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July 14, 2016 2

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 0

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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June 20, 2016 0

Name-Calling on the Campaign Trail and in the Schoolyard

Boy being bullied in schoolThis is not the first pres­i­den­tial elec­tion where can­di­dates have engaged in name-calling and put-downs. Through­out his­tory,
name-calling has been used on the cam­paign trail to label, define and con­trol the public’s per­cep­tion of rivals.

How­ever, this year’s cam­paign is widely regarded as unpar­al­leled in the degree and reg­u­lar­ity of the put-downs. From “Low Energy Jeb” to “Crooked Hillary,” “Crazy Bernie,” “Inse­cure Money Grub­ber,” and “Goofy Eliz­a­beth War­ren” and “Pocahontas”—mocking her Native Amer­i­can background—we are see­ing politi­cians invoke name-calling and nasty teas­ing on a grand scale—in tweets, speeches, inter­views and even on the debate stage.  These so-called nick­names are repeated over and over again until the label is cemented in people’s minds. Fur­ther, these names are often hurled at each other in place of actual polit­i­cal dis­course and pol­icy posi­tions so that the pub­lic is just left with the names and lit­tle else.

Name-calling, which is the use of lan­guage to defame, demean or degrade indi­vid­u­als or groups—has a detri­men­tal two-pronged impact: to the tar­get of the name call­ing and to the peo­ple around that per­son.  In elec­tion cam­paigns, name-calling is intended to intim­i­date the per­son to whom the insult is directed, mak­ing them feel unset­tled, dis­tressed, on the defen­sive and pow­er­less.  You can’t debate a “nick­name” or a put-down.

The impact on the bystanders (the gen­eral public—in the case of the elec­tion) is to label the tar­get and chip away at what peo­ple think about them, for­ti­fy­ing in people’s minds the name itself: that Jeb Bush is lack­adaisi­cal and slow, that Bernie Sanders is a “fringe” can­di­date or men­tally ill and can’t be taken seri­ously or that Hillary Clin­ton is not some­one peo­ple can trust. There may be a seed of truth in the label or it may be based on a per­cep­tion of that per­son that already exists, but it is exag­ger­ated and repeated over and over again in the same way that bul­ly­ing uses repeated actions in order to have a last­ing impact.

There are par­al­lels to the name-calling we see in schools.

We know that the name-calling that takes place among young peo­ple can be both a pre­cur­sor to bul­ly­ing as well as an ele­ment of bul­ly­ing. Very young chil­dren some­times engage in name-calling before they actu­ally begin using bul­ly­ing behav­ior.  Older chil­dren and teens, when engag­ing in name-calling, teas­ing and bullying—often hone in on an aspect of their target’s iden­tity (or their per­ceived iden­tity) such as their reli­gion, race, appear­ance gen­der iden­tity or sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or a per­son­al­ity trait they want to exploit, and then they belit­tle and demean the per­son based on that label. Identity-based bul­ly­ing can dam­age and erode tar­gets’ self esteem because it goes to who they are in a fun­da­men­tal way. Sim­i­lar to polit­i­cal name-calling, in schools aggres­sors define their target’s iden­tity by attempt­ing to con­trol how oth­ers see them. This name-calling is often done in front of oth­ers and is meant to con­vince oth­ers to view the per­son in a par­tic­u­lar way. When the name-calling is repeated, others—including the target—begin to see the per­son that way and then the label becomes part of who that per­son is. Fur­ther, name-calling can con­tribute to an envi­ron­ment where bias is accept­able and can lead to more destruc­tive, hate­ful and poten­tially vio­lent behavior.

Young peo­ple are aware of the name-calling and neg­a­tive polit­i­cal dis­course that is tak­ing place in this cur­rent elec­tion cycle. Instead of shy­ing away from it, edu­ca­tors can use it as a teach­able moment to think crit­i­cally about the elec­tion. It is also an oppor­tu­nity to help stu­dents decon­struct name-calling in gen­eral and ana­lyze bias in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion by explor­ing the intent and impact of the name-calling.  Edu­ca­tors can build empa­thy by hav­ing stu­dents reflect upon how the tar­get feels and how they per­ceive name-calling, both in the elec­tion and in in their own daily lives.

For the teach­ers and other adults in stu­dents’ lives, when name-calling, bias or bul­ly­ing takes place, it should be iden­ti­fied and stopped right away, send­ing a mes­sage that it is unac­cept­able.  But inter­rupt­ing is not enough and we should not stop there. We need to teach stu­dents about bias, name-calling and bul­ly­ing and cre­ate an envi­ron­ment where stu­dents feel empow­ered to be allies  in the face of bias and bullying.

For edu­ca­tors, it is crit­i­cal to estab­lish a learn­ing envi­ron­ment and school cli­mate where diver­sity is explored and cel­e­brated, dif­fer­ences are acknowl­edged and respected, bias and identity-based bul­ly­ing are con­fronted and empa­thy is pro­moted in small and large ways. If stu­dents feel part of this safe, respect­ful and inclu­sive learn­ing envi­ron­ment, they will not use name-calling as a way to exert power and con­trol and put oth­ers down.

We under­stand the pro­found impact that name-calling has on schools and soci­ety. If we stand up to it together, we will emerge stronger and bet­ter for it.








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