91/11/2001: The Day That Changed America
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Take the Pledge to Stop Hate
By Stav Birnbaum

Questions for Discussion

Read the situations below (adapted from the book Hate Hurts) individually or as a class. Discuss the questions with your parents or teacher and classmates.

Sally was someone Allison and her friends made fun of at school. Allison didn't know why, but she joined her friends in laughing at Sally and calling her names behind her back. When Allison was alone and would see Sally, she would smile at her and Sally always smiled back. They began to talk and spend time together away from school. Allison spent a day with Sally at Sally's summer cottage. They also spent a lot of weekends together, just the two of them. Allison realized that Sally was a wonderful person and friend who never said anything nasty about other people. At school, Allison was torn between her friends and Sally. She felt she had no choice but to join her friends in making fun of Sally.

What would you do in Allison's situation? What if you were Sally?
At recess one day, Ian heard one of his classmates tell a joke that made fun of Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. The kids who were gathered around Ian's classmate laughed at the joke. Ian didn't think it was funny, and it made him mad at everyone who was laughing. Ian's grandmother was a Holocaust survivor. She had a number tattooed on her arm from the concentration camp. Ian then noticed that his teacher was standing near the group and she heard the joke, too. He expected her to say something to the students, but she didn't. Ian felt that the teacher's inaction was the same as saying it was okay to tell those kinds of jokes, even in front of a Jewish person.

What would you do if you were Ian? What would you do if you were the teacher? What if you were the kid telling the joke and you noticed that your joke had hurt Ian's feelings? What would you say to Ian?

Hate comes from fear and ignorance, according to authors Caryl Stern-Larosa and Ellen Hofheimer Bettmann. In their book Hate Hurts: How Children Learn and Unlearn Prejudice, the authors say that people are not born hating others. Instead, people learn to hate from many places: parents, peers, and daily events. Whatever the reason for hate, people can change their behavior and their biases.

This book explores where hate comes from and how each of us can take steps to unlearn hate. Without even knowing it, you could be hurting others with your behavior.

How many times have you told a joke that might be considered inappropriate? When we tell jokes, do we think of the hurt that joke might cause someone else? What if you were the object of one of those jokes? Realizing that something as simple as a joke can hurt someone is one of the first steps in learning to undo hatred.

Jokes are not the only way we can hurt others. Name calling is a common cause of distress for most kids. How does it make you feel when you call someone else a name? Think how you would feel if you were called by that name. Many words in our language indicate bias against a group or person. Do the words you use truly reflect how you feel?

In their book, Stern-Larosa and Bettmann offer ways to unlearn prejudicial behavior. One suggestion is to take the following pledge:

  • I pledge from this day onward to do my best to interrupt prejudice and to stop those who, because of hate, would hurt, harass, or violate the civil rights of anyone.
  • I will try at all times to be aware of my own biases against people who are different from myself.
  • I will ask questions about cultures, religions, and races that I don't understand.
  • I will speak out against anyone who mocks, seeks to intimidate, or actually hurts someone of a different race, religion, ethnic group, or sexual orientation.
  • I will reach out to support those who are targets of harassment.
  • I will think about specific ways my school, other students, and my community can promote respect for people and create a prejudice-free zone.
  • I firmly believe that one person can make a difference and that no person can be an "innocent bystander" when it comes to opposing hate.

Caryl Stern-Larosa is the Anti-Defamation League's (ADL) Director of Education and the ADL A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE Institute. She is also the co-author of two books, HATE HURTS: How Children Learn and Unlearn Prejudice, and FUTURE PERFECT: A Model for Professional Development, as well as a number of magazine and journal articles.