Engaging in Religious Dialogue and Reflection with Middle School Students

Guest blog post by Caroline Turner, School Counselor and Respect For All Liaison at MS 890


The new middle school in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, known as MS 890, is taking the initiative to understand differences in a diverse neighborhood.  In conjunction with the 6th Grade Social Studies curriculum, we have been exploring the question: “What role do belief systems play in society?” We have been learning about world religions and how they have affected world history. One focus is on comparing similarities and differences across the spectrum of belief systems and the influences different belief systems have on cultural practices and current events.

To expand on student learning, Joseph Sixta, a 6th grade Social Studies teacher at MS 890, suggested that we visit religious sites before the curriculum starts to learn how religion is practiced in New York City and specifically in our Brooklyn neighborhood. Students at MS 890 come from religiously, culturally, and economically diverse backgrounds and we wanted to hear from diverse religious leaders to get some first-hand basic understanding. We emphasized on the field trip form and in the parent chaperone orientation that the purpose of the visits was to continue to embrace diversity, inclusion, and understanding and not to promote any religious affiliation.  A goal was to reduce prejudice towards different religious practices. We recruited 19 volunteer parent chaperones from a sixth grade class of 90 students.

We decided that starting with three monotheistic sites would be easiest for both student learning and adult logistics. Luckily we live in New York, so we had many different sites to reach out to. The three sites included an Islamic center, a Protestant church, and a Reform Jewish temple, all within a mile of MS 890. With the recent Solidarity March against Anti-Semitism and the escalating conflicts in the Middle East, our field trips were timely and poignant.

In preparing for the visit to the Reform Jewish Temple, our students asked questions such as: “Are we going to be safe?” and “Is it going to canceled?” after the recent escalation in Iran. We discussed the questions, which triggered teachable moments and underscored the educational value in making the visits. At the temple, students wanted to know why they had so many security cameras.  Other students wanted to know how they kept the yarmulke on their heads.  Cantor Snyder described how Judaism is both a religion and ethnicity and this led to conversations around the recent anti-Semitic attacks. The Cantor said that after each attack, attendance at services increases in a show of solidarity.  He then mentioned that his mother asked him not to wear his yarmulke in public because of the anti-Semitic attacks. This comment resonated with some of the student’s fears of safety while visiting the temple.

At the Islamic center, students complained when they were asked to remove their shoes, but they rebounded when they were greeted warmly and treated to donuts. Imam Saud spoke about his diverse upbringing in Bosnia, Germany and Saudi Arabia. His childhood experiences led him to an appreciation of all religious viewpoints, not just his own. Students asked about the clothing worn by practicing Muslims, and about “the women who wear all black and all I can see is their eyes?” Other students asked questions about halal meat, and many asked about Ramadan and Eid.

At the Congregational church, one student asked: “what was it like growing up in your spiritual or religious background?” Reverend Tilliard described his upbringing in various black Christian churches and conversion to Islam in his early adulthood. Much of his faith intersected with advocacy work around racial inequalities at the time. He eventually returned and was ordained in the Christian faith. The pastor described the influence of the church in various racial equity movements in the United States and referenced the Old Testament story of the Israelites rising up against slavery in Egypt as an inspiration.

Caroline Turner, School Counselor and Respect For All Liaison at MS 890

The majority of the students participated in asking questions of various hosts. Prior to our visits, the various houses of worship seemed shrouded in mystery and may have given some students a sense of discomfort or perhaps fear of the unknown. Visiting the sites allowed the students to gain a better understanding of the three religions and their common goals. It also opened up conversations between and among the students when asking about their peers’ different clothing, customs and beliefs. While the intended audience for learning was the MS 890 middle school students, all of the adults also had an appreciation for the learning experience in a realm that sometimes divides us but is seldom formally discussed in middle school.

To culminate the world history curriculum, our students will participate in a panel discussion with Buddhist, Sikh, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Hindu leaders, and we are open to all others. Our guest speakers answer pre-determined questions such as: “Can you describe your unique experiences of growing up in your religious community?” “As an adult, what motivated you to do the work you are doing now?” “What is the biggest misconception about your religion that you want to correct?” Each guest speaker was briefed on First Amendment rules in the context of public education. Most of the guest speakers had been selected from higher education sources or through local interfaith organizations to ensure that they are well-versed in this interfaith format. We look forward to continuing to allow our students to grow and ask questions to prepare them to be global citizens.

Guest blog post by Caroline Turner, School Counselor and Respect For All Liaison at MS 890


 

Marcy Syms

Marcy Syms, Philanthropic Bridge Builder Award, President and Founding Trustee, Sy Syms Foundation

Dear Friends,

We are extremely excited to honor Marcy Syms as Tanenbaum’s 2020 Philanthropic Bridge Builder.

An exceptional advocate for learning, Marcy’s personal support of Tanenbaum’s education program – coupled with grants from the Sy Syms Foundation – spans more than 25 years. Most recently, Marcy and the Sy Syms Foundation were integral to making Tanenbaum’s innovative K–6 curriculum Religions in My Neighborhood, free and available for any educator.

Because of her commitment to, and belief in our work, Religions in My Neighborhood now gives educators structured lessons in building respectful classrooms to counter bullying and encourage understanding across religious differences. So far, educators and advocates serving more than 43,000 students have downloaded the curriculum to teach young people respect for differences.

In addition to her passion for education, Marcy’s dedication to equal rights, women’s rights, public radio, and science and the arts, has made her an exceptional philanthropic leader.

Please join us on May 27th as we honor Marcy, Tanenbaum’s 2020 Philanthropic Bridge Builder Award recipient, at our Gala, live-streamed from New York!

To purchase tickets, ads or make a donation, click here. We look forward to sharing this exciting event with you!

International Day of Tolerance – How you can get involved!

Friends,

As you may know, Tanenbaum’s goal is to build a world marked by respect. Tolerance, for us, is not the end goal, but rather just a step along the continuum towards peace. Yet today, we are celebrating the International Day of Tolerance. Why? Because it is actually designed to promote more than tolerance — it envisions establishing respect, understanding, and dignity for diverse peoples everywhere.

The Day got its start when the UN declared 1995 the Year of Tolerance and instituted the annual commemoration. I believe it’s important because it serves as a reminder of the UN and member states’ responsibilities to intentionally seek to establish tolerance at every level of society.

Today reminds each of us of our responsibility. Because, sadly, there’s still work to do. But we have some ideas and resources for you …

  • For Families at Thanksgiving: The Golden Rule is common to all our different beliefs. Tanenbaum’s Shared Visions on the Golden Rule proves that point. And it’s a great resource if you celebrate Thanksgiving. Pass it around the table, and let each person read a reflection from a different tradition.
  • For Teachers: Tanenbaum and Teaching Tolerance produced a free, five-part webinar series on religious diversity in school that’s ready-made for teachers. The Religious Diversity in the Classroom Webinar Series and accompanying resources examine how awareness of religious diversity affects student-readiness for global citizenship, and how teaching about religion across grade levels and subject areas can help meet important academic standards. 
  • For Workplaces: December is a time of year when holidays bring religious diversity issues to the surface in workplaces. The December Dilemma tip sheet provides proactive strategies for creating an inclusive workplace environment year-round.

The International Day of Tolerance needs to matter. Please join us in doing your part,

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO, Tanenbaum

 

The Muslim Ban – Who’s Next??

Dear Friends:

Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the Travel Ban, which we believe to be a Muslim Ban, is a disheartening moment for people dedicated to religious pluralism. At it’s essence, the travel ban targets people of a particular religion. In this case, it’s Muslims… but it leaves open the question – Who’s next?

We have steadfastly opposed the Muslim ban (see A Hidden Impact of the Muslim Ban), and we’ve partnered with others who have joined together in amicus briefs opposing the ban. Today, we joined our friends at the Islamic Networks Group (ING) and it’s Know Your Neighbor Campaign, in issuing Know Your Neighbor: Multifaith Encounters Statement on Travel Ban Supreme Court Ruling.

The statement’s call to dialogue with your neighbor is a call to action. And one place where you can start is our Guidelines for Conducting Open Conversations, a “how-to” guide to help you share and discuss all of our Combating Extremism resources.

This is a time for everyone who believes in religious pluralism to take a stand. By downloading and sharing our resources, by speaking out – and listening – we can undermine and untangle the misinformation that feeds injustice.

In solidarity,

Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO, Tanenbaum

Free NCSS Webinars: Religion, Social Studies and You

Our webinar series, Religion, Social Studies and You is now available for free access on our YouTube Channel!

This four-part webinar series will focus on ways to incorporate inclusive pedagogical approaches for addressing different faith traditions and cultures in the classroom consistent with the First Amendment. Based on Tanenbaum’s* Seven Principles of Inclusive Education and Face to Faith’s Essentials of Dialogue, these webinars help teachers navigate the often difficult terrain of teaching accurately and sensitively about diverse religions and cultures.

Webinar 1: Getting Religion Right in Public Schools – Getting Religion Right in Public Schools
Prepares social studies teachers to address religion and religious diversity in the classroom using the principles of the First Amendment as applied under current law, featuring Charles Haynes, Newseum Institute’s Religious Freedom Center.

Webinar 2: Essentials of Dialogue
Introducing teachers to the Essentials of Dialogue – skills which are crucial as students articulate and share with their peers the meaning and significance of their own identity, culture, values, and traditions, featuring Kristen Looney, Face to Faith.

Webinar 3: Getting More Out of Core – Strategies for Effectively Incorporating Religion into Existing Classroom Content
Promote respect for religious diversity by adapting and expanding upon what you are already teaching, as well as gain more awareness to help overcome potential barriers in addressing the topic of religion in the classroom, featuring Mark Fowler, Tanenbaum*.

Webinar 4: Putting It Into Practice – Classroom Case Studies and Lesson Plans About Religious Diversity
Develop a variety of practical guidelines for the classroom, using examples across grade levels of Common Core-aligned lesson plans, that allow for respectful exploration of religious and cultural differences, featuring Mark Fowler, Tanenbaum*.

* Tanenbaum participated in this webinar series with the generous support of the Nissan Foundation and in partnership with NCSS, the Hindu American Foundation, Face to Faith, and the Newseum Institute’s Religious Freedom Center.

 

Limited time opportunity! Free copies of Religions in My Neighborhood

Religions in My Neighborhood Makes it Easier to Teach About Religion
Tanenbaum’s curriculum, framed by Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding by Design, makes teachers’ jobs easier. Teachers can use Religions in My Neighborhood as a stand-alone curriculum or as a supplement.

SPECIAL TIME-LIMITED OFFER!
For the first time ever, we are giving away copies of Religions in My Neighborhood for free ($34.95 value)!

Email education@tanenbaum.org for your free copy today!

 

Today is Tanenbaum’s #givebackwednesday!

Download and share our tips for Respectful Communication

Dear Friends,

Yesterday was #givingtuesday. And I’m sure you were bombarded with worthy causes asking for your support. To those of you who gave to make the world a better place—in whatever way you chose to do so—we say thanks.

In honor of what we call #givebackwednesday, I want to share our tips for Respectful Communication. At a time when people are talking about (and worried about) conversations at upcoming holiday dinners, great communication is one of the best gifts you can share—with family, neighbors and colleagues.

Thank you, again, for all you do.

Cheers,

Joyce

P.S. And if you haven’t already, please consider making a donation to Tanenbaum.

Olympic Impact – Sports, Education and Respect

The children paraded onto the field at Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn. “And here comes Greece!” shouted the announcer as students with golden leaves in their hair held up a banner and their entire contingent of students waved Greek flags. Under a blue sky, more than 1,200 students from across New York City had converged for a day of summer games and teamwork.

As stories of classroom bullying receive national attention, Tanenbaum responded with a six-part webinar series on our World Olympics for All curriculum. Educators reaching 80,000 students annually took part. Then, throughout the summer, even more kids became involved when educators from 23 NYC Beacon program sites were trained in using the curriculum. The Beacon programs are an initiative with the Department of Youth & Community Development (DYCD) and Tanenbaum was excited for the opportunity to partner with them.

Tanenbaum’s Deputy CEO, Rev. Mark Fowler, described how the World Olympics for All Webinar Series and curriculum help prevent bullying, “Educators are busy professionals. Our World Olympics program offers step-by-step strategies and resources they can use to create fun and engaging learning environments that meets learning standards, where children feel safe and can practice behaviors of respect. Not only does World Olympics help kids learn that being different is normal, but it also promotes physical and socio-emotional health.”

The DYCD final Olympic games were a momentous affair, held in partnership with Nike’s Marathon Kids program and UP2US Sports. After the parade of nations, students divided into groups to play a myriad of games – and you could see how kids had learned to practice respect and inclusion. Inside the gymnasium, we spotted one girl standing apart, shyly watching a group playing with hula-hoops. Suddenly, her classmates began encouraging her to join in. We watched as she began to smile – and then she picked up a hula-hoop and joined the fun.

Do you teach or know an educator? The World Olympics for All Webinar Series is still available. And there are many students who need protection from bullying. Click here to sign up for free today!

Five Ways to Counter Extremists on Social Media

Dear Friends,

This year, social media has been filled with signs of activism. From selfies tweeted at rallies, Facebook debates and campaigns for emergency relief, social media is more than just a way to see and be seen.

The numbers are revealing. In 2015, Pew Research Center found that 76% of online, American adults use social media and 92% of U.S. teens go online daily.

While many use social media in positive or benign ways, we’ve watched people use it to promote #hate and harmful rhetoric, recruit would-be terrorists (including vulnerable youth), and spread #lies. In contrast, we’ve also seen standouts such as Peacemakers in Action Fr. Sava Janjic (Kosovo) and Rev. Jacky Manuputty (Indonesia), who use social media for the #greatergood.

This month, Tanenbaum shares five ways that you, a social media user, can counter – and rise above – harmful social media banter. Some ideas include reporting hate speech, joining a hashtag campaign, and providing accurate information in real time. Remember to use social media prudently, and always in ways that keep you safe.

Please take a few minutes to learn ways you can oppose extremism on social media, in just a few clicks! And then share both resources with high school students and educators in your life.

#PromotePeace,
Joyce S. Dubensky,
Tanenbaum CEO

A Message from Our 2016 Adam Solomon Award Winner

Chris Murray

Chris Murray

This June, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) will be leading a historic new course on religious literacy education in our public schools. Thirty-five teachers will spend 45 hours touring, learning, discussing, and creating lessons that will increase teachers’ religious literacy and confidence in teaching about religion in public schools. Amid recent reports of increased bullying targeting schoolchildren from religious minorities, conference participants will investigate methods of effectively training students to analyze the role of religion in American public life.

The MCPS-developed course, Religious Literacy for Educators, will allow teachers from across the district to meet one another and learn from some of the nation’s finest religious studies scholars. Beginning June 27, the course will feature introductions from experts on Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism, as well as four site visits to places of worship. Teachers will also hear from Montgomery County and national leaders about the importance of having a more religiously literate community. The course has already received approval from both the County and the State and allows teachers to receive three credits for salary advancement.

If you are interested in learning more about creating a similar course or sharing ideas please feel free to contact myself or Ben Marcus, who in April, helped create at Prospect High School (outside Chicago) a conference on religious literacy education in public secondary schools with teachers, administrators, professors, and consultants from around the country. The conference connected these different constituencies to facilitate the development and implementation of constitutionally appropriate, robust lessons for teaching about religion. Participants were able to participate in groundbreaking model lesson plans created by local teachers John Camardella and Seth Brady, both of whom have received statewide recognition and awards for excellence in teaching.

Chris Murray
Walter Johnson High School, MCPS
Christopher.murray@walter.johnson.com

Benjamin Marcus
Newseum Institute
bmarcus@newseum.org