Students at Schaumburg and Conant High Schools Explore Cultural Differences During Interactive Play

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Defamation actors answer questions from students after the show.

To express the importance of tolerance and acceptance regardless of one’s differences, students in social studies courses watched an interactive play that revolves around a civil suit case for defamation.

James B. Conant and Schaumburg High Schools invited Canamac Production’s Defamation by Playwright and producer Todd Logan. The play focuses on topics of race, religion, and discrimination through a defamation case and an interactive discussion leaves the verdict up to the students at the end.

“As social studies teachers, we try to create productive citizens in a globalized world, and it’s important our students understand the importance cultures, ethnicities, and different religions,” said Amy Spizzirri, social studies teacher at Conant High School. “The fact that the play is interactive facilitates open-mindedness and allows students to talk about these issues, and we can translate that into our classrooms as we teach about the world. While learning about the past, what’s currently going on, and the future, hopefully they can view things a little differently.”

Students were responsible for choosing a verdict at the end of the play and discussion.

An Innovation Grant from the District 211 Foundation allowed the schools to bring Defamation to their auditorium. Spizzirri, who also sponsors the Cultural Awareness Club, said she and Schaumburg High School Social Studies Chair Maribeth Westlund worked together to make this happen.

The courtroom drama showcases a Southside of Chicago African-American businesswoman who sues a wealthy Jewish real estate mogul who lives on Chicago’s Northside for defamation. During back and forth testimony, students were challenged to focus on the main issue of defamation, and not on race and religion. At the end, the students became the jury.

Richard Shavzin, Defamation’s director and actor of the defendant, said each time they perform at different venues the verdict is always different based on demographics. He said this type of interactive play is important because it enhances critical thinking skills, and addresses very difficult subjects people encounter every day.

Tough discussions about race, religion, and tolerance stem from the show’s content.

“It helps kickstart very difficult conversations about the things that divide us in terms of race, religion, class, and gender,” Shavzin said. “It also helps kids see some of the smokescreens that people try to use to obscure real issues during a case. The issues of race and religion had nothing to do with the substance of the case in the play, but so many people focus on it. That happens in real life all the time.”

Spizzirri said students had wished there was more time for discussion at the end of the play, but continued them during classes. She said this type of discussion will translate well in several topics they will cover in class, from the civil rights movement to the current state of society.

“Our diverse population, not only here but in general, can leave students with a notion of what people believe, what they think, or how they feel based on their ethnicity,” Spizzirri said. “It’s extremely important to erase that notion.”