From “hate speech” to “dangerous speech”

Published on: Author: blogwalker 2 Comments

Sometimes it is bad things that move teaching and supporting digital citizenship from a one-and-done assembly or an advisory period checklist into meaningful classroom discussions.

I have mentioned in previous blog posts that I coordinate, along with colleague Kathleen Watt, our district’s digital citizenship program. For 10+ years we’ve started each school year by asking our site coordinators to submit their proposed annual Digital Citizenship Implementation Plans and requiring by the end of the school year that every principal sign a form verifying that digital citizenship has been taught at his/her site.

To assist our schools, we post resources to our digital citizenship website, with an invitation for sites to develop a plan that works best for their school’s culture and needs. Although all sites have a plan in place, few are currently integrating digital citizenship into classroom curriculum. Designating an average of three lessons per grade level, covered separately (via assemblies, advisory, etc.) from the core curriculum tends to be the norm.

Every year, Common Sense Education’s lesson Breaking Down Hate Speech is one of our top recommendations for our high schools. The short (30 second) video included in the lesson quickly makes visible the broad reach of hate and the thin line between bystander and upstander.

We always point out that this lesson can easily be integrated into a social studies unit on propaganda, for instance, helping students make powerful connections between “then and there” to “here and now.”

As a district, we are still healing from the wounds of last month’s racist viral video  created and shared by two of our high school students. In response, we are suggesting that school sites visit/revisit Breaking Down Hate Speech – and, if needed, consider adding a resource Carl Wilkens recently sent me: The Dangerous Speech Project. Susan Benesh’s 6-minute video (below) visually explains the similarities, differences, and complexities in comparing “hate speech” to “dangerous speech” and provides 5 signs that will help you determine when speech is dangerous.

I know that the most powerful model for bringing about positive school-wide changes (face-to-face and online) to any school is students teaching students. And, of course, a supportive staff is also important. I hope to be back soon to showcase examples of students crossing the line from bystander to upstander and being change  agents at their schools and all the communities to which they belong. I would also love to share how teachers across grade levels and subject areas are weaving in the topic of confronting online hate.

As always, you are warmly invited to contribute to this conversation by leaving a comment.

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