New ADL Resources for Safe and Respectful Schools

by: Jewel Nesmith

April 26, 2016

Fears of extremism, radicalization and mass violence in our schools have unfortunately become all too common for educators and school administrators across the United States. At the same time, information that allows educators to understand the threat and leaves them equipped to address it without perpetuating biases and stereotypes is scarce. In order to fill this gap, the Anti-Defamation League and START (the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism), have created a backgrounder providing accurate, empirically tested information on understanding mass violence and extremism for educators and school administrators.

The new backgrounder is designed to enable educators to be better equipped to understand and appropriately respond to observable warning signs and to implement programs that foster safe school communities.

By combining topics of mass violence and violent extremism into one document, the backgrounder strives to provide comprehensive information that is relevant as well as appropriate for all school districts. It emphasizes the creation of a three-pronged strategy to decrease risk for both radicalization and mass violence in schools, through:

  1. Awareness of observable warning signs,
  2. Development of school programs encouraging respect and inclusion, and
  3. Implementation of curriculum resources teaching students to be safe and conscientious consumers of online material.

The document provides fact-based evidence, emphasizing a goal of prevention rather than prediction in order to ensure a wide safety net. At the same time, by highlighting the fact that feelings of isolation and marginalization often play a precipitating role in radicalization and violence, the document makes clear that programs encouraging inclusion and discouraging bias are at the core of any successful strategy for creating safe schools.

In conjunction with this backgrounder, ADL has also released a new Current Events Classroom lesson for high school students entitled Outsmarting Propaganda: Combatting the Lure of Extremist Recruitment Strategies. Produced with additional assistance from START, this curriculum provides the resources for students to utilize critical thinking when faced with propaganda and messaging they encounter online, increasing their ability to recognize and resist extremist propaganda and recruitment strategies.  A parallel resource for families, Propaganda, Extremism and Recruitment Tactics, guides adult family members in having conversations with their children about terrorist exploitation of the Internet and online propaganda – again, a crucial first step in ensuring that young people are less susceptible to dangerous propaganda and recruitment techniques.

As young people, parents and teachers are discussing violence, extremism and terrorism, it is important that they don’t fall prey to stereotyping and scapegoating that can sometimes accompany these conversations. In ADL’s anti-bias work, we provide students with skills to understand the language of bias, be critical thinkers, counter bias, bigotry and stereotyping and learn how to be an ally.

ADL has created a new webpage called Finding the Balance: Countering Extremism and Combating Stereotypes that is designed to serve as a comprehensive resource by pairing these new items with its extensive array of materials for parents and teachers on teaching and discussing terrorism, hate and violence, bigotry, and scapegoating, as well as resources for creating inclusive, bias-free classrooms. The new site also includes background information on extremism and terrorism in the U.S. produced by the ADL’s Center on Extremism.

Together, these materials will help to fill a crucial gap for both parents and educators by providing fact-based resources, curricula, and backgrounders that can equip them to develop inclusive and safe schools, resistant to violence and extremism and respectful of all students.