Antiracist Activism for Teachers and Students/Points to Consider for Teaching Anti-racism/Overview and Comparison

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There are many people and organizations that focus on anti racist activities. The main organization that our group focused on was the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and one of its branches, A World of Difference Institute. These organizations have been very useful to teachers all around the world to create a curriculum based on Anti Racist activities. The ADL was founded in 1913 by Sigmund Livingston in Chicago following the brutal murder of Leo Frank. The original purpose of the ADL was to stop anti-Semitism and discrimination against Jews. Over time the ADL grew to stop racism and discrimination of all kinds.

In the 1940s after the war was over, the ADL focused on eliminating discrimination for Jews in housing, employment and education in the collegiate and elementary levels. Over time the ADL continued to focus on ridding the world of anti- Semitism, but in the 60’s the ADL joined in the “Brown v. Board of Education” case in order to overturn the idea of “separate but equal.” This brought the ADL to a new level in trying to desegregate local neighborhoods that were originally segregated by color and/ or religion.

Today the ADL has spread to over 30 regional offices within the United States and has 3 offices overseas. These regional offices have also led to other branches of anti- racist organizations such as A World of Difference which focuses on an anti bias education and diversity training and resources. Much like the ADL, A World of Difference seeks to eliminate prejudices, discrimination, anti- Semitism and racism of all kinds (http://www.adl.org).

The Teacher's Role in Multicultural Education[edit]

The teacher plays an important role in multicultural education. According to the Anti- Defamation League (ADL)’s A World of Difference Institute, there are several steps that one can take in order to make one’s classroom multicultural. Moreover, tips for teachers that promote a sense of security and acceptance in the classroom can be found on A World of Difference’s website under A Classroom of Difference. From how the classroom environment is presented to how one speaks to students gives the students a clear picture of how important acceptance and each student’s voice is to the teacher. In addition to the web site’s Anti-Bias study guides intended for teachers, ADL’s A World of Difference offers workshops for teachers that are instructional in how to implement anti-bias pedagogy and content into their classrooms. Teachers are with students for a large part of the day and have many opportunities to teach an anti-bias, multicultural curriculum, if they know how to do so. The ADL and A World of Difference attempt to give teachers the tools to execute the task of training students to accept and understand the wide range of cultures that exist in the world today.

One article in the ADL’s A World of Difference Institute instructs teachers in arranging a classroom that is sensitive and accepting of cultural differences. One aspect that is stressed is the content in the classroom. What is in the classroom, as well as what is not, speaks volumes to students about what is valued and important. A teacher can inform the student what is valued by having objects from various cultures integrated into the classroom. For instance, books, images, and instruments can be added to areas of the classroom that already exist. By integrating items of interest from many cultures, the teacher aids in the students’ development of themselves and others, and provides conditions under which students can initiate conversations about differences. Moreover, this type of environment provides a setting that is conducive to introducing activities regarding diversity. Some specific recommendations include: photos that represent students and their families, photos that represent all groups in the community and the world, images of different cultures doing similar and different activities, images that reflect diversity in gender roles, and images that reflect diversity in family styles and configurations. Clearly, a classroom environment modeled like this would spark a student’s interest in learning about and respecting differences among classmates and cultures (http://www.adl.org/education/edu_awod/guideline_env.asp).

Another article offered on the ADL’s A World of Difference Institute’s web site involves the importance of talking to children when a bias situation arises, either in the classroom or in the wider world. Children need to express themselves. In a safe and accepting environment, they will feel able to do so. Moreover, it is essential to establish the ground rules of respecting opinions, openness to new ideas, empathy, listening actively, and confidentiality. These rules will express that a classroom is a safe environment in which students can feel comfortable to express their honest opinions and reactions without judgment. Some simple guidelines to the discussion of difficult situations with children include: treating all of children’s questions with respect, clarifying questions so that a teacher is sure to understand what is being asked and why, answering questions as clearly and honestly as possible using developmentally appropriate language and definitions, correcting oneself if a wrong or incomplete answer is given, being alert to signs of upset, pointing out when an ethnic group is stereotyped on television or in a book while explaining why it is unfair to stereotype, taking appropriate action against prejudice and discrimination, and giving students the tools to act against prejudice and discrimination. Such guidelines are effective in practice, but may require the teacher to be prepared beforehand. Articles like those offered through ADL’s A World of Difference empower teachers to appropriately assess and deal with difficult situations (http://www.adl.org/education/edu_awod/guideline_respect.asp).

Unfortunately, teachers cannot access the ADL’s A World of Difference materials without attending a staff development workshop with a minimum of six hour of participation. In these workshops, teachers learn how to implement anti-bias and multicultural methodology in their own classrooms and schools. A typical workshop begins with an introduction and overview of the day’s planned activities. Next, the environment is establish as a safe place by collaborating and making “rules” regarding discussion, such as confidentiality. After establishing the environment, the teachers participate in an exercise in identity. This consists of examining one’s own ethnicity and what aspects of identity one is proud to display while other aspects are kept hidden. The next step is defining “isms” (for example, sexism or racism) that affect everyone everyday as well as examining how the “isms” are manifested or reinforced by society. After, the teachers may participate in exercises that examine their own bias as well as help them to recognize bias in the environment around them. Further, the teachers are pressed to examine their own classrooms and schools to think of ways in which changes could be made to promote anti-bias and multicultural education. Lastly, the teachers provide feedback to the program so that the coordinators can change the workshop to ensure that it can be more effective in the future (http://www.adl.org/education/edu_awod/awod_framework.asp).

The ADL’s A World of Difference Institute has many resources to offer teachers. Article topics range from setting up a safe and accepting classroom environment to talking to children in the aftermath of hate. Workshops offer hands-on experience in implementing practices that promote anti-bias schools and classrooms. With so many resources, this may seem like an easy task, but many children form bias and prejudice before entering school at the age of five. Consequently, the job of a teacher is not an easy one. A teacher who desires an anti-bias, multicultural curriculum must be vigilant and have the ability to objectively examine one’s own beliefs. It is not impossible to change how students think but it is not simple either. Teachers must seize every opportunity to teach multicultural curriculum and anti-bias actions; only then will students realize their own potential in the battle against bias.

The Role of the Students In AWOD[edit]

A World of Difference is a program made by students for students. Built around the idea that “the most important influence on the development of the attitudes and behaviors of young people is the attitudes and behaviors of one’s peers” (http://www.adl.org/awod_new/awod_peer_descr.asp), this program utilizes its most powerful weapon against bias, other students. As one peer trainer of AWOD stated, “We’re not like adults coming in and telling them how you should act and what you shouldn’t do …I feel like they will take it in more if we are younger and kind of like speaking to them” (4/16/08). The role of students in A World of Difference is a most important component. Literally, the program wouldn’t exist without their motivation, dedication and strong sense of justice.

To ensure that the use of “positive peer pressure” (http://www.adl.org/awod_new/awod_peer_descr.asp) is effective, students involved in ADL undergo a rigorous training program in which they improve upon their knowledge of social justice issues and enhance their leadership skills. Within three rigorous days of specific interactive, training, peer trainers are taught to become effective catalysts of change within their schools. They are given a manual that includes handouts, worksheets and resources to be utilized to make effective change. The peer trainers develop a strong knowledge base of social issues and they discover how to combat prejudice, bias and bigotry within their own schools. They also learn how to design effective and age appropriate activities for specifically elementary students among others. As one AWOD student said, “The training was the training to help us present information to other people” (4/16/08). They also learn to trust their fellow AWOD peers and develop a powerful bond through their commitment to anti-bias activism. “What’s really nice is the closeness that we get and that we understand that we all understand the ideas of the ADL work” (4/16/08). In other words, they learn how to become strong anti-bias leaders within their community.

Yet the training does not stop there, peer trainers then go on to have weekly group meetings where they provide each other with support, discuss issues that have arisen within their community and brain storm effective solutions. Within these weekly sessions they continue to develop the skills that they have learned within their prior three-day training. Not only do they personally discourage bias within their everyday lives, they also design and coordinate their own personal activities that allow them to go within classrooms in order to combat prejudice. In addition, they discuss and arrange how to become active within the school community.

Once in the classroom, peer trainers utilize all the techniques that they have developed. The classroom is their first step to real and permanent change within the community. As one AWOD students stated, “I feel like if we have a continued presence at school and we keep doing trainings, keep doing workshops, it’s kind of like reminding everybody and focusing on the things that we try to fix it will stick” (4/16/08). Peer trainers select and read books to students that incorporate diverse groups of people. They perform plays and skits that emphasize respect and understanding of your peers no matter race, sexuality, gender, age, religion, or ability. They also engage students in a “Paint-Out Day” (http://www.adl.org/awod_new/awod_peer_lead.asp). During this day, students take action against and paint over graffiti that reflects prejudices, bigotry or bias. In other words, they pass on the knowledge and ideas about social justice that will help younger students denounce prejudice as well, or as one student said they now have the knowledge to “be like oh step back and be like I know from ADL that different people do different things” (4/16/08).

The results of this program and its effect on the students are powerful. 84% of students that participated in A World of Difference had increased confidence in their peer presentation skills. 86% had a greater sense of their own prejudices and had an increased understanding of the social injustice within their community. 75% were filled with the urge to actively fight bias in their school. 80% believed they had better learned how to confront “racial and bias issues in their schools and/or workplace”(http://www.adl.org /education/edu_awod/awod_findings.asp).

The program's hypothesis was correct. The numbers speak for themselves. Student’s role in fighting to eliminate prejudice within their communities is critical, and that’s just what these students are learning and teaching others to do. Without these students’ drive and motivation for a better, more just world there would be no A World Of Difference, but more importantly there would be no more positive change for the future. Students, literally, make A World of Difference.

Meeting the AWOD Students[edit]

Visiting the AWOD students at Amherst high school, we had little knowledge about their specific AWOD program: how it was founded, the application process, its popularity, the programs success, or how AWOD was run. The program was student founded and run, providing a great way of teaching on a peer-to-peer level. To make sure the students at Amherst high school were knowledgeable, comfortable, and prepared in dealing with issues concerning social justice, an application process accepted only 30 motivated students to train as AWOD peer educators. The training process was a rigorous three-day workshop that addressed different ways that peer trainers could teach the issues of social justice to any age group. Some examples included the use of skits, readings, or real life scenarios. One student commented that he already felt that he understood the issues, but that the training provided the necessary skills for presenting the information they wanted to teach. This student also commented on how he was most looking forward to teaching the elementary school level, but recognized it would be a difficult task to convey such important and complex material to young students in a new and meaningful way. They plan to visit a nearby elementary school in May.

The AWOD teacher advisor, Nunia Mafi, expressed concern about the atmosphere of Amherst as a town when addressing issues of social justice. She is afraid that Amherst is "too politically correct" when discussing race related problems, and feels that the need to be “p.c.” is a hindrance when trying to reach the heart of the problem. Mafi is concerned that the community will have an impact on how social justice is taught in schools. Mafi’s awareness of the community is a vital considering she is the AWOD student adviser and as student adviser, it is her duty to prepare her student leaders and their lesson plans.

The excitement and dedication that the Amherst AWOD student leaders have to teach social justice will hopefully make the program successful and very effective. Their effort provides an invaluable lesson to their students, and encourages an ongoing effort to establish social justice more globally (4/16/08).

AWOD: Culmination and Comparison of Stoneham and Amherst High Schools[edit]

After learning about the Anti-Defamation League and their anti-bias education program, A World of Difference, as well as one of its participants, Amherst High School a comparison is in order. The two schools we chose to observe were Amherst High School, the interview of which is described above, and Stoneham High School. Amherst being in Western MA, and Stoneham in Eastern MA, my home town, proved to provide an interesting comparison. Each school truly represents the AWOD program but in their own unique ways. We chose Amherst High School and Stoneham High school for a number of reasons. They represent opposite sides of the spectrum not only in location within the state but also, Amherst High School is a budding program while Stoneham High School’s program has been going strong since 1999.

Sharon Chapman, coordinator for Stoneham High School’s Peer Leadership program, which works as a class within the school, has been there since the program was born. “I am proud of our relationship with the ADL. We have been working with them for years and they trust us to represent them well. We have facilitated workshops at Youth Congress for years, and have gotten excellent feedback from the students and teachers who have attended. The ADL puts a lot of faith in me and our program, and I am happy to say that we have not let them down” (5/1/08).

As described in a previous section, there is a basic framework for AWOD but each high school and middle school is encouraged to add their own specific elements because, after all, it is a program by students for students. Stoneham High School, an avid participant since 1999, following the murder of Matthew Shepard, has worked extremely hard to make AWOD a part of their everyday lives. Ms. Sharon Chapman, the coordinator for Stoneham told me in a combined phone and e-mail interview, “I am proud of the awareness we have brought to the high school. It is a safe place for all students and I think everyone agrees with that. Between the assemblies, classroom visits and follow through of the Peer Leaders on a day to day basis we have worked for years to establish a ‘safe’ school” (Chapman, 5/1/08).

At the same time, in Amherst High School’s program, a group that has only been practicing since November 2006 is working toward the same goal. One of the student participants told us when we went to sit in on a meeting, “I feel like if we have a continued presence at school and we keep doing trainings, keep doing workshops its kind of reminding everybody and focusing on like the things that we try to fix will stick instead of everyone being like ‘yah that’s really cool’ but its not going to stick. You know, so that’s what I kind of see through this program” (4/16/08).

A step that both groups have taken to work outside of their high schools is to expand their peace making message to the elementary schools in their communities. Stoneham, due to the fact that it has been implemented within Stoneham public schools for nine years, has already started this process. Chapman wrote me, “I am proud of the relationship we have built with the elementary school teachers in Stoneham. They trust us to come into their classrooms because of the work we have done in the past. The young men and women in the program have represented the school, the program and me very well, so there is no hesitation to allow us into their classes” (5/1/08). However, Amherst has yet to make the leap and is nervous to do so, yet excited to take such a step.

The Amherst group plans to go to an elementary school for the first time Tuesday, May 20, 2008. I had the pleasure of revisiting Nunia Mafi and her group again, alone on Wednesday, April 30, 2008 where we enthusiastically came up with a plan of action for their visits to come. They plan to visit three different fifth and sixth grade classrooms, three times each. A boy told me and another classmate on our first visit that they wanted to “Build a solid base with these young kids with? positive images instead of saying? you need to do ‘this and this’ to be cool… To expose them to a? better world. The fact that we’re young, we’re not adults coming in telling them what you…I feel like they will take it in more if we are younger and kind of like speaking to them…Doing it through activities not just preaching to them, like ‘No prejudice. Help you guys.’ I think it will go a longer way because we’re young” (4/16/08).

I look forward to seeing Amherst’s chapter grow and flourish. They have asked me to come again before their first visit which leads me to believe they enjoyed our only collaborative session together as much as I did. Nunia has told me that she and her group have a lot of work to do to make Amherst a more accepting, multicultural community. “In Amherst it’s like it’s cool to be PC and if you’re not… the thing is you never really get to issues and so the thing with these guys is that being the trainer either talking to fifth graders or sixth graders we hope to do seventh and eighth is the pipe line” (4/16/08).

Amherst looks forward to the strengthening of their group not only in the community, but amongst themselves. Sharon Chapman said of her own class, “It is one of my proudest moments when I see a student who was hesitant to speak at the beginning of the year, turn into someone who not only enjoys speaking, but is very poised and effective. It is awesome!!” (5/1/08)

By the next academic year, I have set it up so Nunia Mafi and Sharon Chapman can be in contact as to expand and network, to strive toward the same goal—making the communities they live and work in a better place for everyone.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Anti Defamation League, A World of Difference, online posting. 23 April 2008. [1].
  • Anti Defamation League, A World of Difference, “Guidelines for Teachers: Creating an Environment that Respects Diversity,” online posting. 23 April 2008. [2]
  • Anti Defamation League, A World of Difference, “Guidelines for Teachers: Setting the Stage for Respect,” online posting. 23 April 2008. [3]
  • Anti Defamation League, A World of Difference, “Institute Workshop Framework," online posting. 23 April 2008. [4].
  • Anti Defamation League, A World of Difference, "Peer Leadership Program," online posting. 23 April 2008. [5].
  • Anti Defamation League, A World of Difference, "Peer Training Program," online posting. 23 April 2008. [6].
  • Anti Defamation League, A World of Difference, "Summary of Selected Findings on Student Involvement," online posting. 21 April 2008. [7].
  • Chapman, Sharon. Phone and e-mail interview. 1 May. 2008.
  • Mafi, Nunia. et al. students. Personal Interview. 16 Apr. 2008. 30 Apr. 2008.