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May 3, 2016 0

Labeling Behavior, Not People

language graphicWith 28% of stu­dents ages 12 – 18 years old cur­rently report­ing hav­ing been a tar­get of bul­ly­ing, con­cerns about bul­ly­ing in schools have moti­vated hun­dreds of books to be writ­ten and a wide vari­ety of pro­grams to be designed and imple­mented with the goal of turn­ing the tide of bul­ly­ing. Many of these books and pro­grams aim to change the behav­ior of “bul­lies.” And herein lies one of the prob­lems that makes it so chal­leng­ing to change the dynamic of bullying.

First, what is it? Bul­ly­ing is the repeated actions or threats of action directed toward a per­son by one or more peo­ple who have or are per­ceived to have more power or sta­tus than their tar­get in order to cause fear, dis­tress or harm.

When most peo­ple pic­ture a “bully” in their minds, they see some­one who is big­ger than every­one else and goes around intim­i­dat­ing oth­ers. Because of this per­cep­tion, if you ask a room full of stu­dents if they have ever been a “bully,” chances are no one will raise their hand. Ask the same stu­dents if they have ever excluded some­one, called some­one a name, spread rumors or picked on some­one because of the way they look, you will find that many hands – if not all – will go up.

This tells us that there is a dis­con­nect between being labeled a “bully” and actu­ally engag­ing in bul­ly­ing behav­ior. As long as that dis­con­nect exists and we con­tinue to use the label “bully,” we will not be able to engage stu­dents in real con­ver­sa­tions that chal­lenge the social norms around bul­ly­ing. By iden­ti­fy­ing bul­ly­ing as a behav­ior rather than a label assigned to a per­son who exhibits the behav­ior, a few things happen:

  1. Stu­dents are able to self-reflect on their actions with­out fear of judgment;
  2. Stu­dents are able to rec­og­nize that the dif­fer­ent behav­iors that peo­ple choose play an impor­tant role when instances of bias or bullying—whether active or pas­sive occur; and
  3. Stu­dents begin to make con­scious deci­sions to respond in par­tic­u­lar ways when inci­dents occur and ulti­mately, take respon­si­bil­ity for mak­ing sure every­one is treated with respect by becom­ing an ally.

We live in a soci­ety that often uses labels to stereo­type and sim­plify peo­ple. Unfor­tu­nately, bul­ly­ing is not a sim­ple con­cept and it is up to edu­ca­tors and fam­i­lies to engage the young peo­ple in their lives in bet­ter under­stand­ing that bul­ly­ing refers to a behav­ior and not a per­son, and that it is a behav­ior that all peo­ple at some time in their lives have engaged in.  Under­stand­ing this dif­fer­ence empow­ers and moti­vates young peo­ple to move from being a bystander to an ally.

 

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March 15, 2016 0

Bias, Bullying and Bad Behavior in Politics: What’s the Takeaway for Youth?

Group of Friends SmilingThe polit­i­cal dis­course has reached a point where we have to ask our­selves: What should we tell our children? 

Young peo­ple watch and emu­late what adults say and do. For that rea­son, many adults—parents, neigh­bors, teach­ers, care­givers and yes, even politicians—are role mod­els to chil­dren.  These values—using accu­rate and appro­pri­ate lan­guage, stand­ing up for one’s beliefs, check­ing our­selves when it comes to bias and stereo­types, dis­agree­ing with­out being disagreeable—are imparted  by direct teach­ing and mod­el­ing through words and deeds.  In fact, many would argue that what we do has a much deeper impact than what we say.

The cur­rent polit­i­cal climate—which has been per­me­ated with hate-filled lan­guage, bias and bullying—is counter to what so many adults are try­ing to teach young peo­ple. We have wit­nessed stereo­typ­ing of many groups includ­ing women and immi­grants, threats to ban Mus­lims from liv­ing in the coun­try and pro­nounce­ments that Islam “hates” Amer­ica, mock­ing of dis­abled peo­ple and polit­i­cal can­di­dates attack­ing one another based on their phys­i­cal appear­ance.  Recently, at a cam­paign event, a sup­porter, unpro­voked, punched a pro­tes­tor in the face, say­ing “next time, we might have to kill him.” While this may seem like an iso­lated inci­dent, it’s the tenth cam­paign event in which there has been violence.

Things have got­ten so heated that one can­di­date vowed to stop the behav­ior, relent­ing that “my kids were embar­rassed by it.”

Has this polit­i­cal dem­a­goguery had an impact on young peo­ple? Has it trick­led down to the youngest among us? Of course it has. Mus­lim chil­dren are express­ing fear and sad­ness, ask­ing their par­ents if they are going to have to leave the coun­try after the elec­tion.  Recently, an Indi­ana high school bas­ket­ball game erupted into scream­ing and insults; the pre­dom­i­nately white team yelled at the oppos­ing play­ers and fans, who were a pre­dom­i­nately Latino team, chant­ing “no com­prende,” “speak Eng­lish” and “build the wall” (refer­ring to the pro­posal that a wall be built on the Mex­i­can bor­der to keep immi­grants out).  Latino and other immi­grant chil­dren worry that they may be deported when there is a new pres­i­dent in the White House.

Elec­tion years usu­ally present great oppor­tu­ni­ties for edu­ca­tors to expose stu­dents to civics and the Amer­i­can elec­toral process. How­ever, this year has left many feel­ing hes­i­tant and unsure about how to raise the topic; and specif­i­cally, how to approach the neg­a­tive and biased dis­course that’s over­taken the cur­rent debate. One angle edu­ca­tors can take is to turn the rhetoric into a teach­able moment by address­ing the following:

  • Under­stand Lan­guage. Pro­vide stu­dents with an under­stand­ing of the lan­guage of bias so they can make sense of what is going on and how to talk about it. This includes under­stand­ing the dif­fer­ence between bias (thoughts and atti­tudes) and dis­crim­i­na­tion (actions), how stereo­typ­ing can lead to bias, and the var­i­ous forms that bias and dis­crim­i­na­tion can take (e.g. racism, Islam­o­pho­bia, sex­ism, homo­pho­bia, anti-Semitism, etc.)—from inter­per­sonal com­mu­ni­ca­tion to the insti­tu­tions in our society.
  • Chal­lenge Bias. When biased lan­guage and stereo­types are used—in the polit­i­cal debate or elsewhere—point it out and find ways to chal­lenge it.  This sends an impor­tant mes­sage to young peo­ple about not being a bystander to injus­tice and it also gives you an open­ing to dis­cuss cur­rent events.  This can be done with­out endors­ing or crit­i­ciz­ing par­tic­u­lar candidates.
  • Think Crit­i­cally. Help stu­dents think crit­i­cally about what they are hear­ing and see­ing. This means mod­el­ing and teach­ing them to ask ques­tions that get to under­ly­ing motives and causes, as well as under­stand­ing how per­spec­tive shapes points of view. It also includes teach­ing young peo­ple not to take “facts” and infor­ma­tion at face value just because adults in posi­tions of power make an asser­tion. Inspire stu­dents to ques­tion the facts and do their own research.
  • Be An Ally.  Most impor­tantly, encour­age your stu­dents to act as an ally when they see bias and bul­ly­ing by pro­vid­ing exam­ples and help­ing young peo­ple prac­tice the var­i­ous ways to show ally­ship.  Show­ing them that there are many ways to be an ally by mod­el­ing it your­self is an impor­tant reminder that sup­port­ing the tar­get, “stand­ing up,” and not par­tic­i­pat­ing in the bias are some of the var­i­ous ways to do some­thing and not feel powerless.

Politi­cians and can­di­dates come and go—however, the impact edu­ca­tors can have on stu­dents will make a dif­fer­ence with the next gen­er­a­tion and beyond.

(more…)

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March 11, 2016 1

Turning Current Events Instruction Into Social Justice Teaching

Jin­nie Spiegler
Direc­tor of Cur­ricu­lum, Anti-Defamation League

This blog orig­i­nally appeared on Edutopia

Mar­riage equal­ity, refugees seek­ing safety in Europe, the Con­fed­er­ate flag, police shoot­ings of black and Latino men, the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Cait­lyn Jen­ner, ISIS, and immi­gra­tion are just a few of the news sto­ries that inhab­ited the head­lines this year on our phones, lap­tops, and news­pa­pers. Unlike 20 years ago when teach­ers and par­ents had to inten­tion­ally raise cur­rent events top­ics with young peo­ple, nowa­days stu­dents are already part of the con­ver­sa­tion. Through their smart­phones, social media out­lets, and over­heard con­ver­sa­tions, they know what is hap­pen­ing. And yet, do stu­dents really under­stand the head­lines they see? Do they have the chance to grap­ple with the infor­ma­tion, or is it sim­ply seep­ing into their psy­che with no oppor­tu­nity to ask ques­tions, dig deeper, or explore how they feel about it?

Most edu­ca­tors feel a sense of respon­si­bil­ity to talk with their stu­dents about what’s going on in soci­ety and the world. Indeed, it’s the rea­son that many decided to become teach­ers in the first place. With top­ics both large and small — from the Supreme Court rul­ing on mar­riage equal­ity to the lack of diver­sity in the Acad­emy Awards, from racism in polic­ing to the school dress codes con­tro­versy — teach­ing about cur­rent events has enor­mous ben­e­fits for stu­dents. And it almost always has a social jus­tice lens with which to learn, ana­lyze, and discover.

Whether teach­ers have a few min­utes, one class period, or an entire unit to spend on a cur­rent event topic, the oppor­tu­nity is ripe with learn­ing poten­tial. Stu­dents’ high inter­est and moti­va­tion lay the ground­work for being an informed cit­i­zen and talk­ing at home with par­ents and fam­ily mem­bers. Cur­rent events dis­cus­sions offer ample oppor­tu­nity for skill build­ing (e.g. vocab­u­lary devel­op­ment, read­ing and writ­ing infor­ma­tional and ana­lyt­i­cal text, oral expres­sion, crit­i­cal analy­sis — all part of the ELA Com­mon Core Learn­ing Stan­dards). Stu­dents can build and prac­tice their social and emo­tional skills, and these top­ics often present an oppor­tu­nity to con­nect the present with the past. Finally, because so many cur­rent events top­ics shed light on human and civil rights, teach­ers have an excel­lent con­ver­sa­tional bridge as well as a lens for address­ing equity and jus­tice, a topic that so many young peo­ple are hun­gry to discuss.

As you reflect on what and how to bring cur­rent events top­ics into your class­room, con­sider the following:

1. Thought­fully con­sider who is in your classroom.

All cur­rent events top­ics have the poten­tial to raise sen­si­tive issues for stu­dents, espe­cially around iden­tity. Whether the topic brings up race, reli­gion, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, immi­gra­tion, etc., think about the com­po­si­tion of your stu­dents. The young peo­ple who might iden­tify with the topic per­son­ally will likely have a range of thoughts and feel­ings about dis­cussing the topic: relief, embar­rass­ment, annoy­ance, pride, excite­ment, or noth­ing at all. Do not assume that all of the stu­dents in that iden­tity group know about or are inter­ested in talk­ing about the topic at hand, and be care­ful not to put those stu­dents in the posi­tion of being the “author­ity” or main pos­ses­sor of knowl­edge on the topic. Do not ask or expect them to speak for all stu­dents in this iden­tity group. If you antic­i­pate that the topic could be very emo­tional for some stu­dents, con­sider speak­ing with them prior to the lesson.

2. Explore opin­ions and perspective.

Most news top­ics raise con­tro­ver­sial issues with dif­fer­ent points of view. Use the topic as an open­ing to help stu­dents under­stand what they believe and why they believe it. Pro­vide oppor­tu­ni­ties to talk about and write their opin­ions on the issue. Engage them in read­ing about and lis­ten­ing to the opin­ions of oth­ers — their class­mates as well as op-ed colum­nists and sub­ject mat­ter experts. This can and should com­pli­cate their think­ing and pro­pel them to ques­tion, change, and/or sharpen their points of view, and artic­u­late those posi­tions with evi­dence. Dis­cus­sion, debate and dia­logue should be foun­da­tions for these conversations.

3. Make the anti-bias, social jus­tice theme explicit and clear.

What­ever the sub­ject is, bring to the cen­ter of the dis­cus­sion the spe­cific aspect of diver­sity, bias, or injus­tice that it raises. For exam­ple, when dis­cussing home­less­ness, explore the stigma and stereo­types of home­less peo­ple in the U.S. You may also need to pro­vide some foun­da­tional skill devel­op­ment in under­stand­ing the lan­guage of bias, or give back­ground infor­ma­tion in order for stu­dents to under­stand a cur­rent con­tro­versy (e.g. under­stand the his­tory of and dis­crim­i­na­tion against Native Amer­i­can peo­ple, includ­ing the his­tory of mas­cots and sym­bols in sports, in order to make sense of the Wash­ing­ton Red­skins’ name controversy).

4. Make the les­son inter­ac­tive and use technology.

As much as pos­si­ble, cre­ate inter­ac­tive and engag­ing activ­i­ties that also develop skills and expand knowl­edge. This could take the form of debates, mock tri­als, stu­dent sur­veys or inter­views, small-group dis­cus­sions, role plays, teach-ins, or a sim­pler activ­ity. Take advan­tage of stu­dents’ inter­est and acu­men in the dig­i­tal world by inte­grat­ing stu­dent blogs, pho­tog­ra­phy and video, and social media plat­forms, and by fol­low­ing spe­cific hash­tags, info­graph­ics, and analy­sis of how social media has helped to facil­i­tate cur­rent activist efforts.

5. Do something.

Top­ics in the news can eas­ily lead to despair, anger, and hope­less­ness. Espe­cially for young peo­ple, it is crit­i­cal that we give them the per­spec­tive and tools to do some­thing about the injus­tice they see in the world. Expos­ing stu­dents to the wide range of responses to injus­tice, includ­ing activism strate­gies both past and present, goes a long way toward their turn­ing these neg­a­tive emo­tions into pos­i­tive actions. If pos­si­ble, work together on a class project, and encour­age stu­dents to get involved in larger efforts on issues that are impor­tant to them.

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