The Atlantic: “Enforcing civil rights is not a zero-sum game … [and] we are all better off when our system of public education promotes equity in opportunity and justice for all.”
Disability Scoop: “While typical playgrounds can be overwhelming for some children with autism or other challenges, the sensory trail is specially designed to provide cognitive and physical benefits geared toward their needs.”
EdSource: “Supported by civil rights laws, brain science and research on learning, schools in California and across the nation have increasingly made it a priority to try to create classrooms that are welcoming to all. The goal is civil discourse, improved academic performance and fewer discipline incidents.”
Education Week: “Working with parents and educators on digital citizenship gives me hope right now. Schools are teaching their students to interact in kind ways online, because it’s the right thing to do—and also so that students are mindful about creating a positive and admirable digital footprint.”
The Hechinger Report: “With bilingualism linked to enhanced academic and social skills, educators say dual-language programs can be used to narrow the achievement gap and equip underserved students for a future in a competitive workforce.”
National Public Radio: “Dyslexia is so widespread that it forces schools and parents to take action. And yet, it is deeply misunderstood. Even basic questions don't have easy answers.”
The New York Times: “This lesson plan asks students to weigh the potential drawbacks and advantages of the [Dakota Access] pipeline project for all involved, then challenges students to develop a reasonable and just solution to the current standoff.”
The Seattle Times: “‘I’d like to see kids evaluating politicians and what they’re doing, and applying knowledge—not just memorizing facts from 240 years ago. … [T]he election really pushed people to see that education can’t just be all about STEM.’”
The Wall Street Journal: “Some 82% of middle-schoolers couldn’t distinguish between an ad labeled ‘sponsored content’ and a real news story on a website, according to a Stanford University study of 7,804 students from middle school through college.”
The Washington Post: “Rochester International Academy (RIA) provides a strong transitional program for newly arrived immigrant and refugee students, working in close collaboration with families and community partners. Because Rochester is an official resettlement site for the United Nations, 98 percent of RIA’s students are refugees.”
If you come across a current article or blog you think other educators should read, please send it to email@example.com, and put “What We’re Reading This Week” in the subject line.
When teaching about the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), U.S. teachers are often confronted with a dearth of accurate and nuanced material about the history, politics and people of the region. This crisis of critical awareness mainly materializes through two recurring narratives that circulate in mainstream media, political discourse and popular culture: “Islam as anti-Western” and conflict fueled by “ancient hatreds.”
The first narrative not only conflates Islam with the MENA, but also presents Islam simplistically, masking the diversity within the religion. Shows like Homeland and 24 have lent credence to the idea that all people from the region are Muslim and that all Muslims are threats to those who live in the West. Consequently, there is little to describe the region’s national, ethnic, political and religious identities, and—as evidenced by the 2016 presidential contests—some politicians have consistently failed to distinguish ordinary people from members of extremist groups.
The second narrative is that the MENA is characterized above all by “ancient hatreds,” as seen in President Obama’s 2016 State of the Union speech. Framing contemporary geopolitical conflicts as timeless conflicts—“Arabs vs. Jews,” “tradition vs. modernity,” or more recently, “Sunni vs. Shi’a”—is an ahistorical approach to these complex and rich histories.
These narratives work in tandem to produce a one-dimensional conception of the MENA, which, in turn, fuels the rising Islamophobia in U.S. schools and society. As a result, Muslims and even non-Muslims (like Sikhs or Arab Christians) have been targets of hate crimes, attacks, harassment and bullying.
It is in this climate that a group of scholars and educators, including us, came together to create open-source, online curricular materials for high school teachers called Rethinking the Region: New Approaches to 9-12 U.S. Curriculum on the Middle East and North Africa.¹ Born out of an aim to contextualize the MENA region, we grounded the project in a rigorous analysis of four commonly used world history textbooks in U.S. high schools. Our findings served as a springboard for the curriculum design. Specifically, we wanted to draw attention to how peoples and societies interacted collaboratively and fluidly at different political and historical junctures, and integrate this analysis into vibrant curricula for high school teachers.
As several of us were former high school and elementary teachers, we acutely understood the need for such materials. We find this curricular intervention particularly important in the current American political context, when mainstream media often simplify complex histories and identities, exacerbating difference and “Otherness” in ways that do not truly reflect the MENA region in all its complexity.
We framed Rethinking the Region around the following themes: women and gender, plural identities, political and social movements, empire and nation and arts and technology. We chose these themes because they are often crudely treated in U.S. textbooks. The lessons can be taught sequentially or can stand alone. They allow teachers to choose when they want to pause and when they want to go into more depth on a particular theme or topic, while still adhering to the state curriculum. We also used open-source and online materials for many of the sources. In the event that something has been taken off the web, we hope that the references and titles provided will enable teachers to find the resources elsewhere.
Rethinking the Region not only allows educators to avoid reductive approaches to the region and highlight multiplicity, plurality and agency, but it also provides resources that are part of broader curricular and school climate initiatives meant to combat Islamophobia. In this sense, our approach, rooted in anti-racism and cultural responsiveness, lends itself to new questions, new understandings and new possibilities to rethink the region.
Maria Hantzopoulos is associate professor of education at Vassar College, where she coordinates the Adolescent Education Certification Program and participates in the International Studies, Urban Studies and Women’s Studies programs.
Roozbeh Shirazi is assistant professor in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota.
¹ In addition to the two authors of this blog, the team also included Monisha Bajaj, Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher and Zeena Zakharia.
After Election Day, The Trump Effect: The Impact of the 2016 Presidential Election on Our Nation’s Schools compiles the results of a survey taken by more than 10,000 educators following Donald Trump’s election and a divisive campaign that targeted racial, ethnic and religious minorities. In April, we released a similar report, The Trump Effect, which described how students and teachers were responding to the campaign rhetoric.
The new report gauges the immediate impact of the November 8 election results in schools. Ninety percent of the educators surveyed indicated that school climate has been negatively affected by the results of the election, and most believe it will continue to affect their school for some time. Teachers also reported heightened anxiety among immigrant, Muslim, African-American and LGBT students.
The teachers described an increase in the use of slurs and derogatory language, along with disturbing incidents involving swastikas, Nazi salutes and Confederate flags. The report also cited more than 2,500 specific incidents of bigotry and harassment that can be directly traced to election rhetoric, including assaults on both students and teachers and acts of vandalism depicting hate symbols and speech.
One high school teacher in California reported that “someone anonymously put a swastika with the Trump tag line ‘Make American Great Again’ on the desk of a Spanish teacher.” Another teacher in Illinois wrote that the divide between her high-income white families and low-income Latino students has been “WAY worse” since the election.
The online survey is not scientific but offers a wealth of information and insight about the post-election school climate. Participants included teachers from nearly all states and the District of Columbia. According to the report, those who responded may have been more likely to perceive problems than those who did not. It was distributed among several organizations that reach a large teacher population, including the American Federation of Teachers.
The report also offers a set of recommendations to help school leaders manage student anxiety and combat hate speech and acts of bias. In short, these recommendations are:
- Set the tone.
- Take care of the wounded.
- Double down on anti-bullying strategies.
- Encourage courage.
- Be ready for a crisis.
Teaching Tolerance will further analyze the survey results and use the data to shape our resources and offerings to K–12 teachers and others who work in schools. Visit Voting and Elections: Resources for a Civil Classroom to view a package of materials currently available to help educators navigate these troubling times.
Editor's note: Kids say the darnedest things—and write them in the darnedest ways. To make sure readers can understand the thoughtful quotes that follow, we've corrected the major errors but left them otherwise unedited. Do read them in their original form, though. They're powerful.
Last week, we posed a question to students via their teachers: What advice would you give to the new president?
We didn’t know what to expect—but the number and thoughtfulness of the submissions was far beyond what we could have hoped for. Students took this question very seriously; their answers made it clear that they are listening closely to President-elect Trump and that they care deeply about what the next four years will mean for the United States and for the people who live here.
We got responses in the form of essays, letters, drawings and even an acrostic poem. Many made us smile; more than a few made us cry. As we looked through the hundreds of submissions, some themes rose to the top.
Think before you speak. Dozens of students encouraged the president-elect to assume a professional tone and to be more presidential.
“If you can’t think of anything nice to say, you should think harder before you say it.”
“The advice I would [give] to President-elect Trump: Think before you speak because you can really hurt people.”
“I advise the [president-elect] Donald Trump to choose wisely what words come out of his mouth. By doing so, our country could become less divided, and more united. All of this division was caused by words, a powerful weapon that can be used for good or bad.”
Make good choices. The students who gave this advice expressed concern about the future president’s ability to put personal issues aside in service to the greater good.
“Please be an idol to all young children no matter what age, sex or race, please be aware we have feelings. Stop violence and wars, be thoughtful and have tolerance. Listen. Think. The Ku Klux Klan should not be making deals with you. MAKE THE RIGHT CHOICE.”
“My advice would be to not have your actions only be based on how you live your life but how everyone else lives theirs. You have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You have to realize that every one of your actions can affect so many people’s lives in a major way.”
“Do what is right, not what is popular.”
Don’t build a wall. This message was mentioned in an overwhelming number of submissions. Students are very concerned about the border wall and about immigrant families being divided through deportation.
“I reconmend you to not build a wall because some people have family on the other side. Respectfully, a concerned citizen”
“My advice to president-elect Trump is to not hang with racists and not build a wall between America and Mexico.”
“Don’t build a wall. Everybody deserves a second chance.”
Don’t be prejudiced. Some students named groups they felt were targeted unfairly during the election, specifically Mexicans, Muslims, women and LGBT individuals; others made a broad appeal to equal rights and treatment for the good of all Americans.
“Remember despite our color, we are All AMERICANS.”
“I think you are being mean to Mexicans. I’m a Mexican. So respect us like we respect your people. I feel mad. You talk about Mexicans. Do you like when people call you names? No. You don’t. We don’t like it either.”
“Racial discrimination is at its all time high we need a leader that brings us together not further push this struggle for equality I’d advise you to refrain from stereotypical and hurtful words that target this nation's racially diverse.”
Keep us safe. Students explicitly asked the future president to keep calm and be strong when faced with threats or dangerous circumstances; many added the sentiment, “We need to be able to trust you.”
“Please make America a place where girls can walk around not afraid.”
“Could we please have no more wars because it’s tremendously harmful to the human population and the earth. It also costs a lot of money we could be using to clean the earth. Let’s keep this world clean and healthy for the future people who live here.”
“Open up to those in fear… Those in fear of losing their families, of not being able to love who they love, of not being able to protect themselves and their bodies, and at this point to those who are in complete fear of our country falling to the ground. … Make them feel comfortable and secure that they’re not going to lose everything.”
We know you can do it. Some students were excited about a Trump win and about the future. Even some of the most skeptical and critical responses, however, included messages of support and belief that Trump has it in him to be a good president—as long as he makes some adjustments.
“I hope you can say magnanimous things about everyone in our country. I foresee that you will be a great president and hope that you will impact this country in so many different ways!”
“I’m sure that you will be a great President and do what is best for the country. I do, however, have some advice… Listen to the people, but still stay true to your platform, which is how you won the election. … Do what you think will benefit the American people in the best way.”
“Use the power of your role in this nation to better it and to eliminate the sense of separation in the world. To create a country where we can really say we are free. After all, your slogan is to make America great again. And I believe many people would love to see that happen.”
If you haven’t yet asked your students how they would advise the new president, it’s not too late. Just follow these instructions. We’ll continue to post them on social media, and we’re even assembling a selection of submissions to feature in the Spring issue of Teaching Tolerance magazine.
The recent election results left our nation overcome with intense emotions: Some Americans are experiencing profound triumph, others are experiencing deep despair and still others are concerned about what an administration led by a non-politician will look like. President-elect Donald Trump’s victory has emboldened some people to commit acts of harassment and intimidation. Young people at primary and secondary schools and universities across the nation are experiencing racist graffiti, anti-immigration chants, Islamophobic slurs and other hateful behavior.
As educators, it is our job to ensure that all students are safe to learn in an environment where they can be their full, authentic selves, where they can learn and live the values of equality, civility, freedom and justice for all. While it may be difficult sometimes, that responsibility includes helping children who exhibit anger, negativity or bias to reflect on their emotions and behave in a way that does not harm others. (Teachers should use culturally responsive practices as they reflect on, identify and work to understand and support students’ emotions.) Doing this requires, in part, that we practice and model the skills of emotional intelligence, which can be defined as the ability to recognize, understand, label, express and regulate our emotions productively and effectively—particularly when adults in the public eye are not demonstrating these skills. Such skills of emotional intelligence can be channeled toward creating a more compassionate, equitable and just society.
So, what can we do right now?
- Check in
with yourself. Ask yourself: How am I feeling? What are the causes and
consequences of my feelings? Whatever you are feeling, it is acceptable. Checking
in with ourselves will help us to understand how we are feeling so that we can
effectively manage our emotions and behave in ways that ensure the safety of
all children. Adults at school dictate the emotional climate, which influences
the school community’s well-being and students’ ability to learn. Our students
need us to be present and empathetic as many of them struggle to make sense of
our country’s new “normal.”
- Create a safe space to discuss how everyone is feeling. A safe space is crucial for students’ sharing how they are feeling. And every day is an opportunity to discuss with students what a safe space looks, feels and sounds like. Once students have communicated what their safe space is, create opportunities—like journal writing, one-on-one check-ins and art projects—for them to share how they are feeling about the election and in general. Then design an action plan with students that helps everyone support the classroom’s safe space. Creating safe spaces in classrooms allows students to share their ideas without fear or ridicule—even when they have an unpopular idea—and, in turn, helps students learn to disagree civilly.
- Engage in activities that build empathy. Teaching students a lesson on what empathy is explicitly is a great start, but providing students with opportunities to build empathy is even more important. For one, any time students have to make an argument, whether for a debate or paper, ask them to make a counterargument to it as well. Doing so allows students to perceive the world from a different point of view. Additionally, build service-learning opportunities into your instruction so that your students learn to experience the world outside of their realities and to feel empowered to serve others. Role plays are also an opportunity for students to build empathy. Just as important, we must model empathy by acknowledging our students’ perspectives before responding to them.
literature and other texts to build emotional intelligence. When
analyzing a character or figure in texts, ask students how that individual might
be feeling. Push students to elaborate on their thinking by asking why they
believe a character is experiencing a certain emotion. Particularly, we might ask
students what in the written description or imagery (a character’s facial
expression, body language, physiology and vocal tone) confirms their
understanding of what the individual is feeling. This approach allows for
students to recognize emotions, understand the causes and consequences of emotions,
and label emotions accurately.
opportunities for students to create emotion-management strategies, and help
them co-regulate when they need support. Help students identify
strategies that shift them into an optimal emotional state for learning or for completing
a given task. When students are derailed by a particular emotion, remind them
of their individual strategies and empower them to manage their emotions. We
can also help by co-regulating student emotions through our practice. For
instance, if we want to calm our students down for a lesson, we could play
music with a slow tempo, ask them to read silently or have the lights dimmed.
We could also take them through a deep breathing exercise. Alternatively, if we
want students to be excited about a lesson at hand, we could play fast-paced
music and ask them to engage in movement exercises (in a carefully managed way).
- Create opportunities for students to share their stories. When we create opportunities for students to share their narratives and to hear the narratives of others, we allow them to see and to experience the world in new ways. In our curricular choices, we can privilege narratives that offer “windows” and “mirrors” for students, which encourage our students to see the humanity in others.
Not being able to manage our emotions,
express emotions for the given context or accurately recognize or label how we
are feeling (or how others are feeling) can divide us and lead to
often-avoidable conflict. These misunderstandings and misinterpretations of
emotions strip us—and students—of opportunities to connect meaningfully and
civilly with others. It is an imperative, then, to infuse emotionality into our
instruction in the hopes of creating a more compassionate and just society, in
hopes of shifting our divided states to the United States. Our young people
deserve that much.
Simmons is a lifelong activist, educator and student of life from the Bronx, New York. She currently serves as the director of education at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.