Friday, September 27, 2019

Sensitivity adjustment in my school visit presentations

I believe I began talking about Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman at schools even before the book came out in 2008. My presentation includes the two photos I uncovered of the small apartment building where then-teenaged Joe Shuster lived in the 1930s.

The first photo (which I found at the Cleveland Public Library) was taken in 1959:

The second (which the Cleveland City Planning Commission located for me) was taken in 1974:

For years, I would transition from the first to the second image while saying “The other photo I found of Joe’s apartment was taken fifteen years after this one, and as you can see, the neighborhood had gone downhill.” I would then explain that soon after, the building was demolished.

A couple of years ago, I realized that my wording could be hurtful to certain kids. While it was clear that the neighborhood had changed from what I think would have been considered middle class to a lower-income population, some would construe the word downhill” as pejorative. It is also subjective; some people of lesser means would describe themselves as content whereas some of greater means are miserable. The physical condition of their environment does not factor significantly into their outlooks.

Surely some kids in some of my audiences lived in buildings that were in a state similar to Joe’s. 

Though no one has ever called this word choice to my attention, I felt badly that I had let it go unchecked for so long. 

Now I say that “the neighborhood had changed,” which I feel is both fair and non-judgmental.

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