Education » ADL Blogs
August 4, 2016

Teachable Moments Abound in Khizr Khan’s Convention Speech

Khazir Khan - DNCOn the final night at the Democratic National Convention, a Muslim American couple named Khizr and Ghazala Khan came to the stage and delivered a patriotic speech about their son, a U.S. Army Captain who died in 2004 in Iraq serving his country. Khizr Khan, as his wife looked on, spoke for a mere six minutes. The speech was so riveting that the discussion about it continued into the next day and beyond, many people calling it was one of the most powerful Convention speeches.

In the speech, Khan talked about his son and his ultimate sacrifice, American patriotism and immigration. He strongly challenged the Islamophobia and biased tone of the current presidential campaign.

In the days following the speech, several controversies arose and it occupied much of cable news’ airtime. Ghazala Khan was questioned for not speaking. Allegations circulated that she may not have been “allowed” to speak, implying it was due to her being Muslim. It was also said that Khizr Khan “had no right to say” what he said. In fact, ironically, the Constitution (which he used as a prop and referred to several times) allows him to express his thoughts freely. In the aftermath, prominent Democrats including President Obama and high-ranking Republicans denounced the harsh words directed at the Khans.

The speech and subsequent public discourse provides a teachable moment to talk with young people—in the classroom or around the kitchen table—about a number of related issues. Below are those issues and some open-ended questions with which families and educators may start the conversation.

Our Constitutional Rights

A dramatic moment in Khan’s speech was when he pulled out his pocket copy of the Constitution and asserted the importance of “liberty” and “equal protection (under) law.”  That single action drove sales of the Constitution pocket version to hit the top 10 bestselling books on Amazon. And that’s a good thing for democracy and public awareness of our Constitutional rights, including religious freedom and freedom of speech. Among other findings, a 2014 study of student and teacher perspectives on the First Amendment found that students who take a class dealing with the First Amendment are more likely to support First Amendment rights. It also found that, for the first time, American high school students show a greater overall appreciation for the First Amendment than do adults.

Following the speech, there were statements made that Khizr Khan “has no right” to raise questions about the Republican presidential candidate. In fact, one of Khan’s main points was that the Constitution allows him freedom of speech and he was, in fact, allowed to make critical comments about politicians.

Questions for Discussion:

  • In his speech, what point did Khizr Khan make about the Constitution?
  • What do you know about the Constitution?
  • What did Khan’s words about the Constitution have to do with immigrants and patriotism?

Stereotypes of Muslims

In the aftermath of the speech, questions were forcefully raised about why Ghazala Khan stood at the podium and didn’t say anything, charging that “maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say.” This perpetuates the myth and stereotype that Muslim women are subservient to men. In response to these accusations, Ghazala Khan spoke up on her own behalf and in addition, Muslim women posted on social media using the hashtag #CanYouHearUsNow in defiance of that label. Further, in several TV interviews about the speech, others slipped in the words “radical Islamist terrorists,” seemingly in an attempt to conflate the Khan family with terrorism—another common stereotype.

Questions for Discussion:

  • What are some of the stereotypes you have heard about Muslims and how do you see this playing out in the latest controversy?
  • How does what you learned about the Khans or anything else in the news dispel the stereotypes?
  • In what ways are stereotypes harmful and what can we do about them?

Being an Ally When Facing Bias

When Khizr Khan spoke about his son and his views on the presidential election, he spoke not only about the mistreatment and bigotry directed at Muslims during this election but also about other immigrants, minorities and women. Khan used his voice to amplify the voices of others. Being an ally in small and large ways is an important lesson and skill to teach our children. In addition to Khan’s ally behavior during the Convention, when he and his wife were attacked, other politicians—both Republicans and Democrats alike—rose to be their allies and speak on behalf of them and all veterans and Gold Star families (bereaved family members of U.S. Armed Forces members).

Questions for Discussion:

  • What does it mean to be an ally, on a personal and political level?
  • How did Khizr Khan act as an ally and how did others act as an ally to him when he was attacked?
  • What can we do to be allies to people who are mistreated, stereotyped and discriminated against?

The Immigrant Experience

Khan spoke passionately about his experience as an immigrant, making clear his “undivided loyalty to our country” and sharing his common experience of coming to this country empty-handed. He explained that they believed in democracy and that with hard work and goodness, they could “share in and contribute to its blessings.” The United States is a nation of immigrants and should always seek ways to build bridges rather than walls. As Khan stated, “We cannot solve our problems by building walls, sowing division. We are stronger together.” Indeed, a culture of bias and bigotry towards immigrants hurts all of us.

Questions for Discussion:

  • How does Khizr Khan’s experience as an immigrant inform his perspective on U.S. democracy?
  • How are the different points of view about immigrants and immigration being discussed during this presidential election?
  • How is the Khan family’s experience similar to or different from the experiences of your family or your friend’s families?
  • What do you already know about immigration and what do you want to know?

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July 14, 2016

Speaking Truth, Facing Bias and Promoting Empathy

Magnetic-poetry-(modified-for-policing-and-bias)It has been a rough summer as the topic of guns, violence, police and bias scream across the news headlines and our smart phones.

Still reeling from the June 12 massacre of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, a few short weeks later we watched on video the back-to-back shooting deaths by police of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, LA and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, MN.  Just a day later, as cities across the country engaged in protests over these deaths, we witnessed the horrifying sniper attack of white police officers Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith and Loren Ahrens, and the wounding of seven others.

For most of the country, school is out but that doesn’t stop parents and families from wanting to answer questions and find meaning in these deaths while they discuss the tragedies with their children. Nor does it prevent teachers from reflecting on how they will address it with students when school resumes.

What can we learn from these events and what can we teach children about them?

The words of Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, in the wake of the Dallas shooting, are insightful and instructive:

“We need this to mean something to this community and this country. It’s a senseless act of hate but if it can mean that it’s an opportunity to open that dialogue so that white people think about what a Black family goes through as they teach their children a different set of rules than a white family will teach their children. So that non first responder families think about what a first responder family goes through wondering if their loved one is going to come home.”

What this means is not only do we all have to try harder to listen to and hear the perspective of one another–perspectives that may be difficult and uncomfortable to take in—we also need to engage in a dialogue where we can concurrently speak hard truths and listen with compassion and empathy. It is also critical that we listen to and accept the strong feelings people may have about these and other incidents—whether it is anger, fear, shame, sadness and disappointment, but also the triumphant feelings of making a difference.

As parents, family members and teachers who are responsible for educating the next generation of citizens and leaders, how can we translate the hard truths of racism, violence, inequity and a need for empathy into how we talk to young people about these issues?

First, it is critical that we promote understanding of identity, culture, differences and develop skills in how to respect those differences. These are concepts and skills that need to be taught in a methodical way, especially if there isn’t racial diversity in the schools and communities in which kids live.  But even if there is diversity, these skills and concepts have to be taught, nurtured and modeled on a regular basis.

Second, from an early age, we need to talk with children about prejudice and bias.  As they get older, we can teach young people about discrimination, implicit bias, injustice and the ways in which people have overcome oppression. We need to also talk with them about the intersection of racism, violence, inequity and the criminal justice system. At a time where 69% of Americans perceive race relations as “mostly bad,” open and honest dialogue across differences must be a priority, both for young people and adults.

Finally, as Judge Jenkins asserted, we need to “respect one another, show compassion for one another and see things through each other’s perspective.” Racism exists and especially for Black and Latino men, bias can have dangerous and even deadly consequences when interacting with the criminal justice system. Police officers have a demanding job that provides an opportunity to positively impact communities but also requires them to face danger on a regular basis. Promoting empathy means helping students understand different perspectives and the lens with which others see the world.

When we do this, we help young people tap into their humanity, build their empathy skills and feel more connected to one another other.



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July 13, 2016

Pokemon GO, A Popular Game with Some Troubling Consequences

pokemonThe Pokémon GO app is a hybrid virtual and real world game.  The game’s objective is to use a smartphone to find, see and capture/collect virtual Pokémon characters. Many players find the game highly engaging, entertaining and even addictive. Pokémon characters are apparently randomly distributed on the game’s map, but can also be collected at “Pokestops,” locations in the real world based on points of interest as identified on Google maps. Players can also create “gymnasiums” and “lures,” which are typically at  public places like parks, post offices and museums, but these gymnasiums may potentially be created in places like memorials, churches, temples, mosques, synagogues, and schools where playing the game is inappropriate or offensive.  Players tend to congregate where Pokémon characters can be collected and they can interact with other players.  Like Google’s points of interest, the location of Pokestops is not always precisely accurate.  So, for example, a Pokestop based on a Google map point of interest may be located in front of a religious institution, but the Pokemon character may be viewable on a smartphone used inside the building. ADL has received reports that Pokémon characters have appeared on phones inside the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, outside synagogues, at Auschwitz and at other locations where playing a game is disrespectful if not offensive.  The game is software-driven, and it is reasonable to assume the characters are not placed in such locations with any malicious intent.  It is likely that the appearance of Pokemon characters at the Holocaust Museum and at Auschwitz is an unintended consequence of the technology driving the app.  Once they learned of it, the authorities at Auschwitz were right to tell people they cannot play the game there. Even though we do not believe the app’s developers deliberately chose inappropriate settings for the game, we would urge them to explore the possibility of taking steps proactively to restrict areas which are likely to cause offense, and to prevent the characters for appearing in or near them.  In the meantime, people who encounter offensive Pokestops can visit the app’s support page, which provides information about reporting a problem with a gym or Pokestop.  There is no clear way to request that a location be removed, but there is a choice that says “dangerous Pokestop/gym” on the “reasons” drop-down menu.  One should be able to succinctly provide as much detail as possible there, but at this time, it is unclear how effective this process will be. While removing problematic locations would be welcome, there are also some broader societal concerns regarding Pokemon GO.  For example, there are risks related to game players who are distracted while moving around.  It may also be problematic that by playing the game, the player reveals his or her physical location at any given time to the developer.  While the game itself does not pose any inherent threat, it does raise questions of personal safety and security for players who do not show good judgment.  Parents in particular should understand that playing the game could pose some safety risks for their children.

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