Our Private Idaho

The episode “Our Private Idaho” takes viewers to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Once the epicenter of the Aryan Nations’ white-supremacy movements, Coeur d’Alene has nearly doubled in population in the last two decades. Nearly 90 percent of its new arrivals are white, and although the percentage of nonwhite residents is gradually increasing, it’s still tiny at 5.5 percent.
Grade Level

America by the Numbers with Maria Hinojosa—a PBS documentary series—tells the story of the changing demographics of the United States through character-driven portraits and in-depth conversations. Host Maria Hinojosa, an award-winning news anchor and reporter, visits communities from Clarkston, Georgia, to Long Beach, California, to examine the impact of demographic changes on local residents.

The episode “Our Private Idaho” takes viewers to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Once the epicenter of the Aryan Nations’ white-supremacy movements, Coeur d’Alene has nearly doubled in population in the last two decades. Nearly 90 percent of its new arrivals are white, and although the percentage of nonwhite residents is gradually increasing, it’s still tiny at 5.5 percent.

“Our Private Idaho” captures the complexity of living in an overwhelmingly white community, exploring life in Coeur d’Alene from a variety of perspectives. We hear from the lawyer who successfully fought the activities of the Aryan Nations over 15 years ago, white migrants who’ve more recently sought a refuge in the town’s idyllic setting, the city’s first African-American firefighter (a designation he dislikes) and the co-owner of a local Mexican restaurant besieged by white supremacists but ultimately supported by the community.


Enduring Understandings

  • Historically, whites have moved away from urban areas when African-American and Latinx residents have moved in.
  • In some places, the migration of nonwhites to the exurbs has led to conflict—sometimes escalating to demonstrations and hate crimes.
  • Media producers choose which stories to feature and which to leave out, and these choices affect viewers’ perceptions.
  • Listening without judgment is useful in learning about someone else’s point of view.


Essential Questions

  • What does it mean to live in a racially homogeneous community?
  • What can be learned from varying points of view?



Students will be able to:

  • consider how a community’s history influences the present-day interactions of its members
  • identify effective interview strategies
  • use effective interview strategies to explore varying points of view


Materials Needed



Aryan Nationsair ē uhn nay shuhnz ] (noun) a white-supremacy hate group

exurbek surb ] (noun) small and often wealthy community located beyond the suburbs

homogeneous [ hō muh uhs ] (adjective) similar, lacking diversity

white flighthwīt flīt (noun) the migration of white people from urban areas to the suburbs in response to the influx of racial minorities

whitopia [ hwī uh (noun) an area sought out by whites to avoid diversity and problems associated with city life; a combination of white and utopia 


Where’s Coeur d’Alene?

Use Google Maps or a wall map to locate Coeur d’Alene.

Share these data:

According to the U.S. Census (2010), the population of Coeur d’Alene is just over 44,000, making it the seventh-largest city in Idaho. Boise City is Idaho’s largest city with over 200,000 residents.

Briefly discuss:

  • How does Coeur d’Alene’s population compare to the population where you live?
  • How far away from Coeur d’Alene is Boise City or other large Idaho cities?
  • What does it mean to be the county seat?

Share City of Coeur d’Alene Web page

Why do you suppose people want to live in Coeur d’Alene?


Introduce “Our Private Idaho”

Coeur d’Alene is infamous for its troubled racial past. In the 1990s, the headquarters for the Aryan Nations—a white-supremacy group—was located on a 20-acre compound in nearby Hayden Lake, 8 miles from Coeur d’Alene.

In this episode, host Maria Hinojosa visits Coeur d’Alene to find out how things have changed.


During-Viewing Questions

As students watch the episode, ask them to take notes on the following questions. (Note: These questions are included on the accompanying handout.)

  1. Why do you suppose the program’s producers chose to begin the story with the real estate agent and her family?
  2. How does journalist Maria Hinojosa get people to tell their stories?
    • What do people say about the history of diversity in Coeur d’Alene?
    • How has that history affected relationships in the community?
    • What evidence might lead you to think that Hinojosa agrees or disagrees with any of the people she interviews?
  3. Describe at least two people other than the real estate agent and her family. Why do you think they were included in the story?
  4. Who, in your opinion, are the heroes of this story? Why?
  5. What do you suppose the program’s producers wanted you to think or do after watching this episode?

Using the during-viewing questions, lead a class discussion that includes:

  1. people present or not present in the documentary
  2. interview strategies used by Hinojosa
  3. purpose and point of view


Using Interview Techniques to Learn More

  1. Distribute the “Interview Tips” handout.
  2. Complete “Interview Checklist” columns 2 and 3 as a class.
  3. Put students in pairs and distribute the “Perspectives from Coeur d’Alene” handout to each pair.
  4. Direct each student to pick one person from the list of people featured in the episode.
  5. Have each student generate three to five open-ended questions to ask his or her person.
  6. Have students trade questions with their partners.
  7. Have students interview each other using the questions they generated in step 5.
  8. Circulate among students, providing suggestions from the “Interview Tips” handout and listening to the interviews. Offer suggestions as needed.
  9. After both students have conducted an interview, have students complete columns 4 and 5 in the “Interview Checklist.”
  10. Debrief after the activity using the following discussion questions: 
    • What happened when the interviewer interrupted?
    • What happened when the interviewer did not interrupt?
    • What follow-up questions were used?
    • What follow-up questions were missing?
    • What was difficult?
    • How might these interview tips be applied to other situations?

Note: If time permits, have one pair model their interview in the center of the class. Have observing students coach from the sidelines using the “Interview Tips” handout.


Do Something

Perspective-Taking in Your Community: What Can You Do?

In “Our Private Idaho,” attorney Norm Gissel expresses hope that the next generation will be more tolerant than people his age. Teacher Kristin Odenthal asks her students, “What can you do personally to help break stereotypes?” Ask students to brainstorm a list of ways in which people in their school or community are diverse (think about race/ethnicity, wealth/poverty, religious/nonreligious beliefs, ability, etc).

Identify ways in which negative stereotypes prevent people from getting to know one another or getting along.

List ways the class community can make a difference in challenging these stereotypes.

Check out other America by the Numbers episodes and their accompanying lessons.


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