Paper Clips

Paper Clips, produced by the Johnson Group in association with Ergo Entertainment (2-disc Special Edition, $24.99; Educational Edition, $79.99)

Given the current worldwide political climate, teachers more than ever feel the need to teach tolerance, compassion, and understanding. While there is an abundance of curriculum available for teachers on these topics, educators want to make sure their students “experience” these topics in a positive and substantive way.

The documentary Paper Clips , released in 2004, portrays the attempt of two teachers and a principal to create a substantive unit about diversity and tolerance for a class of middle schoolers in a rural Tennessee town of 1,600. While the town is virtually 100% Protestant, the teachers chose the Holocaust as the catalyst for the unit. Early in the unit, through research, the students discover that the paper clip was worn by Norwegians as a symbol of defiance against Hitler. Unable to comprehend the magnitude of six million Jews killed in the Holocaust—really, unable to comprehend the magnitude of six million at all—but understanding that they learn best by “doing,” the students set out to collect six million paper clips. What follows from the first class of middle schoolers in 1998 is appropriately captured by the film’s tagline “It began as a lesson about prejudice…what happened next was a miracle.”

I watched the film twice. One viewing was through the teacher lens, knowing and understanding the importance of project-based learning, student-as-worker, teacher-as-coach, and real world experiences for children. Secondly, I watched Paper Clips as a citizen of a country and a world who wants to believe that our children are being raised and educated to be tolerant, kind, and accepting. This film made be proud to be an educator and part of a profession that on a day-to day-basis tries to do what is best for the social, emotional and intellectual growth of our children. It also made me hopeful about the future of our world. This film is 84 minutes well spent, either for entertainment, inspiration, or a bit of hope. Share the experience with a friend, colleague, or the young people in your life.

Paper Clips is widely available for rental or purchase. An educational version with lesson plans and other extra material will be available summer 2006 at

Eva A. Frank is the director of CES National’s EssentialVisions DVD project.