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Jewish Journal

ADL creates bias-education curriculum for schools

by Kylie Jane Wakefield

May 7, 2014 | 11:37 am

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Photo by Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Photo by Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports

The controversy surrounding L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling has been the talk of the town since racist comments attributed to him were released at the end of April, so the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) thought it should be the responsible talk of schools as well.

To educate children about what happened, the ADL has created “Responding to Bias: Donald Sterling of the L.A. Clippers,” an interactive and discussion-based curriculum geared toward students in grades six through 12. It’s part of the ADL’s Current Events Classroom, which features lessons that inform students about events dealing with bullying and discrimination. 

“We want teachers to feel comfortable talking about bias, bigotry and identity, which might be tough for them,” said Dave Reynolds, project director of the ADL’s A World of Difference Institute in Los Angeles. “We want to provide them the resources. These are tough conversations, but they are important in education for children.”

The new curriculum, which is available on the ADL’s website (adl.org), includes information about Sterling’s comments and encourages students to reflect upon the involved parties’ perspectives. It’s composed of vocabulary words related to the discussion, such as “discrimination,” “ignorance,” “racist,” “stereotype” and “segregation,” and it quotes President Barack Obama, former NBA player Magic Johnson, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and current members of the Clippers team. 

Questions are posed to get students talking about what happened. The curriculum asks, “How do you feel about the different statements or actions made in response to Donald Sterling’s comments?” and “What statements or actions most resonated with you?”

According to Jinnie Spiegler, the director of curriculum for the ADL, kids and teenagers are fully aware of what Sterling said. 

“It was big news,” she said. “Teenagers are watching basketball so they are hearing the commentary, and parents are talking about it. This is an issue that a lot of young people are thinking about.”

The ADL’s curricula, which come out two to three times per month, are distributed either regionally or nationwide, depending on the event. (The one covering Sterling was targeted to schools across the country.) Over the past year, some of the other topics included the fatal shootings outside a Jewish community center and Jewish elderly care center in Kansas; when Richard Sherman, a player for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, was labeled a thug; and Nelson Mandela’s death. 

Reynolds said the ADL chooses its curriculum topics based upon the requests it receives. 

Some teachers may want to bring these current events into the classroom but don’t  have the tools. 

“I know a lot of teachers, and when something dramatic like that happens, they’ll say, ‘I want to talk to my students about this, and I may do a lesson or talk about it for 15 minutes.’ They may not have the time to compile all the information and the questions they can ask, so we provide them that,” Spiegler said.

The ADL aims to show students the similarities between the major events and the acts of prejudice and violence that occur in their lives. 

“Our anti-biased, anti-bullying programs look at smaller day-to-day acts of bias,” Reynolds said. “We want to draw those connections to [major events].” 

Along with the lesson plans for students in grades six through 12, the ADL produces curricula for children as young as 3. The philosophy is that children can sense bias even at a young age, Reynolds said. “We know prejudice is learned and that it can be unlearned.”

The hope is that after being a part of the ADL’s Sterling curriculum or its other courses, kids will know how to spot hateful speech and how they can stop its spread. Given the country’s increasing diversity, Reynolds said it is critical now that students learn not to carry bias, racism and homophobia into their generation. 

“We are living in an ever-increasing pluralistic society,” he said. “We are teaching kids how to thrive in multicultural and diverse settings. We need them to focus on social skills and anti-bias skills. Otherwise, we are underserving them. This kind of education is, quite literally, priceless.”

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