Sure, a Modesto High history instructor could have used a textbook to teach students that, only four decades ago, blacks attended "colored only" schools and drank from "colored only" water fountains.
Sure, a teacher could have lectured on the prejudices Native Americans have endured and, in some cases, still do.
A teacher could have talked about issues involving gays and lesbians.
And a teacher could have shown a video on the Japanese Americans who were sent to internment camps during World War II.
But the students got far more out of hearing from people who have endured these and other prejudices.
Indeed, testimony is a powerful and vital tool as evidenced Wednesday during Modesto High's 12th annual Day of Respect.
The messages haven't changed since the school's Sharon Froba began the program in 1998: To plant the seed of understanding and tolerance among young people at Modesto's most diverse high school.
To explain that it's OK to agree to disagree without resorting to name calling and harassment.
To respect another person's uniqueness and differences, and treat him or her with the dignity you want in return.
This nation, arguably, has never been more divided politically, economically and socially. The ban against same-sex marriage is on trial in a federal court. Immigration reform spurs debate and often hatred.
Consequently, Modesto High's Day of Respect is perpetuated by necessity. Some 55 speakers covered a wide range of topics from race to sexual assault to respecting people with disabilities, sharing experiences in hopes the students think about how they treat others.
"We want them to be aware," said Andrea Pegarella, who coordinated this year's Day of Respect. "We're all human. We all have our stories. The more we share them, the more we learn from others."
It's a different time than in the 1960s, when Jerry Cooper grew up in Little Rock, Ark., and segregation still reigned.
"You could see those two signs -- 'colored' and 'white' posted at every public entity," said Cooper, a local businessman. "If I wanted to visit a white person's house, I had to go around back because we (blacks) were not allowed to enter through the front."
Teens today have the ability to question society in a way he couldn't, Cooper said.
"Being able to ask questions about things you don't understand," he said. "When I was in school, you didn't ask those questions because you were ashamed or afraid."
Livingston's Sherman Kishi told of how U.S. authorities rounded up his family and shipped them to Colorado's Amache internment camp in Colorado in 1942 along with other valley Japanese Americans.
One student then asked Kishi why he would join the Army and fight for a country that had imprisoned him and his family.
"I wouldn't," the teen said.
"We wanted to prove that we are very patriotic people," Kishi explained, adding that three other Japanese Americans from Livingston who also joined the Army died fighting for the United States in Europe.
The Rev. Darius Crosby of Modesto's Greater Glory Community Church told of how he grew up in Louisiana viewing the police as friends and heroes -- and how that changed when his family moved to Los Angeles and he was roughed up by bigoted officers. Cuffed, beaten and cursed at by the officers, it took him a long time to get past the incident.
"I became an angry person," he said. "If I had not accepted the Lord into my life, I'd be dead or in (prison) right now."
A track star, he said it wasn't until he won a gold medal in an international meet in Venezuela in 1980 that he felt his heart begin to change.
"As I leaned into the tape, I heard someone say, 'the American won,' " Crosby said. "He didn't say the 'black guy' or 'African American.' He said 'American.' Believe it or not, that transformed me. You can get bitter or get better."
They heard from Brad Bach, a Riverbank High grad who had to explain to his mother that she hadn't "done anything wrong" when he told her he is gay.
And they heard from Max Vallo, whose parents were taken from their tribes in New Mexico as teenagers and sent away to boarding schools to be "anglicized" -- distanced from their heritage and language. Vallo, a Pueblo Indian who wears his hair in a long pony tail, told the students that stereotyping of Native Americans is alive and prevalent today.
"Indians don't say 'How!' They don't say 'Ugh!' " Vallo said. "Just the other day, somebody said to me, 'Chief (Pueblo tribes didn't have chiefs), you ought to quit dancing. It's raining too much.' Indians do pray for rain, but so do farmers in the Midwest."
It is important for the students to hear these testimonies, original organizer Froba said, because like the World War II veterans, many people who lived through these eras of prejudice are now well into their 80s and 90s, and won't be around much longer.
And it's equally important for them to hear from people closer to their own ages, who just want to be treated with respect.
Wednesday, they made a day of it.