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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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March 11, 2016

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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December 7, 2015

When Injustice Goes Unchecked and Concealed, What Message Does This Send to Children?

LAQUAN_McDonald_Chicago_memorial_from_protestorsThirteen months after Laquan McDonald was shot and killed by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, the recorded incident was released to the public. The day before its release, Van Dyke was arrested for first-degree murder. The disturbing video shows seventeen-year-old McDonald being shot for fifteen seconds—the majority for which he was down on the ground. At the time of the shooting, a spokesperson for Chicago’s police union said that Police Officer Van Dyke had fired his gun after McDonald lunged at him with a knife but the video shows he was first shot while veering away from the officers. An autopsy revealed that Van Dyke shot McDonald a total of sixteen times.

Public officials and the police department have known about the video for 400 days. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that the video was not released earlier because of concerns it could taint a federal and state investigation; however, Justice Department officials said that the department never requested that the city withhold the video. Because a journalist working on the case sued for release of the video, a county judge ordered the city to make it public. In the wake of these public revelations, the Police Superintendent has been dismissed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The backdrop and context of this incident cannot be ignored. For the last sixteen months, this country has been engaged in a public conversation about high-profile cases of African American and Latino men being killed at the hands of the police: Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and others. The Black Lives Matter movement has galvanized issues of implicit bias and the racial disparities in the criminal justice system, shining a light on the problem and offering policy recommendations. The McDonald case stands out in particular because of the horrific nature of the video, the arrest of the officer for first-degree murder and finally—and maybe most importantly—the length of time it took for the video to see the light of day and in what many people are calling a “cover up.”

In the midst of disturbing media reports and videos covering these incidents, it is critical to remember that the majority of police officers chose a career in law enforcement because they want to do good in their communities and aim to perform their responsibilities with honor and integrity. They put their lives on the line everyday as they aim to protect the public and uphold the law.

As parents, educators and others who work with children, however, we need to carefully consider the message this latest incident conveys to young people about what to do when they witness injustice. Anti-bias education teaches young people what bias is and then how to address it; the overarching message is that we all have a responsibility to confront racism and all other forms of bigotry and that there a myriad of ways to intervene and be an ally. We teach students how to do something.

Although bullying and bias in schools is not the same as an alleged murder such as in this case, there are some useful lessons in what we tell children about how to behave when faced with bias. We say that being a bystander is not enough. We promote the concept that when you see bias and discrimination, you should do something. And we teach them that there are many ways to be an ally.

One way is to not participate. If we use that concept and apply it to this incident, we see that there were people in authority who, instead of not joining in, participated in the injustice by not speaking up about the incident and not taking action when the alleged murder was committed. Further, it took the city more than a year to arrest the perpetrator of the crime and some have said that many officials were actively involved in a “cover up.”

We teach students that another way to be an ally is to tell the aggressor to stop. We don’t see any indication from the video—on the part of the other officers standing by—that Officer Van Dyke was told to stop what he was doing to Laquan McDonald. After the incident, the other police officers did not come forward to bear witness to what they saw. And again, it took thirteen months for the video to be seen by the public.

“Get to know people instead of judging them” is another critical intervention strategy. While we don’t know what was in the hearts and minds of Officer Van Dyke, the other police officers or the officials who kept the video under wraps all that time, it seems possible that implicit bias played a part and that the pattern of African American men being more likely to be killed by police officers is germane.

Fourth, we encourage young people to inform a trusted adult. The fundamental idea is that if a child tells a trusted adult about an incident of bias, bullying or discrimination, that adult will do something about it. In this case, the “trusted adults” would be the public officials and police department (who had the video) because they are authority figures with power. One of the reasons dashcams exist is to provide evidence when police officers use unnecessary or excessive force and once they had this information, they should have done something immediately rather than waiting for a court order to force them to make it public.

The collective shock and dismay around this case, the protests that have been taking place in Chicago, the firing of the Chicago Police Superintendent and the arrest of Police Officer Van Dyke will not bring Laquan McDonald back. If public officials and the police department had acted the way we tell young people to act, things may have turned out very differently. Perhaps if we can glean something instructive from this case, namely our responsibility to be an ally in confronting injustice, we will finally begin to turn this around.

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