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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

Extreme Prejudice: Live Webinar on Tuesday, April 19, 2016

april_webinar-ExtremePrejudice

Extreme Prejudice
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
04:30 PM Central Daylight Time
Duration: 1 Hour

Click here to Register to watch the recording!

Why teach about extremism? Not teaching about it can put students in danger. Lack of education about religious diversity has left students—particularly Muslim and Sikh students—vulnerable to bias and bullying by classmates and teachers who don’t understand the full context of religious extremism. This hostility can make it difficult for students to learn and even puts their physical safety in jeopardy. Expanding your students’ knowledge of world religions—and the diversity that exists within them—is critical to combating these dangerous stereotypes and fostering empathy in the school community.

Join us and our friends from the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding for this one-hour webinar, and learn try-tomorrow strategies that can help you teach about extremism accurately and safely, such as discussing extremism across multiple religions, examining the economic and political contexts in which extremism arises, highlighting religious peacemakers and empowering your students to make their school more inclusive.

You’ll receive a certificate of completion once you finish this webinar!

Combating Extremism: Reasons for Hope in Dark Days

Dear Friends,

People often ask me what can be done to prevent and stop violent extremism.

In our recent survey, people from across the world shared their answer. Overwhelmingly, they believe that education is the antidote to fear and prejudice. The message was loud and clear: religious understanding is essential to ending acts of hatred, large and small.

With that in mind and in honor of Women’s History Month, I’m excited to bring you Tanenbaum’s March Combating Extremism materials, which highlight women who are making history – today!

  • Women Who Pursue Peace and Justice: A resource sheet highlighting the efforts of religiously driven women in armed conflicts and women-centered programs that counter violent extremism (CVE).

As you’ll see, we focus on women peace activists who are religiously motivated. They are unsung heroines who work to counter and prevent extremism. While women across the globe are doing this urgent and admirable work, this resource highlights a few who have been recognized by Tanenbaum, and also calls attention to other wonderful programs that support women working for peace.

Read, download, and share this month’s resource sheet! Challenge yourself and others to understand the significant accomplishments of these women. And then follow in their footsteps (safely!). Even small acts in your hometown can have big impacts.

Let’s make history – each of us in our own way.

Joyce S. Dubensky,
CEO

P.S. Momentum is increasing – but we need your signature! Sign and share our Peacemaker’s Statement Against Extremism on Change.org

Combat Extremism: Get the Facts on Islam Diversity

Have you seen the recent #Notinmyname social media campaign? It’s an initiative led by young British Muslims to show defiance and solidarity against ISIS and the terrorist group’s actions. Their goal? To see how a “simple message” can show the world how ISIS misrepresents Islam.

Projects like this remind us of the great diversity among followers of Islam (and indeed all religions).
No one group is the voice for all Muslims.

Today, Tanenbaum therefore shares another practical resource for you to use at home, in the classroom, with your congregation or in your community.

Read, download, and share! Challenge others to ask questions, research the answers, and counter those who stereotype an entire religion. Know the facts and stand up against Islamophobia!

Together, we can become more informed citizens as we work to prevent violent extremism. Peace begins with us.

Combat Extremism with January Resources from Tanenbaum

Dear Friends,

I wouldn’t be surprised if your in-boxes – like mine – are still flooded with talk of ISIS, terror, and refugees facing a worsening humanitarian crisis. With this, we see rising fear and exploding acts of hatred and Islamophobia. This is a time for action. We can derail the anti-Muslim violence and hate that’s showing up in schools, at home and in our neighborhoods.

This January, Tanenbaum shares another practical resource for use in daily life, in a classroom or with your congregation.

Read, download, and share! Challenge students and children to ask questions, research the answers, and take action by starting a discussion within your community or family about Islamophobia. Take this to your house of worship and learn more about your neighbors.

Together, let’s work to prevent violent extremism. Peace begins with us.

With great hope for 2016,

Joyce S. Dubensky,
CEO

P.S. Your signature makes a difference! Sign and share our Peacemaker’s Statement Against Extremism.

DONATE here to support our work against extremism and our 2016 intervention in Syria.

Combat Extremism – Use December Resources from Tanenbaum

In the wake of continued violent extremism and escalating intolerance fueled by fear and misinformation, Tanenbaum remembers what unites us in striving for a just society. Shared visions of generosity, gratitude, friendship, and forgiveness tie us together in our search for peace and justice.

Learning more about one another allows us to stand together in this search. This month, Tanenbaum shares another practical resource for use in daily life or in a classroom.

  • Calls and Prayers for Peace and Justice: Read calls and prayers for peace and justice from many of the world’s great religions and philosophical traditions. They echo common threads that connect us, regardless of our different beliefs or lack of belief.
  • QUESTIONS for Students and Educators: A question sheet that may be used by educators and creative parents alike alongside Calls and Prayers for Peace and Justice, which explores common themes, shared ethics and similar visions of peace that emerge across different faith and philosophical traditions.
Read, download, and share! Challenge students and children to ask questions, research the answers, and take action by starting a discussion within your community or family about shared beliefs for peace. Take this to your house of worship and learn more about your neighbors.
Together, let’s work to prevent violent extremism. Peace begins with us.

P.S. Your signature makes a difference! Sign and share our Peacemaker’s Statement Against Extremism.

 

Click here to support our work against extremism and our 2016 intervention in Syria.

Turn the December Dilemma into an Opportunity – Resources for Teachers

Dear Educators,

December is a time of celebration and family togetherness for many Americans – and not just those who celebrate Christmas as a sacred holiday or cultural event. Jews celebrate Hanukkah, Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day, many African Americans celebrate Kwanzaa, and cultures across the world celebrate the Winter Solstice.

For educators, however, the convergence of so many holidays can create The December Dilemma: how to acknowledge and respect the wide variety of traditions students and their families hold dear without implying that some are more important than others.

Turn this dilemma into an opportunity for promoting inclusion and religious literacy. Teach your students about the many ways people celebrate in December – and throughout the year. Use our holiday planning template to create a yearlong schedule of holidays to explore in your classroom.

To learn more:
• Read our information-packed blog post, Teaching the Holidays: The December Dilemma
• Listen to Addressing the December Dilemma in Schools, a webinar created in partnership with Teaching Tolerance. (Complete the free registration to access the full recording)

• Download an elementary-level lesson on the Winter Solstice.

• Download an elementary-level lesson on Rituals and Traditions about Light: Hopefulness and Waiting.

• Check out Tanenbaum’s curricula for all grade levels.

Image credit: Painting by Manuel D. Baldemor

Combat Extremism – October Resources from Tanenbaum

Dear Friends,

At Tanenbaum, we are committed to combating extremism because of the horror it inflicts on people. And because it fuels suspicion and fear of others, stereotypes, and hate.

There are many paths to defeat extremism, including actions you can take today. This month, Tanenbaum shares more excellent and practical resources you can use in your daily life:

  • QUESTIONS for Students and Educators: A question sheet that may be used alongside Opposition to Places of Worship and Religious Practices in the U.S. by educators and creative parents alike!
Read, download, and share! Use them to begin a discussion at the dinner table during a conversation without cell phones, in your house of worship, or at your local community center. Challenge your children and students to read them and ask questions – and then research answers. Learn the facts! Speak up! And please share your ideas with us for ways to use these resources to counter hate and terror.
With great hope for peace,
Joyce S. Dubensky,
CEO

P.S. Remember to sign the Peacemaker’s Change.org petition against extremism – commit to taking action!

Take this Non-Expert Advice

Take this Non-Expert Advice
By: Mark E. Fowler

Overview: How to teach about religious diversity without being a world religions “expert.”

Editor’s Note: This blog post was written in response to a request from a participant in our spring webinar with Teaching Tolerance, Religious Diversity in the Classroom: Applications for High School Educators. Click here to watch the recording via a free registration process.

Have you ever had to teach a subject you weren’t very familiar with? Outside of class, you were reading the textbook just ahead of your students, asking other teachers and community members for help and looking for digestible summaries of topics when trying to prepare. During the trainings and webinars that Tanenbaum provides, it’s clear that many participant teachers feel this way about teaching the major world religions. They often ask for more information and have said that their lack of knowledge about different religions prevents them from broaching the subject at all.

Teaching about religion may sound difficult if you do not have a background in religious studies or a personal affiliation.  But Tanenbaum and Teaching Tolerance believe that educators are completely capable of addressing religious diversity in a respectful, informed way – expert or not!  What’s more, teaching about religious and nonreligious identities helps students develop religious literacy – a vital skill for the twenty-first century.

Developing religious literacy includes a basic understanding of the histories, central texts, beliefs, practices and contemporary manifestations of several of the world’s religious traditions, as they arose out of and continue to shape particular social, historical and cultural contexts. This literacy equips our students with the ability to get along and work with a diversity of identities.

According to Tanenbaum’s education consultant, Kim Keiserman, “As teachers, we have to become accustomed to learning new things along with our students. We may know some things in our subject area very well, and other areas are less familiar to us.” When teaching about diverse beliefs, which serve as important personal identity markers for billions of people, it is not possible to know the practices and traditions of every person. Tanenbaum’s World Religions Fact Sheet gives teachers a general overview of the world’s major religions, but when it comes to teaching about religious diversity, the method of presenting information may be equally as important as your personal mastery of the topic, maybe even more so. Fact sheets like this one show the vast diversity and scale of the major world religions, which may seem intimidating at first. As with all subjects, your knowledge and comfort with teaching about religion can grow over time.

We emphasize that teachers don’t have to be “experts” as long as they follow good practices:

  • Ensure a safe, inclusive classroom environment when discussing religious differences by following Tanenbaum’s Seven Principles for Inclusive Education.
  • Communicate with parents about the learning objectives, explaining that their children will be learning about religious differences, not being indoctrinated into different religions.
  • Allow students to explore their own identities, recognizing that the more they understand themselves, the more they can understand others.
  • Learn alongside your students with up-close exposure to diverse traditions. Expose them to the “lived religion” of real people by allowing them to read primary sources and personal stories, interact with guest speakers, interview community members and take field trips to houses of worship.
  • Explore the commonalities among different belief systems, as well as the differences. Tanenbaum’s Shared Visions project reminds us that the world’s religions share many core values. Read shared visions on the value of education here.
  • Examine your assumptions about religion. The American Academy of Religions suggests that teachers “examine what assumptions they harbor about religion generally and religious traditions in particular.” Teachers who are aware of their own biases will be better able to overcome them and present facts and ideas in an objective manner.

In a previous blog post, we encouraged teachers to coach students to “be honest about the limits of our understanding. … While we can learn a lot about them, we cannot completely understand the lived experiences of people or how their belief system influences their identity and daily lives.” This advice is relevant for teachers as well. As you discuss religious traditions in the classroom, be wary of the burden of being a spokesperson—the assumption that any one person’s perspective represents the experiences or beliefs of an entire group. Just as we may not know all of the answers to questions about a particular faith, no one person can be expected to speak as the authority on his or her faith tradition.

Navigating the teaching of world religions can be hard for teachers who are used to having all the right answers about a particular topic. However, the study of religious diversity provides an excellent opportunity to model attitudes of respectful curiosity to students. If you don’t assume you already know everything about a group of people, then you will be less likely to form stereotypes or hurtful generalizations. With this attitude in mind, students can follow suit.

Fowler is the managing director of programs at the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. He would like to acknowledge the significant contribution of Rachel Sumption to this blog post.

Agree to (Respectfully) Disagree

Agree to (Respectfully) Disagree
by Marisa Fasciano

Overview: How to teach students to respectfully engage with peers of differing religious belief systems.

Most educators would agree that it’s important for students to respect classmates with different religious or nonreligious beliefs. But what if the doctrine or practices of the belief system in question contradict students’ values or marginalize or limit their identity group? Or what if a student has experienced microaggressions or harassment from peers of a different religious tradition? How do you respond when a student asks, “They don’t respect me, so why should I respect them?”

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) individuals make up one identity group that has experienced unequal treatment within certain religious traditions. According to a 2013 survey of LGBT Americans by the Pew Research Center, a vast majority describe Islam (84 percent), the Mormon Church (83 percent), the Catholic Church (79 percent) and evangelical churches (73 percent) as unfriendly toward them. This perception is corroborated by another Pew survey of the general American public. Although support for gay marriage continues to increase (just over half of Americans favor it), “opposition to gay marriage—and to societal acceptance of homosexuality more generally—is rooted in religious attitudes, such as the belief that engaging in homosexual behavior is a sin.”

If your students feel excluded or offended by faith-based rules and opinions, you can still encourage respectful conversations on religious diversity. Here’s how.

Distinguish People From Doctrines and Practices

Rather than asking your students to respect all belief systems, ask them to practice respecting all people, regardless of their belief system. Students don’t need to agree with their classmates’ religious or nonreligious beliefs, but they should be expected to interact with them in ways that are constructive and civil. In a previous blog post, we highlighted the multiple facets of a person’s identity. Pointing out similarities in some facets amidst differences in others can help students engage in these positive interactions.

Avoid Assumptions Based on Religious Identity

Just because an individual belongs to a particular belief system doesn’t necessarily mean he or she agrees with all of its tenets and practices. In fact, in some cases, a majority of adherents disagree with decisions of the leadership. For instance, a survey by Univision found that 59 percent of Catholics in the United States think the church should let women become priests, a belief that contradicts the current decision of church leadership.

Within Islam, vocal and active feminist movements aim to counteract misogynistic interpretations of Islamic texts by male imams. Rather than abandoning their faith in the quest for gender equality, many Muslim women combat oppression by appealing to Islamic texts and laws. For example, one of Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action, Jamila Afghani, created the first holistic gender-sensitive imam training program in Kabul, Afghanistan.

By exposing your students to diverse perspectives within a particular faith, you help diminish the likelihood that they’ll incorrectly attribute specific attitudes and opinions to all individual members of a religion.

Keep in Mind That Emotional Reactions Have a History

Prior to walking into your classroom, students may have experienced bullying or negative comments about themselves and the belief systems to which they belong. In extreme cases, teachers have even made questionable or inappropriate comments to students about their religious traditions. An awareness of this potential history will put students’ emotional reactions into context and underscore the importance of creating inclusive, respectful learning environments where students are encouraged to abide by established rules of engagement.

Provide Tools for Respectful Disagreement

Educators can give students tools to respectfully disagree with people of different faiths, even if those in marginalized groups are the ones being disrespectful. By sharing these tools ahead of time, before conflicts based on religious identity arise, you will be better prepared to address and resolve such conflicts in the moment. You can refer back to what was already discussed, rather than having to come up with a response on the fly.

One tool that establishes a firm foundation for respectful disagreement is Tanenbaum’s Respecting Each Other lesson plan, which asks students to define what respect looks, feels and sounds like, and then to create their own rules of respect. If you spot any behavior that breaks these rules, you can correct it with greater credibility than if you had made up the rules yourself. Students can—and often do—take on the role of enforcer, holding each other accountable for honoring the agreements they’ve made together.

Krister Stendahl, an accomplished theologian, created another helpful tool that’s specific to religious differences. Here are his Three Rules of Religious Understanding:

  1. When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.
  1. Don’t compare your best to their worst.
  1. Leave room for “holy envy.” (By this, Stendahl means that you should be willing to recognize elements that you admire in the other religious tradition or faith and that you wish could, in some way, be reflected in your own religious tradition or faith.)

If everyone obeyed these rules, what a more peaceful world it would be! The unfortunate reality is that, in spite of an individual’s best efforts to follow guidelines for respect, the reactions of others may be angry and intolerant. When a student asks, “They don’t respect me, so why should I respect them?” remind him to distinguish people from tenets and practices, avoid assumptions, consider the emotional history and remember the tools of respectful disagreement.

Fasciano is an education program associate at Tanenbaum.