note how many times "Arab," "Middle East," or "Muslim" get mentioned. Ask students if they think this characterization is fair. How does it compare to the characterization of Japanese-Americans and German-Americans during World War II?

  8. Examine how the media portrays people of Arab descent, through an analysis of movies like The Seige, True Lies, and the upcoming Tom Clancy thriller, The Sum of All Fears. Students may be interested in the following article:

  9. Share this article posted online from MSNBC:
    "Arab-Americans feel a backlash"

    This article details hate crimes against Arab-Americans in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Is there any connection between media portrayals of Arabs in movies and other popular entertainment, and the crimes committed against Arab-American citizens? Ask students to discuss this.

  10. Ask students to brainstorm a list of ways that citizens can eradicate ethnic stereotypes in their communities (possibilities include exhibits, ethnic festivals, film series, social events at places of worship, etc.). What things can be done locally? At the national level? Choose one or more of these ideas to implement as a class or in partnership with a community organization.

  11. Other resources that might be helpful include the following:

Student understanding should be assessed through:

  • contribution to class discussion
  • first person World War II diary entry or letter
  • research/analysis on media portrayals of Arabs and Arab-Americans
  • participation in community event planned at the end of the lesson

PBS Primetime Coverage
PBS provided nightly coverage and analysis of the terrorist attacks on the United States with "America Responds."

Key PBS Resources:

Online NewsHour
Ongoing coverage and analysis.

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood
Helping children cope.