Three 50-minute class periods

Building a "Toolbox for Difference"

Learning Objectives

Through this project, students will

  • Create a 3 dimensional "toolbox" for making a difference in their community and/or the world
  • Write an accompanying essay explaining the design and components of the toolbox
  • Relate this creative experience to their studies of collective violence and genocide


This project helps students connect their studies of race and gender with their sense of civic obligation and their desire to help prevent the reoccurrence of violence and intolerance. In her directions to her students, Adrianne Billingham, an educator at Lexington High School (MA) who developed this concluding activity, writes, "...as we finish up our examination of Race, Gender & Human Behavior, we need to consider how to take the information we have learned about what humans have and continue to do with 'a difference' in order to encourage the acceptance of difference, and to halt the destructive hatred many people employ in dealing with a difference. We all have the agency to make this change."

Students build physical representations of the idea of "toolboxes for difference."


The scholar Samantha Power, author of A Problem from Hell: America & the Age of Genocide, has suggested that, in dealing with foreign policy and, in particular, genocide, governments imagine a toolbox at their disposal. Each tool in this toolbox would represent a different kind of intervention at the disposal of that government: economic sanctions, condemnation of the genocidaires, military intervention, etc. The problem has been, however, that too often governments and international bodies fail to open these toolboxes. According to Power, the systems, or toolboxes, that may have been designed to prevent genocide far too often "shut down" at precisely the moment when they need to operate. For Power,

You would think that the bigger the crime, you know, the more you would move along this continuum towards the more robust options. But it's almost as though (it's very human in fact, sort of anthropomorphized at the governmental level), it's almost as though the worse the crime, the more likely we are to say, 'Ugh, who can even begin to go there,' and begin to think about making a difference when you have, you know, 8,000 people being murdered a day and bodies, like piling up around the US embassy and other outposts. So if the toolbox--if you think of foreign policy as a toolbox, where you've got all these instruments that you use at difference circumstances, different times, and it's not all or nothing--the toolbox stays shut again and again in the face of genocide.

For Adrianne and her students, the goal is to envision "toolboxes" that can stay open, and influence the decision-making process of nations and the international community. According to Adrianne, the "image of a toolbox makes real the choices that governments have in dealing with these seemingly overwhelming atrocities and suggests that by carrying a toolbox, we are required to use the tools at our disposal."


The following readings and websites are useful in the development of this project:


From Holocaust and Human Behavior:

  • Chapter 9, Judgment, "The United Nations and Genocide"
  • Chapter 10, Historical Legacies, "Truth, the Last Victim of Genocide," "Memorials and Monuments," "In Commemoration"
  • Chapter 11, "Choosing to Participate"



This lesson is designed to culminate in an in-depth study of contemporary genocide, and/or the history of the Holocaust. Before beginning the actual creation and presentation of toolboxes, it is important to re-establish the goal of this exercise. Review with students the historical background context provided above.

Teacher Handout:

Your task: To create a REAL, tangible toolbox that will help you recognize where you can make change and will help you to make that change in regards to the acceptance of difference and the elimination of difference.

Many different things can go in your toolbox and there are a number of questions that you need to consider in the creation of your toolbox.

  • Where do I have the power to make real change?
  • Who is in my universe of obligation?
  • What will I need in my toolbox to sustain me when this work gets hard?
  • What will I have in my toolbox that will help me to remember why this work is necessary?
  • What do I have in my toolbox as far as a ‘difference alarm,' to wake me up when I need to do the work?

These are only a few of many questions that you will need to consider as you embark on this project. In addition to the actual toolbox, filled with tools, you must also complete a short writing assignment that explains each of those tools and how you imagine you will use it.


Your toolbox should:

  • Be a tangible constructed, creative, 3-dimensional box that is filled with at least 5 items that are your tools.
  • Demonstrate effort, thoughtfulness and insight into our course of study.
  • Clearly and thoughtfully convey the themes (race and gender) we have considered this semester through the tools and possibly the toolbox itself.
  • Be accompanied by a well-written, thoughtful piece of writing that clearly explains the tools found in your toolbox, their meaning to you, and how they will help you in your anti-discrimination work.

New Edition of Holocaust and Human Behavior

Some content and materials on this page may reference a previous edition of our Holocaust and Human Behavior resource. 

Search Our Global Collection

Everything you need to get started teaching your students about racism, antisemitism and prejudice.