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April 27, 2015 5

We Are Family: Making Classrooms Inclusive for All Families

?????????????????????In Stella Brings the Fam­ily, a recently pub­lished children’s book, a young girl’s teacher announces that the chil­dren can bring a spe­cial guest to school in cel­e­bra­tion of Mother’s Day. Stella frets—at first silently and then publicly—because she doesn’t have a mother and every­one else does. Stella has two dads. Her teacher unin­ten­tion­ally causes pain and stress for Stella and her class­mates won­der aloud who does all the things for Stella that moth­ers typ­i­cally do. The story ends well because Stella finds a solu­tion by invit­ing her Dads and mem­bers of her extended fam­ily to the festivities.

As we enter the sea­son of Mother’s and Father’s Day, it is impor­tant to remem­ber that Stella’s sit­u­a­tion is famil­iar in class­rooms across the country—both because there are many kinds of fam­i­lies and because most teach­ers often default to tra­di­tional con­cepts of fam­ily (i.e. two-parent, het­ero­sex­ual house­holds), not always real­iz­ing the harm that causes. Unfor­tu­nately, many of these sit­u­a­tions like Stella’s do not resolve hap­pily as her story does. Mak­ing the assump­tion that most chil­dren reside in one kind of fam­ily is prob­lem­atic on many levels.

Assump­tions about fam­i­lies often aren’t accu­rate. Less than half (46%) of U.S. chil­dren under 18 live in a home with two, mar­ried, het­ero­sex­ual par­ents in their first mar­riage. Accord­ing to the 2010 U.S. cen­sus, 220,000 chil­dren live in same-sex cou­ple house­holds. More than 24 mil­lion chil­dren live in sin­gle par­ent house­holds, rep­re­sent­ing 34% of total chil­dren. In 2013, 402,000 chil­dren were liv­ing in fos­ter care and 7% of all chil­dren lived in the home of their grandparents.

Despite these num­bers, well-meaning edu­ca­tors reg­u­larly make assump­tions about children’s home lives. These incor­rect assump­tions can cause chil­dren like Stella and oth­ers to feel badly and send an inac­cu­rate mes­sage to all young peo­ple about the cur­rent real­ity of our nation’s fam­i­lies.  Whether teach­ers have none, one, some or many chil­dren in their class­room who don’t fit the “tra­di­tional fam­ily” per­cep­tion, it is impor­tant to be inclu­sive and accu­rate about what fam­ily means.

For preschool and ele­men­tary age chil­dren, fam­ily is a huge part of their lives and often an inte­gral part of the cur­ricu­lum. For Mother’s and Father’s Day and through­out the year, it is impor­tant to be thought­ful about how to cre­ate class­rooms where all chil­dren feel included, affirmed and com­fort­able to be them­selves. Here are some sug­ges­tions for mak­ing that happen:

  • In dis­cus­sions about fam­ily, actively dis­cour­age the con­cept of a “tra­di­tional,” “aver­age” or “nor­mal” fam­ily. Work to broaden children’s def­i­n­i­tion of fam­ily, empha­siz­ing that fam­ily is not based on struc­ture or spe­cific mem­bers but rather, liv­ing arrange­ments, love, shar­ing home respon­si­bil­i­ties and com­mon activ­i­ties and tra­di­tions. Begin­ning at a young age, acknowl­edge that there are many kinds of fam­i­lies and bring that into your dis­cus­sions of home and fam­ily. Use books and other media in your class­room that fea­ture many kinds of fam­i­lies.
  • As a school, eval­u­ate the mes­sages you con­vey through lan­guage, poli­cies and pro­ce­dures. Re-think forms, per­mis­sions slips and other pro­ce­dures that explic­itly ask for “mother” and “father” iden­ti­fy­ing infor­ma­tion. Instead, change these des­ig­na­tions to parent/guardian across the board. In talk­ing with chil­dren, use terms like par­ents and guardians or adult fam­ily mem­bers rather than moth­ers and fathers. Think care­fully and find alter­na­tives to “father-daughter” dances and sim­i­lar activities.
  • In early child­hood and ele­men­tary class­rooms where these hol­i­days are typ­i­cally cel­e­brated, teach­ers should get to know their stu­dents and fam­ily sit­u­a­tions to avoid mak­ing some chil­dren feel left out. If you are going to com­mem­o­rate Mother’s and Father’s Day, con­sider mak­ing the day more gen­eral like “Fam­ily Day” or “Parent/Guardian Day.” If you decide to go ahead with the lan­guage of Mother’s and Father’s Day, be more inclu­sive and allow chil­dren to include other female and male fam­ily mem­bers or friends such as aunts, uncles, grand­par­ents, fam­ily friends, etc. If chil­dren have two moms or two dads, allow them to cre­ate two cards/gifts for these occasions.

Rather than caus­ing dis­tress, hol­i­days and obser­vances should be an occa­sion for bring­ing chil­dren together, shar­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences and help­ing every­one feel included.

 

 

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April 16, 2015 3

Yom Hashoah: The Renewed Importance of Remembering

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Holo­caust Remem­brance Day is com­mem­o­rated each year a week after the end of the Passover hol­i­day, a day when the world pauses  to remem­ber the Holo­caust, the mil­lions who died and those who lived on, many to tell their sto­ries to a gen­er­a­tion born more than half a cen­tury later. To the younger among us, the Holo­caust can feel like ancient his­tory. Why is it impor­tant that we remem­ber? And why do we con­tinue to utter the man­date of Never Again, when the real­ity is that geno­cide has occurred again and again in parts of the world today.

It is often said that our youngest gen­er­a­tion will be the last to meet and hear sur­vivors tell their own sto­ries, and those that have this priv­i­lege are unlikely to ever for­get it. There are impor­tant lessons to be learned from sur­vivors’ words and expe­ri­ences, lessons that still have rel­e­vance to stu­dents’ lives today. One impor­tant les­son is about the ten­dency of hate to esca­late when it is unchecked.  When we wit­ness every­day acts of insen­si­tiv­ity, bias or intol­er­ance, it’s easy to turn our backs and walk away, to avoid get­ting involved. Many did just that in Europe sev­enty years ago, and that sub­tle bias was able to grow and fes­ter like a can­cer.  A wise per­son once reminded us that the Holo­caust did not begin at the gates of con­cen­tra­tion camps. It began with words – words that grew into prej­u­dice and then acts of dis­crim­i­na­tion and bias-motivated vio­lence and finally genocide.

We remem­ber the Holo­caust because of our hope that the world will never go through dark­ness as deep as that, but also because we know that the mil­lions who did not sur­vive to tell their sto­ries took with them a world of lost pos­si­bil­i­ties. They would want to know that they were not for­got­ten. And because today’s youth will be the last to hear sur­vivors speak in per­son, there is a renewed impor­tance to find­ing new ways to keep their sto­ries alive.

But how do we do that?  And how do we inspire in one another the moti­va­tion to make Never Again the real­ity the world longs for?  We can begin by tak­ing a moment wher­ever we are to remem­ber those who died. We can be wit­nesses who carry on the sto­ries we have heard to oth­ers.  We can ensure that stu­dents today have oppor­tu­ni­ties to reflect on the lessons of the Holo­caust and to hear the sto­ries of sur­vivors, resisters and res­cuers.  And we can take the time to stop and take a stand against the insen­si­tive, biased and intol­er­ant words and acts that hap­pen around us. Work­ing together, we may even turn the hope of Never Again into a global reality.

Yom Hashoah will be observed on the fol­low­ing dates:

Thurs­day, April 16, 2015 Thurs­day, May 5, 2016 Mon­day, April 24, 2017 Thurs­day, April 12, 2018

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April 1, 2015 2

Dr. Leon Bass: Educator, Advocate for Justice, and True Hero

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This week, the world lost a true hero. Dr. Leon Bass, who turned his per­sonal and life-altering expe­ri­ences with racism and anti-Semitism into oppor­tu­ni­ties to edu­cate, inspire action in oth­ers and bear, in word, deed and char­ac­ter, the man­date of “Never Again,” died on Sat­ur­day, March 28th at the age of 90. ADL joins the world in mourn­ing his loss.

As a young man, Leon Bass grew up in a coun­try divided by racial prej­u­dice. He often shared with young peo­ple that his expe­ri­ences con­sis­tently told him that he “wasn’t good enough” – not good enough to eat in the same restau­rants, drink from the same water foun­tains or sit next to his white neigh­bors in the local movie the­atre. Despite this, when the U.S. joined the allies in World War II, Bass felt a duty to serve his coun­try and enlisted in the U.S. Army. His expe­ri­ence there would bring him face to face with insti­tu­tion­al­ized racism, mir­ror­ing the prej­u­dice he had expe­ri­enced through­out his life. Along with other enlisted men of color, Leon was placed in a sep­a­rate totally black unit, along with the unspo­ken mes­sage that, despite their patri­o­tism, despite their will­ing­ness to give their lives for their coun­try, they were still not good enough to eat, sleep and serve along­side the tra­di­tional mostly white Army.

He was deployed to Europe, and left the world a detailed chron­i­cle of his expe­ri­ences in a recently-published auto­bi­og­ra­phy, Good Enough. As the war began to draw to a close, Bass found him­self sta­tioned near Nurem­berg, Ger­many, where he was one day asked to accom­pany his com­mand­ing offi­cer on a mis­sion to a place Bass had never heard of. That place was the Buchen­wald Con­cen­tra­tion Camp. He was among the first Amer­i­cans to enter the camps, and his accounts of what he saw there would haunt him until his final days. He was over­whelmed by the destruc­tive power and con­se­quences of hate that he wit­nessed in the vic­tims and remain­ing sur­vivors. He vowed to be a per­son who would no longer accept the sta­tus quo of injus­tice, a man who would devote his life to mak­ing a bet­ter, more just world. His life was a tes­ti­mony to that commitment.

Dr. Bass returned home, pur­su­ing under­grad­u­ate and grad­u­ate stud­ies, and earn­ing his Doc­tor­ate in Edu­ca­tion. He became an influ­en­tial school admin­is­tra­tor and leader, and began shar­ing his story, which made pow­er­ful con­nec­tions between the racism he per­son­ally expe­ri­enced and the vir­u­lent anti-Semitism he wit­nessed inside the gates of Buchen­wald.   And his story inspired action in hun­dreds of thou­sands of young peo­ple across the coun­try. For many years, Dr. Bass was an inte­gral part of ADL’s Gros­feld Fam­ily National Youth Lead­er­ship Mis­sion to the U.S. Holo­caust Memo­r­ial Museum in Wash­ing­ton D.C. He was con­sis­tently described by par­tic­i­pants as one of the most mean­ing­ful parts of the pro­gram year after year. At last year’s Mis­sion in Octo­ber 2014, a group of 150 stu­dents, ADL staff, lay lead­ers and friends from across the coun­try were given the gift of hear­ing what would be Dr. Bass’s last telling of his pow­er­ful and com­pelling story, and many were brought to tears and inspired to take action against hate.

We at ADL count our­selves for­tu­nate to have had a very long friend­ship and col­lab­o­ra­tion with Dr. Bass.  His unique gifts as a sto­ry­teller; his abil­ity to effec­tively con­nect the past and the present, the per­sonal and the global; his tire­less ded­i­ca­tion to make a more just and equi­table world; his abil­ity to inspire action through the way he lived his life; and his liv­ing exam­ple of what it means to be a true hero are hall­marks of who Dr. Leon Bass was and why we will greatly miss him.