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Combating Discrimination and Hatred Through Education

An excerpt from this article appeared in District Administration on March 11.

Today, we live in a society where truth is decaying, falsehoods are readily shared across social media, and hatred and discrimination are on the rise. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center the number of hate groups operating in the United States hit a record high in 2018. Hate speech creates an environment in which biases and discrimination thrive and can have a detrimental impact on a school’s culture and climate. Teaching and learning about the roots of hate are important elements in fostering an inclusive classroom environment.

Teachers play an essential role in creating a more humane and tolerant world. They are stewards of culture and are in a position to protect history, promote facts and prevent inhumanity. However, to provide students with the most effective instruction, educators must have the tools to understand the nature of hate crimes and how they impact the culture and climate of schools where they teach. Additionally, they must know how to address issues of bias and discrimination in the classroom.

Members of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) are committed to preparing future educators to build a more tolerant world through teaching. Recently, AACTE members Rick Ginsberg (University of Kansas), Renée Middleton (Ohio University), Margaret Grogan (Chapman University) and Marvin Lynn (Portland State University) participated in a Holocaust Education Program abroad that was sponsored by March for the Living and the Rutgers Center. The program was developed for education and law school deans to explore how they can apply the history of the Holocaust to teach the broader concept of combating hatred and discrimination. After all, the roots of genocide are the marginalization and dehumanization of cultural and religious groups, actions that are not foreign in our contemporary world. Children and adults can easily watch the news and see these phenomena happening, sometimes even in their own communities. Educators have an opportunity to address prejudice in an intentional way, challenging students’ beliefs and building bridges among different cultures.

Deep Impact: Insights from Program Participants

Participants in the Holocaust Education Program traveled to Poland and visited the Museum of the History of the Polish Jews in Warsaw. While viewing a display focused on the reaction of the Polish population to the Warsaw ghetto, many educators were struck by how citizens were able to stand by silently, even while continuous fires and explosions occurred throughout the ghettos. Ginsberg reflects, “I came away pondering what I should be doing to address the episodes of inhumanity I perceive around me, and not just be a quiet bystander.”

According to Ginsberg, discrimination only persists “if people allow hatred to continue unchecked. The inhumanity of humanity should be the core of what and how we teach about all hate and discrimination.” He stresses that educators have a duty to be a moral compass, to discern what’s real from what’s fake, and to teach, speak out and model appropriate behaviors and reactions to discrimination to help students become socially and emotionally aware.

Through the program, Middleton gained an overwhelming understanding that hate “does not happen overnight. Hate grows.” She realized how far hate can go when allowed to fester, enabling dehumanization. The Holocaust provides a unique example for us to learn from our past. Middleton believes that educators must “teach history in a way that resonates with students and allows them to connect the past with the present. In higher education, we need to offer courses on anti-Semitism, courses on hate and courses on genocide.” Middleton adds, “Educators need to become more self-aware, challenging our own biases, being willing to listen to another perspective, breaking down walls that politicians are good at building to divide us and speaking out for other groups that we don’t belong to in order to add another credible unbiased voice.”

Lynn reflects on the program, “It was transformative for me as someone who is deeply invested in the study of race and racism in schools and the broader society.” For Lynn, questions arose around why the Holocaust is typically taught as a separate topic from other types of racial oppression, such as the Jim Crow era in the United States. Lynn notes, “Much of what we know about race is temporal and place-based—meaning our understanding of specific social phenomena is connected to our spatial location within specific time periods.” Lynn came away from the experience with the understanding that we need a more globalized understanding of race and racism that values time and place but also goes beyond it when necessary. “We need to be able to better connect significant historical events across time and place to better connect and engage in discussions about race that are broad, inclusive and transcendent of time and place.”

Educators must ensure that students realize an event of this nature can happen again. Grogan explains, “Not only is it important for teachers to commit to remembering the Holocaust by insisting it remains in every history curriculum, but they must also commit to drawing the parallels in their own backyards. Students should not be comforted by the idea that a legally sanctioned system for murdering people, who are different from the dominant group(s), could not happen today in any of our democracies. Evidence shows that dehumanization occurs today, and its existence should spur us into action against hate and bigotry.”

Holocaust Education Tools Today

Education provides logic and facts, which are important counterpoints to existing propaganda. As such, there are many opportunities for educators to use current tools to broaden their students’ understanding and connection to the Holocaust.

One of the most impactful methods is allowing students to meet directly with Holocaust survivors. For example, Chapman University runs an annual art and writing competition that attracts high school and middle school students and teachers from around the world. In addition to monetary prizes and trips to Holocaust museums, winners can meet with survivors and their family members. The contest is housed in Chapman’s Barry and Phyllis Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education, which provides a wide variety of resources and programs throughout the year.

On a national level, in recognition of the importance of International Holocaust Day last month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to expand the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s education programming. The Never Again Education Act requires the museum to develop accessible resources and education program activities that improve awareness of the Holocaust and engage teachers and educational leaders.

Many nonprofits, in addition to AACTE, explore the topics of discrimination and hatred through their work to build a culture of tolerance. For example, the Southern Poverty Law Center program Teaching Tolerance provides professional development, a magazine and other materials for educators. Rethinking Schools is an activist publication and website that offers educational materials and initiatives for building a humane, caring and multiracial democracy. These groups, among others, have a strong track record supporting teachers in learning more about equity, diversity and inclusion.

Another tool educators can leverage is their curriculum. Teaching tolerance can be integrated into state and national frameworks through different subjects, especially humanities and the arts. Ginsberg notes that the emphasis in many states and school districts today regarding Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) should include instruction about understanding and combating hatred and discrimination in all forms.

Legal policies also protect the study of the Holocaust. For example, Oregon recently approved Senate Bill 664, which requires school districts to “provide instruction about the Holocaust and genocide.” The state now provides resources for teaching about the Holocaust, in addition to ethnic studies and native history.  Schools are also encouraged to link their Holocaust instruction to other forms of discrimination that exist in Oregon.

Teacher Educators Take A Stand Against Hate

Nearly 2,000 education leaders convened to address “disrupting inequities: educating for change” during AACTE’s 2020 Annual Meeting in Atlanta, February 28 – March 1. During the conference, Middleton, Lynn, Ginsberg and Grogan presented the Deeper Dive session, “Combating Discrimination and Hatred Through Education,” from 4:00 – 5:15 p.m. on Saturday, February 29, 2020 at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis Hotel. They shared their vision for how teacher education can address the scourge of hate and discrimination through the lens of the Holocaust. Learn more at aacte.org.

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