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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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February 10, 2016 2

The Marrakesh Declaration

By Rabbi David Fox Sand­mel
ADL Direc­tor of Inter­faith Affairs

As a pro­fes­sional in the Jew­ish com­mu­nity who works on inter­faith rela­tions, I am often asked “why aren’t Mus­lims speak­ing out against ter­ror­ism and ISIS?” The answer is that, in fact, many Mus­lims have done so. Equally impor­tant is for reli­gious lead­ers to speak out and address the root causes of extrem­ism in their com­mu­nity, and find ways of dis­cour­ag­ing ter­ror­ist activ­ity, par­tic­u­larly among youth who are con­sid­ered among the most sus­cep­ti­ble pop­u­la­tions. In this regard, one of the most hope­ful ini­tia­tives, some­thing that has not got­ten much atten­tion in the main­stream media, is the “Mar­rakesh Dec­la­ra­tion,” released at the end of last month.

The “Mar­rakesh Dec­la­ra­tion” is the prod­uct of a gath­er­ing of Mus­lim lead­ers from more than 100 coun­tries around the world spon­sored by the Moroc­can gov­ern­ment and the Forum for Pro­mot­ing Peace in Mus­lim Soci­eties.  At the meet­ing, Mus­lim lead­ers heard sev­eral tes­ti­monies about the grave sit­u­a­tion of var­i­ous reli­gious minori­ties in Muslim-majority countries.

Marrakesh Declaration

At the end of the meet­ing, the Mus­lim schol­ars who gath­ered in Mar­rakesh released the “Mar­rakesh Dec­la­ra­tion,” a brief state­ment that in which they:

  • Call upon Mus­lim schol­ars and intel­lec­tu­als around the world to develop a jurispru­dence of the con­cept of “cit­i­zen­ship” which is inclu­sive of diverse groups. Such jurispru­dence shall be rooted in Islamic tra­di­tion and prin­ci­ples and mind­ful of global changes.
  • Urge Mus­lim edu­ca­tional insti­tu­tions and author­i­ties to con­duct a coura­geous review of edu­ca­tional cur­ric­ula that addresses hon­estly and effec­tively any mate­r­ial that insti­gates aggres­sion and extrem­ism, leads to war and chaos, and results in the destruc­tion of our shared societies;
  • Call upon politi­cians and deci­sion mak­ers to take the polit­i­cal and legal steps nec­es­sary to estab­lish a con­sti­tu­tional con­trac­tual rela­tion­ship among its cit­i­zens, and to sup­port all for­mu­la­tions and ini­tia­tives that aim to for­tify rela­tions and under­stand­ing among the var­i­ous reli­gious groups in the Mus­lim World;
  • Call upon the edu­cated, artis­tic, and cre­ative mem­bers of our soci­eties, as well as orga­ni­za­tions of civil soci­ety, to estab­lish a broad move­ment for the just treat­ment of reli­gious minori­ties in Mus­lim coun­tries and to raise aware­ness as to their rights, and to work together to ensure the suc­cess of these efforts.
  • Call upon the var­i­ous reli­gious groups bound by the same national fab­ric to address their mutual state of selec­tive amne­sia that blocks mem­o­ries of cen­turies of joint and shared liv­ing on the same land; we call upon them to rebuild the past by reviv­ing this tra­di­tion of con­vivi­al­ity, and restor­ing our shared trust that has been eroded by extrem­ists using acts of ter­ror and aggression;
  • Call upon rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the var­i­ous reli­gions, sects and denom­i­na­tions to con­front all forms of reli­gious big­otry, vil­i­fi­ca­tion, and den­i­gra­tion of what peo­ple hold sacred, as well as all speech that pro­mote hatred and big­otry; AND FINALLY,
  • AFFIRM that it is uncon­scionable to employ reli­gion for the pur­pose of aggress­ing upon the rights of reli­gious minori­ties in Mus­lim countries.

Lest any­one think that this is a depar­ture from “tra­di­tional” Islamic teach­ing, the Mar­rakesh Dec­la­ra­tion explic­itly traces its ances­try to the Char­ter (or Con­sti­tu­tion) of Med­ina.  Accord­ing to Mus­lim tra­di­tion, this Char­ter was writ­ten by the prophet Muham­mad in 622 C.E. in an effort to end polit­i­cal strife in the city; it guar­an­tees auton­omy and free­dom of reli­gion to the res­i­dence of Med­ina, includ­ing, explic­itly, its Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion.  While the Char­ter is not a mod­ern doc­u­ment and reflects the his­tor­i­cal set­ting in which it was cre­ated, the prin­ci­ple of reli­gious free­dom is found in the Quran itself and other clas­sic Islamic sources.

The threat of Mus­lim extrem­ism is real, dan­ger­ous, and must be taken seri­ously; even though it rep­re­sents a small minor­ity of Mus­lims, we have wit­nessed its tragic con­se­quences.  The vast major­ity of Mus­lims (and let us not for­get that it is Mus­lims them­selves who are most often the tar­get of these extrem­ists) reject the ter­ror­ists and their ide­ol­ogy.  The Mar­rakesh Dec­la­ra­tion is an impor­tant, but cer­tainly not the only, exam­ple of Mus­lims speak­ing unequiv­o­cally, from their own tra­di­tion, against extrem­ism, ter­ror, and the infringe­ment of reli­gious free­dom.  It is a pity that this and other efforts have not gar­nered the atten­tion they deserve.

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February 2, 2016 1

Law Enforcement: A New Target for Domestic Islamic Extremists

Update: 3/17/2016 — In March 2016, the Cyber Caliphate Army, a pro-ISIS hack­ing group, released so-called “kill lists” with the names, addresses and con­tact infor­ma­tion of law enforce­ment offi­cers in New Jer­sey and Min­nesota. The infor­ma­tion was uploaded to a file shar­ing site and to Telegram.

The orig­i­nal ver­sion of this post was also updated on 2/19/2016.

2015 saw an unprece­dented num­ber of attacks on law enforce­ment offi­cials by U.S. res­i­dents moti­vated by Islamic extrem­ist ide­olo­gies and pro­fess­ing alle­giance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). A shoot­ing of a Philadel­phia police offi­cer in Jan­u­ary 2016 indi­cates that the threat against law enforce­ment will con­tinue into the com­ing year.

There have been eight doc­u­mented instances of vio­lence attempted or plot­ted against law enforce­ment by indi­vid­u­als moti­vated at least in part by Islamic extrem­ist ide­ol­ogy since 2014:

Edward Archer of Pennsylvania shot a police officer

Edward Archer

  • Jan­u­ary 2016: Edward Archer of Penn­syl­va­nia allegedly fired 13 bul­lets at a Philadel­phia police offi­cer Jesse Hart­nett. Hart­nett suf­fered wounds to his arm. Archer claimed that he had acted on behalf of ISIS.
  • July 2015: Harlem Suarez of Florida was arrested for allegedly plot­ting to bomb a Florida beach. Accord­ing to court doc­u­ments, Suarez had also dis­cussed plac­ing bombs out­side the houses and vehi­cles of law enforce­ment offi­cers. Suarez had claimed alle­giance to ISIS and had main­tained a Face­book account on which he posted extrem­ist content.
  • June 2015: Usaama Rahim and David Wright of Mass­a­chu­setts and Nicholas Rovin­ski of Rhode Island allegedly plot­ted to behead Boston-area police offi­cers. Rahim also allegedly drew a knife when approached by a law enforce­ment offi­cer for ques­tion­ing. The three allegedly claimed to be act­ing on behalf of ISIS and expressed some inter­est in trav­el­ing to join ISIS in Syria.
  • June 2015: Munther Omar Saleh of New York drew a knife and attacked a law enforce­ment offi­cer who had been sur­veilling him. Saleh acted together with an unnamed  minor who had been with him at the time. He is sep­a­rately charged with plot­ting a domes­tic attack. Accord­ing to court doc­u­ments, Saleh had expressed sup­port for ISIS and posted ISIS pro­pa­ganda on his Twit­ter account.

    Fareed Mumuni of New York

    Fareed Mumuni

  • June 2015: Fareed Mumuni of New York attacked law enforce­ment offi­cers who had come to his res­i­dence with a knife. Mumuni is also charged with plot­ting a domes­tic attack together with Saleh and other co-conspirators. Mumuni had allegedly expressed sup­port for ISIS.
  • April 2015: Noelle Velentzas and Asia Sid­diqui of New York were arrested for allegedly plot­ting a domes­tic attack. Although the tar­get had not been dis­closed, court doc­u­ments indi­cate that the two had indi­cated they wanted to attack a gov­ern­ment, mil­i­tary or law enforce­ment tar­get. Sid­diqui and Velentzas had a long his­tory of engag­ing with ter­ror­ist pro­pa­ganda and extrem­ist con­tent and, accord­ing to court doc­u­ments, had intended to com­mit their attack on behalf of ISIS.
  • Feb­ru­ary 2015: Abdura­sul Juraboev and Akhror Saidakhme­tov of New York were charged with mate­r­ial sup­port for ter­ror for allegedly attempt­ing to travel to join ISIS. Court doc­u­ments indi­cated that the two had also dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­ity of a domes­tic attack that involved killing law enforce­ment offi­cers, tak­ing their weapons, and then mount­ing an attack on the FBI head­quar­ters. The two had expressed sup­port for ISIS online, where they also allegedly indi­cated their intent to act on the group’s behalf.
  • Octo­ber 2014: Zale Thomp­son of New York attacked law enforce­ment offi­cers with a hatchet. Thompson’s motive remains unclear and he demon­strated inter­est in a vari­ety of extrem­ist ide­olo­gies; how­ever, his online record indi­cated he had most recently engaged with Islamic extrem­ist pro­pa­ganda and ide­ol­ogy, includ­ing ISIS-specific pro­pa­ganda, prior to the attack.

In addi­tion, court doc­u­ments indi­cate that Alexan­der Cic­colo, a Mass­a­chu­setts res­i­dent arrested in July, had planned to attack law enforce­ment, mil­i­tary and civil­ians on behalf of ISIS before allegedly decid­ing to attack a uni­ver­sity instead.

The upsurge in attacks against law enforce­ment may be moti­vated in part by pro­pa­ganda by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has called directly for such attacks. A Sep­tem­ber 2014 speech by ISIS spokesman Abu Moham­mad Al Adnani, for exam­ple, stated, “Strike their police, secu­rity and intel­li­gence mem­bers….” ISIS pro­pa­ganda has also called for smaller scale ter­ror­ist attacks than those Al Qaeda adher­ents had been known to plot. A Jan­u­ary 2015 speech by Al Adnani, for exam­ple, called for attacks, “whether with an explo­sive device, a bul­let, a knife, a car, a rock or even a boot or a fist.” The attacks against law enforce­ment have pri­mar­ily been attempted with small arms.

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