Wednesday, May 09, 2007

A world of difference

I just returned from an event to support the Anti-Defamation League, which has a terrific program for school kids to teach them about bigotry and prejudice. It is called A World of Difference Institute, and by the end of the training program the children take the following pledge:

I pledge from this day onward to do my best to be aware of my own biases against people who are different from me. I will ask questions about cultures, religions, and races and other individual differences that I don't understand. I will interrupt prejudice and speak out against those who initiate it. I will reach out to support those who are targets of harassment. I will identify specific ways that my peers, my school, and my community can promote greater respect for people and create a prejudice-fee zone. I firmly believe that one person can make a world of difference and that no person can be an "innocent bystander" when it comes to opposing hate.

Good sentiments all, I say. It takes real guts to "interrupt prejudice," as it is much easier to stand quietly by. Of course, doing the latter just legitimizes the bad behavior.

6 comments:

RJS said...

These programs are all well and good, I suppose, but I really wonder how much good they do. Similar in theory to the idea that the DARE program is completely useless. (According to a 2003 by the US Dept of Education.)

These sorts of programs smack more of the creators and other adult participants allowing themselves to feel good about "making a difference" when the actual impact of such programs on the target audience is probably negligible.

But the theory is nice, and certainly engenders lots of warm and fuzzy feelings.

Paul Levy said...

That's not the impression I received from the students involved in the program. It seemed to make a real difference in their lives.

RJS said...

"That's not the impression I received from the students involved in the program. It seemed to make a real difference in their lives."

Well of course. They just finished the program. Ask them how they feel (or better yet, examine their behavior) a year from now and see what the results are...

Dave deBronkart said...

RJS,

Many training programs do have a quick impact that fades rapidly. But from what I've seen, there's something different about prejudice, something that responds to training: people very often aren't aware of their prejudices, and they can have a reaction of "Huh, I never thought of that."

I'm not saying a Klansman's going to change his views when he gets sensitivity training. But a training program that reaches kids early on - that's valuable, I think.

The point was driven home by a scene near the end of the great film "Mississippi Burning," in which hatred was being taught to the next generation of kids coming up. It reminded me of the first few times I heard racist talk from other kids in school - it was bizarre, and showed that prejudice really does have to be taught ... or absorbed from one's surroundings.

It's the latter case that I think is responsive to a program like this. I applaud it.

Anonymous said...

While I am all over ways to teach kids to think critically and to combat prejudice, the idea of a pledge is way too group think for my taste.

Encourage the kids to think up their own ways to respond.

Otherwise even the best intentioned pledge will be nothing more than a half hearted blah blah blah-- or worse, the rallying cry for the over zealous anti-fascistic fascists.

-Kamchatka

Phil Fogelman, Director, A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE Institute New England Region said...

The positive impact of ADL’S A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE Institute anti-bias training programs has been demonstrated experientially and scientifically. Students and educators who have participated in the programs indicate through evaluations and follow-up interviews that they have a greater understanding of personal and institutional prejudice, discrimination and their manifestations, as well as the steps that they can take to prevent and respond appropriately to bias-motivated behaviors. As for long-term impact, individuals who have participated as students in A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE Institute training programs indicate that they use what they learned years ago in their current professional capacities, especially those who have become teachers. A scientifically based program evaluation recently conducted by Yale University corroborates these findings: “. . . Because the study design employed randomization and control groups, it can be stated with a high degree of confidence that these changes were initiated by the program activity at the students’ school. That the program affected actual behaviors is particularly encouraging. An important criticism of the anti-bias intervention literature is that most program evaluations do not demonstrate behavioral change among their participants. This is one of the few studies to measure behavioral changes both within and outside the context of measurement.” The full study can be found at ://www.adl.org/education/Yale_Summary.pdf.