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April 26, 2016

New ADL Resources for Safe and Respectful Schools

high school students and tabletsFears of extremism, radicalization and mass violence in our schools have unfortunately become all too common for educators and school administrators across the United States. At the same time, information that allows educators to understand the threat and leaves them equipped to address it without perpetuating biases and stereotypes is scarce. In order to fill this gap, the Anti-Defamation League and START (the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism), have created a backgrounder providing accurate, empirically tested information on understanding mass violence and extremism for educators and school administrators.

The new backgrounder is designed to enable educators to be better equipped to understand and appropriately respond to observable warning signs and to implement programs that foster safe school communities.

By combining topics of mass violence and violent extremism into one document, the backgrounder strives to provide comprehensive information that is relevant as well as appropriate for all school districts. It emphasizes the creation of a three-pronged strategy to decrease risk for both radicalization and mass violence in schools, through:

  1. Awareness of observable warning signs,
  2. Development of school programs encouraging respect and inclusion, and
  3. Implementation of curriculum resources teaching students to be safe and conscientious consumers of online material.

The document provides fact-based evidence, emphasizing a goal of prevention rather than prediction in order to ensure a wide safety net. At the same time, by highlighting the fact that feelings of isolation and marginalization often play a precipitating role in radicalization and violence, the document makes clear that programs encouraging inclusion and discouraging bias are at the core of any successful strategy for creating safe schools.

In conjunction with this backgrounder, ADL has also released a new Current Events Classroom lesson for high school students entitled Outsmarting Propaganda: Combatting the Lure of Extremist Recruitment Strategies. Produced with additional assistance from START, this curriculum provides the resources for students to utilize critical thinking when faced with propaganda and messaging they encounter online, increasing their ability to recognize and resist extremist propaganda and recruitment strategies.  A parallel resource for families, Propaganda, Extremism and Recruitment Tactics, guides adult family members in having conversations with their children about terrorist exploitation of the Internet and online propaganda – again, a crucial first step in ensuring that young people are less susceptible to dangerous propaganda and recruitment techniques.

As young people, parents and teachers are discussing violence, extremism and terrorism, it is important that they don’t fall prey to stereotyping and scapegoating that can sometimes accompany these conversations. In ADL’s anti-bias work, we provide students with skills to understand the language of bias, be critical thinkers, counter bias, bigotry and stereotyping and learn how to be an ally.

ADL has created a new webpage called Finding the Balance: Countering Extremism and Combating Stereotypes that is designed to serve as a comprehensive resource by pairing these new items with its extensive array of materials for parents and teachers on teaching and discussing terrorism, hate and violence, bigotry, and scapegoating, as well as resources for creating inclusive, bias-free classrooms. The new site also includes background information on extremism and terrorism in the U.S. produced by the ADL’s Center on Extremism.

Together, these materials will help to fill a crucial gap for both parents and educators by providing fact-based resources, curricula, and backgrounders that can equip them to develop inclusive and safe schools, resistant to violence and extremism and respectful of all students.



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June 30, 2015

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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January 31, 2014

Derrick Coleman: Creating Conversation About Differences

The Super Bowl is arguably one of the biggest days in American sports, and with good reason. In addition to being a competition of the best two football teams in the most popular sport in America, this year it is also the kind of celebration not often associated with professional sports.

Derrick Coleman, a running back for the Seattle Seahawks, is the only legally deaf athlete in professional football history to play offense. In early January 2014, Coleman served as the inspiration for a major brand’s commercial where he talks about the impact his hearing impairment has had on his life. The video went viral and in less than a week, and had 5.5 million views.

Coleman’s personal story provides an excellent teaching opportunity to discuss disabilities and the importance of safeguarding the rights and dignity of people with disabilities in our communities and around the world. As the U.S. Senate debates whether to ratify an international treaty on disability rights , Derrick’s story provides an opportunity to put a human face on the impact that treaty can have on people’s lives.

Education can be formal and informal. We have created a new classroom lesson for teachers, but adults can create a lesson in their own living rooms during the Super Bowl. Here are a few questions to the get the conversation going with your friends and family.

  • Do you know what a disability is?
  • What’s unique about Derrick Coleman?
  • What do you think it’s like to feel you are different from everyone else?
  • What are some ways you could help others who are treated unfairly because they are different?

It’s not necessary to have all the answers.  The very act of creating a conversation about difference is a healthy and productive way to raise awareness that being different is ok, and is in fact something to celebrate.

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