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The Beauty of S**thole Countries By ebba gurney

On Jan. 14, 2018, in the Oval Office, President Trump referred to Haiti, El Salvador, and all African countries as “shithole countries,” in regards to immigration to the United States. He referenced Norway and Asian countries as more ideal countries to extract immigrants from, according to The Washington Post. “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said.

These comments surfaced feelings of anger and sadness among many Americans; one of which was Carina Sietz, an English teacher at Skyline High School. She has been teaching English for 16 years and is currently in her ninth year at Skyline.

After hearing the news of President Trump’s comments the previous weekend, and feeling very emotional herself, Sietz pushed aside her lesson plan for flash fiction and Shakespeare, and moved forward with a new one: The ‘Shithole’ Assignment. “It’s one of those times where the immediacy of what was said, I felt had to be addressed so that students felt the freedom to talk about fears, or other emotions, anger, whatever it was that they were feeling, and have an outlet for it,” Sietz said.

Her twelfth and tenth grade students have been assigned this week to find a work of art, a poem, a sculpture, a book, an example of architecture, a scientist, a philanthropist, a dancer, or musician from Haiti, El Salvador, or any African country. After proving their knowledge of the findings, they will present it to the class. Outside of Sietz’s classroom will be a display of the examples her students come up with.

To avoid controversial political discussion, Sietz focused on the contributions and beauty of the countries, rather than talking about politics. “I’m not talking about immigration policies or bills or laws, but rather the language that not just our president, but others have used that I think is pushing us back from where we were, particularly in regards to racism and sexism,” Sietz said. “Those are things that I feel are pertinent to our atmosphere as a classroom as well as all of the texts that we read.”

Sietz is hoping to gain an understanding among her students that a perception of a country’s worth isn’t always accurate and fair, especially in the United States right now. “There is beauty to be found in every corner of the world, so we can’t judge by the face of a country,” Sietz said.

Sietz’s assignment sparked a similar project with Laura Davis’ French classes at Skyline. “I had heard that Ms. Sietz was doing an assignment like this, I thought that it would be relevant with how many of the countries that are in Africa that are French speaking,” Davis said. Davis used a similar non-political approach, exemplifying the beauty within the countries.

Students gave excellent feedback on what they learned. “After this assignment, students know a lot more about these ‘shithole countries’ and really see how beautiful each one is,” said Justin Chang, a sophomore taking French with Davis and English with Sietz.

A wall of beautiful art, literature, science, and people of Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries is now displayed in the hall of Skyline High School.

Created By
Ebba Gurney
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