Education » ADL Blogs
October 28, 2015 2

Now More Than Ever: Why We Need to Address Inequity and Justice in Schools

Diverse-students-holding-sign-lets-talk-equityWe live in an increas­ingly plu­ral­is­tic, mul­ti­cul­tural and con­nected world. In order to pre­pare stu­dents to live, learn and even­tu­ally work suc­cess­fully in soci­ety, we need to pre­pare them.  Diver­sity in the United States is rapidly increas­ing, espe­cially among young peo­ple enter­ing our school sys­tem. 2014 was the first school year when more chil­dren of color were enrolled in U.S. pub­lic schools than white chil­dren. How­ever, the diver­sity of our teach­ing force is stub­bornly stag­nant at 80% white and, fur­ther, between 2002 and 2012 there was a decline in the num­ber of African Amer­i­can teach­ers in nine major cities, includ­ing the three largest school dis­tricts. Of all the teach­ers in the U.S., only 2% are black and male.

Over the past year, pub­lic con­scious­ness around insti­tu­tional and implicit forms of bias has been ele­vated and there is a lot of con­ver­sa­tion about the ways our soci­ety needs to progress fur­ther towards a “more per­fect union.” The pub­lic aware­ness about the racial dis­par­i­ties in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem includ­ing the recent deaths of men of color at the hands of the police, have pro­vided con­vinc­ing evi­dence that injus­tice per­sists. For all of the great gains we have made leg­isla­tively over the past sixty years, includ­ing this past year, there is still much work to be done: the gen­der wage gap, trans­pho­bia, vot­ing sup­pres­sion and restric­tions  that tar­get peo­ple of color, stu­dents and the elderly, anti-Semitism around the world. inces­sant anti-immigrant hate­ful rhetoric com­ing from reg­u­lar cit­i­zens and law­mak­ers and depend­ing on what state you live in, hate crimes laws that are either incom­plete or non-existent.

The struc­tural inequities in soci­ety also exist in our edu­ca­tional sys­tem. School re-segregation has resur­faced in a major way. In 1972, after years of fed­eral enforce­ment fol­low­ing Brown v. Board of Edu­ca­tion, 25% of black stu­dents in the South attended highly seg­re­gated schools; between 1990 and 2011, 53% of black stu­dents across the coun­try now attend such schools. In addi­tion, the per­sis­tent racial and socioe­co­nomic achieve­ment and oppor­tu­nity gaps and the racial dis­pro­por­tion­al­ity in school dis­ci­pline prac­tices (e.g. Black stu­dents are sus­pended three times the rate of white chil­dren) that leads to the “School to Prison Pipeline” threat­ens the abil­ity of all stu­dents to get a fair and just education.

When diver­sity is not under­stood, val­ued or respected, this can lead to inter­group ten­sion both in schools and society—manifesting as identity-based bul­ly­ing and bias, scape­goat­ing, stereo­typ­ing, dis­crim­i­na­tion, microag­gres­sions, implicit bias, the school to prison pipeline and expres­sions of hate that can lead to vio­lence and death.

Young peo­ple under­stand what is hap­pen­ing and want to be part of the pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion we are hav­ing about jus­tice, equity and racism in soci­ety. And sev­eral national orga­ni­za­tions agree. Since June 2015, four of the most promi­nent edu­ca­tional institutions–the National Edu­ca­tion Asso­ci­a­tion (NEA), Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers (AFT) , Amer­i­can Edu­ca­tional Research Asso­ci­a­tion (AERA) and National Coun­cil of Teach­ers of Eng­lish (NCTE)–have all made state­ments and res­o­lu­tions or issued reports that affirm the need for address­ing equity in schools and soci­ety, specif­i­cally rec­om­mend­ing that we high­light the “sys­temic pat­terns of inequity—racism and edu­ca­tional injustice—that impacts our stu­dents and tak­ing action to enhance access and oppor­tu­nity for our stu­dents.” and “pro­vide pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment and cul­tural com­pe­tency train­ing that helps teach­ers and other school staff under­stand their own per­sonal biases.”

The goal of anti-bias edu­ca­tion is to do just. By focus­ing on the devel­op­ment of an inclu­sive cul­ture and respect­ful school cli­mate, address­ing issues of bias and bul­ly­ing in schools and class­rooms, ini­ti­at­ing these rel­e­vant and timely con­ver­sa­tions with young peo­ple about the inequities in soci­ety and devel­op­ing a more cul­tur­ally respon­sive cur­ricu­lum, we teach young peo­ple that they can make a dif­fer­ence in their schools, soci­ety and world.

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September 18, 2015 6

What Ahmed Mohamed Can Teach Us About Having ‘A Wrong Impression’

Ahmed MohamedOn Mon­day, Ahmed Mohamed, a four­teen year old high school fresh­man with a tal­ent for tin­ker­ing and tech­nol­ogy, brought a home­made dig­i­tal clock he con­structed to school to show his teach­ers. His engi­neer­ing teacher was impressed but later in the day when it beeped dur­ing Eng­lish class, Ahmed’s trou­bles began. He showed the device to his Eng­lish teacher who noti­fied school offi­cials who then noti­fied the police. “She thought it was a threat to her,” Ahmed said, “so it was really sad that she took a wrong impres­sion of it.”

The clock was con­fis­cated and Ahmed was sus­pended from school for three days. After being ques­tioned at school by police offi­cers, Ahmed was put into hand­cuffs and brought to a juve­nile deten­tion cen­ter where he was fin­ger­printed and had his mug shot taken. Since that time, the charges have been dropped.

Ahmed’s story quickly pre­cip­i­tated a national out­cry on social media where mes­sages of sup­port came from Mark Zucker­berg, Sec­re­tary of State Hillary Clin­ton and Pres­i­dent Obama, who extended a spe­cial invi­ta­tion to Ahmed to the White House for Astron­omy Night in Octo­ber. White House press sec­re­tary Josh Earnest said, “This episode is a good illus­tra­tion of how per­ni­cious stereo­types can pre­vent even good-hearted peo­ple who have ded­i­cated their lives to edu­cat­ing young peo­ple from doing the good work that they set out to do.” Con­versely, Irv­ing Police Chief Boyd said this mat­ter was not caused by stereo­types and “would have been the same regard­less” of his religion.

While we were not on the ground at MacArthur High School on Mon­day, we acknowl­edge that school secu­rity is crit­i­cal and school vio­lence is always on the minds of school staff, whose job it is to remain vig­i­lant. In addi­tion, this inci­dent raises ques­tions about stereo­types and the pos­si­bil­ity of implicit bias. It is also very impor­tant that school staff get to know stu­dents to pre­vent mak­ing assump­tions or form­ing “wrong impres­sions,” as Ahmed aptly put it. He is obvi­ously a young per­son who loves tech­nol­ogy and mak­ing things. The ques­tion for us to pon­der is: Are all stu­dents regarded as threat­en­ing because they make a quirky clock or can a student’s gen­der, reli­gion and national ori­gin be a fac­tor in our own eval­u­a­tion of what feels threatening?

The school year in Irv­ing began on August 24 so this week marks the fourth week of school, ample time to see what every­one else is see­ing now—that Ahmed appears to be a bright and inquis­i­tive teenager with a pas­sion for STEM (Sci­ence, Tech­nol­ogy, Engi­neer­ing and Math­e­mat­ics). He nobly stated that he wants to use this moment to “try my best not just to help me but to help every other kid in the entire world that has a prob­lem like this.” He’s talk­ing about stereo­typ­ing, and he’s right.

Whether this was a sit­u­a­tion of mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion, bias or some­thing else, edu­ca­tors should be mind­ful that con­text is impor­tant. Mus­lims are reg­u­larly marked by the stereo­type of “ter­ror­ist” which has impli­ca­tions for how wel­come or unwel­come Mus­lims often feel in their com­mu­ni­ties and on school cam­puses. For edu­ca­tors com­mit­ted to their role as lead­ers in build­ing respect­ful learn­ing envi­ron­ments , com­bat­ing bias and proac­tively teach­ing about race and racism, this con­text should be con­sid­ered and man­aged in a way that meets mul­ti­ple goals: safety and inclusion.

As we start the new school year, Ahmed’s story is an impor­tant reminder to explic­itly teach about stereo­types, bias and dis­crim­i­na­tion, that uncon­scious bias can seep into all of our interactions—both large and small and that implicit bias can shape our assump­tions and expec­ta­tions about oth­ers. Most impor­tantly, cre­at­ing an anti-bias learn­ing envi­ron­ment and inte­grat­ing cul­tur­ally respon­sive teach­ing prac­tices goes a long way toward assist­ing edu­ca­tors in know­ing their stu­dents and treat­ing them with respect.

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June 30, 2015 2

The Time Is Now: Bringing LGBT Topics into the Classroom

Wikicommons/InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA

Wikicommons/InSapphoWeTrust from Los Ange­les, Cal­i­for­nia, USA

Over the past few years, our coun­try has made enor­mous strides on mar­riage equal­ity and as of June 26, 2015, mar­riage equal­ity is the law of the land in all 50 states. On that day, the Supreme Court of the United States held that that the 14th Amend­ment requires a state to license a mar­riage between two peo­ple of the same sex and to rec­og­nize mar­riages law­fully per­formed in other juris­dic­tions. Sixty-one per­cent of Amer­i­cans sup­port mar­riage equality.

Has our coun­try reached the tip­ping point?  Are we ready to bring LGBT top­ics into our cur­ricu­lum and classrooms?

Con­sider the num­bers. Accord­ing to the 2010 Cen­sus, there are approx­i­mately 594,000 same-sex cou­ple house­holds liv­ing in the U.S. and more than 125,000 of those house­holds include nearly 220,000 chil­dren under age 18.  Fur­ther, there are as many as 6 mil­lion Amer­i­can chil­dren and adults who have an LGBT par­ent. With the Supreme Court rul­ing, all U.S. res­i­dents live in a state with mar­riage equality.

In addi­tion to the chil­dren of same-sex cou­ples attend­ing our schools, there are stu­dents who them­selves iden­tify as les­bian, gay, trans­gen­der and bisex­ual and/or who don’t con­form to tra­di­tional gen­der norms. Many of these stu­dents suf­fer teas­ing, bul­ly­ing, harass­ment, vio­lence and inter­nal­ized oppres­sion that can lead to risky behav­ior and even sui­cide. Almost half of all ele­men­tary stu­dents say they hear com­ments like “that’s so gay” or “you’re so gay” from other kids at school and 75% of LGBT mid­dle and high school stu­dents report being ver­bally harassed because of their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. The good news is that these stu­dents also report bet­ter school expe­ri­ences when pro-active sup­ports and resources are in place.

There are gay and les­bian edu­ca­tors in our schools but many don’t feel safe to be “out” to their stu­dents and the school com­mu­nity. LGBT teach­ers do not have the same priv­i­lege that het­ero­sex­ual teach­ers have to talk about their partners/spouses and other core aspects of their lives and the school cli­mate can be down­right hos­tile towards them. There have been recent cases of teach­ers get­ting fired because of their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. Some states have laws that pro­hibit dis­crim­i­na­tion on the basis of sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­tity but most do not. Fed­eral leg­is­la­tion (ENDA) has been pro­posed to address this prob­lem but it has stalled in Con­gress. Even teach­ers in states with legal pro­tec­tions aren’t nec­es­sar­ily com­fort­able com­ing out because admin­is­tra­tors can find ways to fire them.

For chil­dren and teenagers, just know­ing a gay teacher can be a pow­er­ful expe­ri­ence; it gives them the oppor­tu­nity to know, admire and care about some­one who is LGBT.

Given that our schools are pop­u­lated with chil­dren of same-sex fam­ily house­holds, LGBT stu­dents and gay and les­bian teach­ers, it is time to bring this topic into our nation’s schools and class­rooms in a com­pre­hen­sive way.  It is an oppor­tu­nity to expand young people’s con­cepts of fam­ily, dis­cuss mar­riage equal­ity, infuse the cur­ricu­lum with LGBT peo­ple and their his­tory and accom­plish­ments and address bias-based bul­ly­ing for kids who iden­tify as LGBT or are per­ceived as such.

For young chil­dren, fam­ily is cen­tral to the cur­ricu­lum; there­fore, dis­cussing same-sex house­hold fam­i­lies should be inte­gral to the con­ver­sa­tion. This “nor­mal­izes” instead of mar­gin­al­izes chil­dren in same-sex house­holds.  Chil­dren in those fam­i­lies need to feel com­fort­able talk­ing about their own fam­i­lies and when those fam­i­lies are not rep­re­sented in class­rooms, teach­ers can share their sto­ries through children’s books and discussions.

As chil­dren move into upper ele­men­tary and mid­dle school, teach­ers can incor­po­rate con­ver­sa­tions about gen­der, gen­der norms, kinds of fam­i­lies and LGBT peo­ple and iden­tity. Stu­dents can be taught about mar­riage equal­ity and the road to the Supreme Court ruling.

Bul­ly­ing, espe­cially identity-based bul­ly­ing for LGBT or gen­der non-conforming stu­dents, should be dis­cussed not only when an inci­dent occurs but reg­u­larly. Children’s lit­er­a­ture con­tin­ues to be a pos­i­tive way to under­stand and empathize with LGBT peo­ple and families.

In the mid­dle and high school years as stu­dents emerge into ado­les­cence, the con­ver­sa­tions about iden­tity can con­tinue and sto­ries of LGBT peo­ple can be explored and infused into the every­day teach­ing and learn­ing. Read­ing young adult books with LGBT char­ac­ters and inte­grat­ing the accom­plish­ments of LGBT peo­ple into social stud­ies are encour­aged. Dur­ing the teen years, bul­ly­ing around sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion can be bru­tal and teach­ers should max­i­mize oppor­tu­ni­ties to dis­cuss it directly.

In 2011 Cal­i­for­nia passed a law requir­ing edu­ca­tors to teach gay and les­bian his­tory. On the other side, eight states cur­rently have “no promo homo” laws which for­bid teach­ers from dis­cussing LGBT peo­ple and issues in a pos­i­tive light and some pro­hibit dis­cussing the topic at all. Because schools are cen­tral to any com­mu­nity, address­ing LGBT top­ics will make our schools safer and more inclu­sive and will begin to curb the mar­gin­al­iza­tion of LGBT peo­ple for the present and for future generations.





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