- After a gunman, who authorities have said targeted the Jewish community and posted anti-immigrant comments online, shot and killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday, Chalkbeat reports on how educators are trying to determine their roles in approaching this event with their students.
- The number of anti-Semitic incidents across the country is rising, and in schools, incidents such as verbal insults or graffiti with swastikas have also increased, Chalkbeat notes, citing a 2017 audit from the Anti-Defamation League that said schools surpassed public places as the spots with the most anti-Semitic incidents.
- Teachers are struggling with respecting those affected and addressing the massacre in class while also avoiding criticism of pushing a political agenda. Some districts suggest culturally responsive teacher training and diversifying curriculum, while others say anti-bias education will give students the foundation to have difficult but important conversations.
Schools are places of learning that guarantee all students the right to feel safe and welcomed. And while schools don't typically deal with many physical incidents of anti-Semitism, name-calling or drawn swastikas, for instance, are acts that can greatly affect a student's feelings of security and well-being, inside and outside the classroom.
The Jewish community is far from the only population targeted by bullying or negative comments. Several groups – immigrants, those who are Muslim, those of Asian descent and individuals in the LGBT community, to name a few – are also groups known to face similar types of harassment and violence. And since President Donald Trump launched his campaign, some groups say a "Trump effect" – an increase in bullying in schools sparked by Trump's rhetoric – is giving a stronger voice to groups like white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
But when an event like this weekend's massacre takes place, educators are forced to play a role in the aftermath, and in doing so, they must try and strike a difficult balance: denouncing hate and responding to students' and families' concerns, while also not telling students how to think and avoiding criticism over pushing a political agenda.
Educators have long debated over how to approach political topics, or potentially political topics, in the classroom. It's hard to give students a well-rounded and complete education without delving into some elements of the political sphere, but talking to students about history and what's going on in the world today doesn't mean teachers have to tell students where to stand. News literacy, as well as topics like civic engagement and discourse, are important part of a student's education, and when teachers present issues in a polite, inclusive and respectful way, more students will feel like they can contribute. Regardless of opinion, however, it's a teacher's responsibility to make sure students feel safe while still denouncing hateful acts and unprotected speech.
Administrators can encourage teachers to include current events in classroom discussions, while also understanding that it may be difficult for them to navigate these waters. Through professional development on culturally respectful and responsive teaching, online resources to guide lesson plans and encouraging conversations among students, faculty and staff members, school leaders can equip the school community to respond to a tragic event like a targeted mass shooting. Additionally, training on free speech versus hate speech, as well as efforts to encourage diversity – in race, ethnicity, religion, etc. – can further promote a positive and productive school climate.