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April 26, 2016 1

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 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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December 7, 2015 1

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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