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


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!

Families Have Much to Share

By Sara Wicht of Teaching Tolerance

Overview: Use these ideas to include the religious and nonreligious diversity of students’ home lives in your practice.

Many educators want to teach about religious and nonreligious diversity, but introducing content about belief systems into curricula may seem scary or dangerous. Some teachers worry that families will object to the content and that these objections will isolate or marginalize students. This was one concern we heard from our audience recently when  Tanenbaum teamed up with Teaching Tolerance to provide the webinar Religious Diversity in the Classroom: Applications for Middle Level Educators (the fourth in a free five-part webinar series on religious diversity in the classroom).

Because communicating with families about controversial subjects is clearly of concern to educators, we decided to offer some try-tomorrow practices to make teaching about religious diversity less daunting.

Ask families and students.

Make it a goal to get to know your students’ home lives. A questionnaire or survey can serve as a collaborative and respectful way to start a relationship between your classroom and students’ homes. To get started, create separate questions for family members and students.

Sample questions to ask family members:

  • Who are your student’s family members?
  • What are some important dates or events for your family?
  • What traditions or customs does your family practice?
  • What are some typical weekly routines in your household?
  • What do you want to know about what your student will learn in my class?

Sample questions to ask students:

  • Who’s in your family?
  • What’s your favorite thing to do with your family?
  • What’s your favorite family meal?
  • What’s your favorite holiday and how do you celebrate it?
  • What’s the most relaxed time of day for your family? What goes on then?
  • What’s the most hectic time of day for your family? What goes on then?

You can revisit the completed questionnaires or surveys partway through the year, or conduct a mid-year questionnaire or survey as a way for families to update previously shared information. Mid-year questionnaires and surveys allow families that arrive later in the year to share their narratives.

Think about additional opportunities for incorporating questionnaires and surveys. Perhaps you will ask questions on specific content prior to a unit that will address belief systems. Invite families to share their wisdom and knowledge, and include it in what you are doing. Listen and assure them that you hear their concerns.

Note: Because language plays a crucial role in families’ lives, communicate with parents in their home languages as much as possible. However, asking students to translate for their parents can put them in an awkward position, especially if relaying difficult or complicated information. Provide a translator whenever possible.

Prepare yourself.

Even when the best intentions are involved and you have done all the prep work, families may still object to the inclusion of content on diverse belief systems. Here are some suggestions for building inclusiveness and respect into your communication with families in those moments.

  1. Assume good intentions and approach all families or guardians as partners who want the best for the child.
  2. Share with families or guardians your learning goals and materials for including discussions about diverse belief systems.
  3. Invite families or guardians to share information about family cultures and traditions.
  4. Recognize and respect different family traditions. View linguistic, cultural and family diversity as strengths.    

Reflect on the role your identity and background may play in shaping relationships with families. Bring a sense of cultural humility to all interactions.

Connect to content.

Teaching about religious and nonreligious beliefs fits in well with the content-rich, text-based, critical approach to education that the Common Core State Standards envision.  Content-rich texts on diverse belief systems ground students’ reading, writing and speaking in specific textual evidence while building knowledge and academic vocabulary. Share with concerned families that their student is actively seeking to understand other perspectives and cultures through effective communication with people of varied backgrounds, and team up with families to meet the needs of all students.

Additional strategies for engaging families can be found in the Family and Community Engagement section in Critical Practices for Anti-bias Education.


Wicht is the senior manager of teaching and learning for Teaching Tolerance.

How Do I Ask That?

How Do I Ask That?
Sara Wicht

Overview: Encourage students to respectfully ask questions and make statements about other belief systems.

Editor’s note: This post is part two of a three-part series that answers questions posed by participants in Fostering a Culture of Respect, a joint webinar with the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding that addresses how educators can help their students feel safe, supported and respected when discussing belief systems. The first blog responded to the question: “How can I coach students to respond to others with empathy and respect?”

In the webinar Fostering a Culture of Respect, one participant asked, “How can I encourage students to respectfully ask questions about identities different from their own?”

It’s important to remind students that identities consist of various characteristics, such as gender, ethnicity, race, language, sexual orientation, family composition, relationship status, religion/belief system and socioeconomic status. We use these characteristics to define ourselves, and others often use them to construct an impression of our identities. Yet, these impressions are also informed by what we don’t know and by our implicit biases.

Take, for example, a recent survey from the Pew Research Center measuring familiarity and warmness toward various religious and nonreligious groups in the United States. Jews, Catholics and evangelical Christians received the “warmest” ratings. We know, however, that our classrooms also include children of Mormon, Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu faith, among others, as well as atheist children—children whose belief systems received “colder, more negative” ratings.

The Pew survey also reports that personally knowing someone from a religious group is linked to having more positive views of that group. The inverse is true, too. Not knowing someone can lead to more negative impressions and opinions.

These types of biases seep into classrooms, and it’s important to address them with students—through formal instruction and in moments when you observe students uncomfortably questioning or critiquing their peers’ belief systems. Consider the following three scenarios.

Scenario 1: Before class starts, you overhear a group of students talking about their weekend activities. One student enthusiastically shares that she had a great weekend at a church shut-in with her younger brother. Another student responds critically, “Weird! What would you do for a whole weekend at church?”

Scenario 2: In a unit on Mayan religion, you explain that native Mesoamerican people worshiped deities found in nature —the sun, rain and moon. A student in class shares that his family doesn’t go to church but are devoted to the Earth. The class laughs.

Scenario 3: Most of your students are Catholics or evangelical Christians. You have one Muslim student who wears a hijab. In class one day, a student asks her, “Wouldn’t you love it if you didn’t have to wear that?”

Asking questions about belief systems different from their own can be difficult for students. Insensitive questions or statements and defensive responses are neither entirely uncommon nor always intentional. But how might a teacher respond to the above scenarios?

Scenario 1: Tell students that, instead of leading with a judgmental word or statement, they can begin with, “That’s different from what I’ve ever done.” This type of reaction will help build sensitivity and respect and can prevent the questioned students from being on the defensive. Encourage students to follow up with, “Tell me more.”

Scenario 2: Deal with the laughter right away by stating that put-downs will not be tolerated in the classroom. Follow up with, “I think we can find many differences in our belief systems, but these differences add to the richness and diversity of our class.” Tell students that, instead of laughing, they could have asked, “What are some of your family’s traditions?” and “How do you celebrate the Earth?”

Scenario 3: Remind students that they can express their curiosity in a thoughtful and respectful manner. For example, they might say, “What’s it like to wear a hijab every day?” Or, “What is the meaning behind the hijab?” You can also encourage students to connect with their classmates by sharing similar experiences. For example a student might say, “I wear a St. Christopher medal around my neck because my family believes he protects us.”

Having in-class conversations about what constitutes respectful statements and questions can be a turning point for students. Not only do they offer students an opportunity to weigh in with any concerns or questions, but they also help build a respectful school climate—even when students find themselves in discussions about belief systems on their own.

Stay tuned for our third blog answering participants’ questions. It will address how to include nonreligious students in classroom discussions about religion.

Wicht is the senior manager of teaching and learning for Teaching Tolerance.