A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Paper Clips follows how students in a small town study the Holocaust in a unique way, but it doesn't provide too many potentially disturbing or graphic details about the atrocities committed during the Holocaust. Because of that, this is an excellent way to introduce the Holocaust to younger viewers. It teaches about tolerance and diversity and offers many valuable perspectives on how important it is to learn about other cultures, history, and past crimes against humanity.
What's the story?
In 1998, the principal, assistant principal, and language arts teacher of a middle school in Whitwell, Tennessee began a Holocaust studies class that would not only change the students involved but transform their entire small town. The voluntary after-school class was initially created as an extended lesson in tolerance and other cultures, but in order to truly understand what six million killed Jews meant, the students decided to attempt to collect six million paper clips. The paper clip, as it turned out, was doubly significant, because it was designed by a Jewish Norwegian named Johan Vaaler, and then during WWII, the Norwegians wore them as a form of protest to the Nazi regime. With the help of German newspaper correspondents stationed in Washington, D.C., the project was publicized all over the world, and the kids, over the course of four years, were sent more than 29 million paper clips from celebrities, heads of state, WWII veterans, and most importantly, Holocaust survivors themselves.
Is it any good?
This well-meaning documentary isn't a slick, celebrity-narrated account of the Whitwell students' simple but life-changing Holocaust studies project. In fact, the biggest celebrity is Happy Days dad Tom Bosley, who, as a Jewish grandfather, sent in one paper clip to the class. Instead, the documentary earnestly focuses on the principal Linda Hooper, assistant principal David Smith, and language-arts teacher Sandra Roberts, and the students and journalists who helped spread the word that a group of white Southern kids were doing their best to honor the six million Jewish people killed by Hitler's racist regime. Throughout the collection process, the students, who didn't even know any Jews personally when they began the project, become attuned to the stories behind the paper clips and understand that unchecked intolerance and prejudice can lead to genocide.
Smith, in particular, admits that he was raised with racist attitudes and never thought twice about making certain racial remarks -- even in front of his black college roommate. He cries, saying that he never wants his sons to describe him as a racist, and that alone makes the documentary worth watching. The incredible paper clip project isn't just a memorial, it's a living reminder of what can happen if we don't learn that other kinds of people aren't the enemy. By the time the school receives an actual German rail-car -- that once transported condemned Jews to death camps -- to house the paper clips, the entire town of Whitwell has learned not only a general history of the Holocaust, but has met and cried with survivors. For anyone looking for a way to introduce the topic of the Holocaust with young students, this documentary is a perfect place to start.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the many valuable lessons presented in Paper Clips. How can students everywhere make a commitment to never forget what led to the Holocaust? Why is it important to be aware of the dangers of racial and religious prejudice and propaganda?
What did the Holocaust Studies learn about tolerance? Why was it so important to the principal/assistant principal/english teacher that these particular kids learn about such a different culture?
Discuss the problems with stereotyping and discriminating based on race, religion, ethnicity, etc. Do people still make assumptions about others based on what they look like, how they dress, or what part of the world they're from? How do you apply tolerance and diversity in communities where there is none or very little, like the one featured in the film?
The Paper Clips project was tied specifically to the Holocaust, but the themes can be applied to everyday prejudices. How can students make sure they aren't judging, teasing, or bullying others because of where they came from or other differences?
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