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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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January 14, 2014

Watershed Federal Guidance on School Discipline Seeks to Dismantle School-to-Prison Pipeline

Suspensions and expulsions are among the best predictors of which students will drop out of high school.  Studies show that a student who has been suspended at least once is more than three times more likely to drop out of high school in the first two years than a student who has never been suspended.  A young adult who drops out of high school is more than 63 times more likely to become incarcerated later in life than someone who graduates from college, feeding the pipeline from the schoolhouse to the jailhouse.

Last week the Department of Justice and the Department of Education jointly issued groundbreaking guidance on school discipline, taking a crucial, positive step toward dismantling the “school-to-prison” pipeline.  As the Dear Colleague guidance noted, harsh school discipline policies disproportionately impact students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBT students.  Recent data from the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), an important annual federal school survey welcomed by the Anti-Defamation League, found that African-American students without disabilities are more than three times as likely as their white peers to be suspended or expelled from school.  Research suggests that these racial disparities cannot be explained by more frequent or more serious misbehavior by students of color.  To the contrary, federal investigations have found “cases where African-American students were disciplined more harshly and more frequently because of their race than similarly situated white students.”  Other studies confirm that students of color tend to receive harsher punishment for less serious behavior, and are more often punished for subjective offenses, such as “loitering” or “disrespect.”

Why are some students of color, students with disabilities and LGBT students treated more harshly than their peers for similar behavior? Some might suspect overt racism, but unconscious bias and latent prejudice perpetrated unintentionally may often lead to harsher punishments, even when teachers, administrators, or school resource officers are unaware of what is happening. Current research tells us that unconscious bias plays a significant role in our daily interactions and understanding of daily occurrences.  Policies alone will not change that. The best prevention is education.  Bias is learned and can be unlearned. Creating safe, inclusive schools requires educators, students, and the communities to understand what happens when bias goes unchecked. We urge educators to utilize the Department of Education’s Guiding Principles of Reform to Improve School Climate and Discipline, which offers concrete action steps necessary to support the spirit of the new policy. Among other helpful recommendations, the federal Guidance urges schools to provide comprehensive training for all school personnel and law enforcement officers stationed in schools.

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January 7, 2014

Just Ask the Kids About Bullying

Youth are the real experts on what is happening in bullying on school campuses, and yet their voices, perspectives and leadership are rarely integrated into bullying prevention programs.

Use stu­dent voices as a part of the solu­tion

“Just ask the kids” is the tagline for a new book highlighting research from the Youth Voice Project, the first large-scale research project on bullying and peer mistreatment that did exactly that—ask the kids (more than 13,000 teens in 31 schools).  And when you think about it, isn’t it obvious?

For the nearly 25 years of implementing training and workshops nationally with youth of all ages through ADL’s A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute, the students regularly echo the same sentiment. “Adults don’t understand.” And “No one listens to us.”

For ADL, involving students was a no-brainer and integral to our work. Using student voices as a part of the solution is a strength that schools everywhere should be utilizing.  One example of that strength was highlighted when four youths, all student leaders from Grissom High School in Huntsville, AL, presented on the impact of ADL’s No Place for Hate® campaign initiative at the International Bullying Prevention Association Conference.

Even more important than the specifics the students shared about the great work they have done in implementing their No Place for Hate initiative, the students provided very thoughtful and important advice about what  adults can—and need—to do to better support students in creating an inclusive and welcoming school culture.

More than anything, they said, students want the adults in their schools to be better role models, and to take these issues as seriously as the students. We can’t ask students to make a commitment that the adults are not also making!

The Grissom High School team looks forward to sharing this presentation at other faculty meetings and venues.  They have also asked to be part of a group to review and revise their district’s anti-bullying policy.

And once you have student experts, THEY can help design and lead programs for families.  Adult family members will come out more often when their kids have a role in a program, so it’s a great way to get parent and family involvement, and open that important dialogue among family members.

It takes real, honest dialogue among students AND adults to make lasting and significant changes.

For more ideas about what students think teachers should know, check out ADL’s tips on 10 Things Student Wish Teachers Knew.


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