When murmurings about a women’s march began on November 9, 2016, I knew I needed to be there—with friends and strangers who were ready to unite. The rustlings online began to grow louder. Hotel rooms were booked, car pools to Washington, D.C., organized.
Last year, I wrote about why Women’s History Month still matters. In 2017, we need to continue to consider gender in an organized, national celebration. History has a gendered dimension, as does politics. The Women’s March, as an event that was both historic and political, will have a rightful place in the month-long March celebration of women’s history.
The National Women’s History Project reminds us, “Our history is our strength.” As we showed the world during the march on January 21, 2017, our strength is also in our numbers. When my group, including my 5-year-old daughter, was standing still in the sea of people, I felt safe, happy and relieved. Before the march, I just thought it would be an interesting and important event. I didn’t really think it was historic. And then I got there and we couldn’t get on a train. We couldn’t move. We definitely couldn’t pee!
And we didn’t care. Because in that moment of togetherness and singing and chanting and—finally—marching, we could feel something was happening, something bigger. Afterward, while we ate room service meals and put up our tired feet, we scrolled social media feeds in awe, only then learning that the movement was worldwide on that day.
For several reasons, the Women’s March will be an important part of my classes’ discussions during Women’s History Month—and will likely have a place in larger discussions of women’s history in the future.
The march was an exercise in intersectionality. Strong arguments abound as to why the march still was not inclusive enough. However, I would argue that the women’s movement has come a long way from the second wave of feminism and that many people worked to make the march a worldwide platform for intersectional feminism. Yes, the original committee for the Women’s March was quite white, but people did the work to ensure a diversity of voices. And that diversity became manifest.
The march created a critical feminist manifesto. To read a mission and vision statement that brought together so many communities took my breath away. Such a manifesto is critical if we are to unite the energies, talents and organizing concerns of so many activists. With all the discussion about what feminism is, we sometimes forget what feminism does. The statement gave feminists a concrete platform to build upon. Every word deserves attention, but I was personally moved by the intersectional and peaceful vision set forth:
We support the advocacy and resistance movements that reflect our multiple and intersecting identities. We call on all defenders of human rights to join us. This march is the first step towards unifying our communities, grounded in new relationships, to create change from the grassroots level up. We will not rest until women have parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society. We work peacefully while recognizing there is no true peace without justice and equity for all.
The march provided feminist activists with a plan. For many people, marching is easy, a one-day commitment. But activism takes slow and steady work. The Women’s March will remain part of history because it didn’t end in a day, but instead has encouraged slow and steady progress through community and grassroots organizing. People are huddling. Striking. Most important, people are seeing that there is a space for them in the movement.
We don’t even know what additional history will be made from the actions this march has inspired or will inspire. What I do know is that it has motivated a new generation of activists and helped organize and coalesce those of us already engaged. When we talk about women’s history from now on, the Women’s March will be an important part of those lessons.
Clemens is the associate professor of non-Western literatures and director of Women's and Gender Studies at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania.
On February 27, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released a statement after meeting with leaders of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), praising these institutions as “real pioneers when it comes to school choice.” She spoke more the following evening about HBCUs’ history of challenging the status quo and “providing a necessary opportunity to African Americans following the Civil War.”
DeVos’ disregard for (or ignorance of) the systems of racism and racial discrimination that necessitated HBCUs in the first place is a striking example of historical whitewashing from the highest levels of the U.S. power structure. Such disregard, unfortunately, trickles down and influences what happens in school buildings. Today, we encourage you to address with students the history of inequitable education systems in the United States and how people, groups and institutions like HBCUs have not only worked to upend those systems but also have excelled in spite of them. It’s possible that your students don’t know much about HBCUs. This is a great chance to teach an empowering and inspirational part of black history.
- What is an HBCU? Where are they located, who can attend them and who are some well-known alumni?
- What social conditions led to the formation of HBCUs?
- HBCUs are often portrayed as a modern construct that grew from the Jim Crow era. Is this true? Why or why not?
- How is school choice different from equal access to educational opportunities?
- What was the intent of Secretary DeVos' statements? What was the impact of her statements? Provide evidence.
Editor’s note: This post, part one of a series on teaching and learning how to know in 2017, offers a discussion of key terms from cognitive science and media literacy. Future posts in this series will focus on specific classroom tools and strategies.
It’s important for educators to determine a way forward in a time when many of the core values of education—fact-based arguments, civility, inclusivity and the cultivation of curiosity—are under assault. The devaluing of shared truth, deepening political polarization and the mainstreaming of hate have created a steeper climb toward the goal of helping students evaluate and think critically about the content they consume. Educators thus need to better understand how students access and integrate information, and how media works.
There is considerable research on how our brains seek new knowledge and integrate it into our existing worldviews. No student is a blank slate; learning is not just the acquisition of new information but also the correction, refinement and enhancement of existing ideas and assumptions. This is especially important given the prevalence of confirmation bias, which refers to our tendency to more readily believe information that supports—or confirms—our existing worldviews and to exclude information that might contradict previously held assumptions. Like other forms of bias, it is experienced as a cognitive shortcut that aims to simplify and reduce what’s known as cognitive dissonance: the mental stress of encountering information that contradicts previously held assumptions. The response to cognitive dissonance is typically to discount the new information and to latch on even more tightly to the ideology that is under threat.
As a result, even when new information is presented as factual and verified, what researchers call a backfire effect occurs: Our attachment to our assumptions becomes stronger in the face of contradictory information. We also practice what’s known as motivated directional reasoning, a more active version of confirmation bias that not only compels us to dismiss counterarguments and pursue information that matches preexisting assumptions but also clouds our ability to evaluate arguments effectively. We rate arguments that align with our views as more credible than opposing arguments. Our brains are capable of impressive, unconscious gymnastics to keep our worldviews intact, which makes challenging assumptions and advancing our respective thinking quite difficult.
For teachers, these tendencies underscore the necessity of gathering knowledge about students’ prior assumptions. Of course, the challenge is that, depending on students’ ages, they may not have well-developed, pre-existing political identities or worldviews, and what they do have will likely derive from their parents’ or families’ views, placing us educators in sensitive territory. And yet, an understanding of cognitive habits can provide an opening to justifying the importance of alternative viewpoints, open-mindedness and curiosity since, no matter where we might fall on the political spectrum, we are all prone to these thinking traps.
Constant self-scrutiny, reflection and skepticism, as essential to the scientific process as they are to any form of anti-bias work in schools, need to be practiced and modeled by teachers and students in all venues. Students need our help learning about and navigating this knowledge and information landscape. As such, the terms discussed here need to be part of the discourse within our classrooms.
Like most work around bias, it is made far more complicated by the political and social context in which it occurs. Our reliance on social media only exacerbates these tendencies. Many of us are stuck in echo chambers, sealed media ecosystems in which there is a perception of widespread consensus and unanimity. The resulting filter bubbles—for example, personalized search results, news streams created by websites’ algorithms or participation in closed ecosystems of like-minded thinkers—mean that we have to work harder to encounter, let alone be open to accepting, information that contradicts our thinking. Social media is also especially prone to the phenomenon of fake news, media that is produced to appear genuine but that is actually based on falsehood, exaggeration or propaganda. Similarly, click bait, salacious or enticing headlines meant to drive clicks (and therefore advertising revenue), can pull students’ focus away from seeking accurate information and from a diversity of viewpoints.
Finally, there is the familiar problem of the digital natives in our classrooms who see knowledge as something to consume and receive, and who thus fall prey to what philosopher of knowledge Michael Patrick Lynch argues is “the thought that all knowing is downloading—that all knowing is passive.” In other words, some students may view knowledge as something to be acquired passively rather than actively sought, which only further reinforces the tendency to accept information that supports pre-existing worldviews and to be susceptible to “fake news” and propaganda.
Given the mental shortcuts we take while learning and the treacherous landscape in which that learning occurs, learning to know in 2017 is indeed a challenge. We certainly don’t want our classrooms to fall prey to the same damaging patterns we see in our social media consumption; we don’t want our classrooms to become echo chambers in which there is no dissension (nor do we need to bend over backward to accommodate all views). While it’s easier to stay ensconced in an echo chamber of mutual biases and closed-loop reasoning, our students will better learn to know—and come to some actual truths—when they venture out to interrogate and reflect.
Gold is a seventh- and eighth-grade history teacher at Moses Brown School in Providence, Rhode Island.
Several news items caught our eyes—and made our hearts sink—this week: Jewish community centers and Jewish day schools all over the United States (and one in Canada) received bomb threats via anonymous phone calls. On February 27 alone, more than 31 such institutions were threatened. A day earlier, on February 26, a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia was desecrated by vandals who toppled over 100 tombstones, a week after a similar act of desecration took place in University City, Missouri (a suburb of St. Louis). And earlier this month, a Chicago synagogue was plastered with swastikas.
Since the beginning of 2017, 100 incidents of anti-Semitism in 81 locations have been recorded.
Although the recent—and ongoing—national conversation surrounding hate and bias incidents has focused largely on the targeting of Muslim, Latino and African-American individuals and communities, it is clear that anti-Semitism is alive and well in the United States and that its proponents feel emboldened. In community centers, religious schools and places of worship—places intended to offer safe spaces and support positive identity formation—such threats and attacks are particularly unsettling. And while anti-Semitic threats recorded so far in 2017 have not resulted in injury or loss of life, deadly attacks on Jewish spaces happened as recently as 2014 in the United States, and the FBI just weeks ago arrested a suspect for plotting an attack “in the spirit of Dylann Roof” on a synagogue in South Carolina. The danger is real.
While the news is at once disheartening and terrifying, Teaching Tolerance is firm in our belief that inclusive, anti-bias education is the antidote to the fear and hatred that leads to violence. TT was founded as a preventative program; we fight hate alongside our legal and intelligence-gathering colleagues at the Southern Poverty Law Center by equipping educators with the tools they need to reach students when they are young. By giving children opportunities to experience and embrace diversity via the curriculum, and teaching social emotional competencies like empathy, individual educators literally have the power to change thousands of lives—and to intervene when they see a child drifting toward the hollow messages pedaled by hatemongers.
Clearly, this work is more necessary than ever—and clearly we must include Jewish voices, perspectives and experiences in our teaching if we are to be responsive to the current climate of intimidation in our country.
Here are a few resources to help you teach about Jewish identities and anti-Semitism in your classroom or at your school:
- TT’s free film One Survivor Remembers and teacher’s guide
- Perspectives for a Diverse America texts “Out of Auschwitz,” “About Feeling Jewish,” “Danger on My Doorstep,” “Letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport” and “What Is Talmud?” (Use the advance filter to search.)
- Facing History and Ourselves’ anti-Semitism and religious intolerance resources
- The Anti-Defamation League (ADL)'s tools and resources for anti-bias
education and confronting
- A new classroom acivity from the ADL titled Anti-Semitic Incidents: Being an Ally, Advocate and Activist
- The United States Holocaust Museum’s tools and resources
We agree 100 percent with Gesher Jewish Day School, one of the schools targeted this week, that “the work of educating joyful young minds [must continue] unabated.” In a Facebook post yesterday, the school acknowledged the threat but encouraged its followers to “learn something new every day, practice justice, kindness, and respect.” It is only by committing to these principles that our work can move forward and help our young people grow up confident that those who look, love or worship differently than they do pose no threat to them personally or to the American way of life.
The value of pluralism is an idea many of us take for granted, but—as the events of the last weeks and months have shown—we cannot afford to assume that others do.
van der Valk is the deputy director of Teaching Tolerance.
What happens when you take one part students, one part faculty and staff, one part yummy food and one part Teaching Tolerance? You get Mix It Up at Lunch Day at Hartford, Connecticut’s Watkinson School. So, what’s the special sauce?
It turns out that special sauce is student leadership development. An annual tradition at Watkinson, the school first participated in Mix It Up at Lunch Day in 2004, two years after the Teaching Tolerance initiative began. And the involvement of trained student leaders has been integral to its growth.
Mix It Up At Lunch Day is not a “stand-alone” program at Watkinson. Rather, it is a collaboration with the Help Increase the Peace Project (HIPP), which Watkinson middle schoolers have participated in since 2000. A program of the American Friends Service Committee, HIPP is designed “to address issues of interpersonal violence, prejudice, and injustice with participants of all ages, with a focus on middle-and high-school age youth,” its website states. Middle school students at Watkinson are selected to become HIPP facilitators in the sixth and seventh grades, and returning seventh- and eighth-grade HIPP facilitators serve as leaders for Mix It Up. The students undergo a thorough, yearlong training to become HIPP facilitators. Mix It Up gives the students an opportunity to apply their training in a new way.
The leadership of HIPP student facilitators in Mix It Up establishes a strong and positive tone in the middle school. These student leaders also lead icebreaker activities at new-student orientations, work with their peers in advisory to have difficult conversations and select the annual theme for the middle school bulletin boards. For the 2016-17 school year, the HIPP students chose the following theme: “How do we create a culture of inclusion?”
HIPP student facilitators decide on the role they want to play in Mix It Up. They pretty much do it all, from coordinating with the middle school art teacher to create a bulletin board template to choosing the colors of napkins and tablecloths. With scaffolding provided by faculty advisors, these student leaders choose appropriate quotes and team-building activities from the HIPP student manual, and they offer input regarding the grouping of students for each lunch table.
On the day of the actual Mix It Up event, the HIPP student facilitators, working in pairs, lead their table groups through the activities they helped to plan. Although there is one middle school faculty member at each lunch table, the HIPP facilitators are in charge. The middle school teachers have learned to step back and let the student facilitators lead. This, in turn, has contributed greatly to a culture of trust and growth for both HIPP student facilitators and teachers alike.
HIPP teaches the students listening skills and how to help others. When students encounter a dilemma, they are asked, “How do you listen? How do you ask adults for help?” This process promotes empathy because the students learn to focus on what they are hearing and feeling. It also allows teachers to collaborate with students to reach a solution.
Dr. Diane Weinholtz, director of the middle school at Watkinson, has overseen Mix It Up at Lunch Day and HIPP since their inception there. During that time, she has witnessed a direct impact on the culture of the middle school, which is a culture of kindness. There are fewer negative interactions and more supportive and helpful behaviors among students. “We don’t have to talk about bullying because we talk about the positive aspects of relationships,” Weinholtz says. “We ask the students what are they doing to show kindness, so the ways of being in a community are already in their minds.”
Webb teaches Spanish to middle and high school students at Watkinson School in Hartford, Connecticut.