- Anne Arundel County Public Schools
- November 22, 2019
Eradicating hate and bias: Let’s talk about it
Posted by George Arlotto, Ed.D. on 11/20/2019
The data – both quantitative and anecdotal – is clear: Reports of hate and bias are on the rise in Anne Arundel County.
One need look no further than the State of Maryland 2018 Hate Bias Report compiled by the Maryland State Police, which cites more reports from our county than any other jurisdiction in the state.
According to our own school system data, there were 244 reports of bias motivated behavior in the 2018-2019 school year, almost three times more than the year before. While some of that increase can be attributed to an enhanced awareness and an emphasis across our school system on reporting such behavior, the fact remains that these incidents are occurring – not just in our schools, but across our society as a whole – at an alarming rate.
Tackling this issue requires honesty from everyone involved in every sector not just to recognize the underlying issues, but to be willing to confront and correct the causes. We must admit, first and foremost, that hate is a learned behavior and that bias is a shared mindset. Our children are simply not born with hate in their hearts.
We all learn to navigate society by reacting to what we see and experience, tempered with the personal values we have adopted. When we model values that fail to honor humanity, we have failed our youth.
Interwoven through all of that, however, especially as it involves our children, is the erosion of communication skills. Quite honestly, our children have lost the ability to communicate with each other, in large part, I believe, because adults have done likewise.
No one under the age of 25 has lived without a smartphone. Today’s teens have never lived in a world without iPhones, whose 2007 debut came 15 years after the first smartphone. They have grown up largely communicating with their thumbs on a glass screen scarcely bigger than an index card. While technologically amazing, the format imparts no wisdom, logic, direction, or common sense. Reactions to thoughts and statements are conveyed instantly by emojis devoid of the voice inflection, facial expression, and humanity that accompanies in-person conversations.
So how do we stem that tide? How do we help our children learn to engage in meaningful and thoughtful discussion that can lead not to universal agreement, but to acceptance and understanding? How do we help our children build a better toolbox to react to the breadth of situations they will encounter?
That’s the impetus behind our Global Community Citizenship course, which is a graduation requirement beginning with this year’s ninth-graders. We need to help children learn how to engage in civil discourse instead of hate-filled discord brought about in many instances by a simple lack of understanding.
That’s also the impetus behind revisions to our middle school advisory lessons, which are aimed at helping students build better relationships, manage their emotions, solve problems, and make responsible decisions. It’s the impetus behind the implementation of Second Step in our elementary schools, which promotes the development of foundational social-emotional skills and strengthens students’ ability to self-regulate, have empathy, and resolve conflict in a meaningful way. And it’s the impetus behind Project Unity, an effort to develop school days that provide students with intentional outlets to express kindness, acceptance, and inclusion.
No school system, however, can accomplish this task in the 19 percent of each week we have students in our classes. Meaningful communication – teaching our children to actually dialogue – will only help bridge this mammoth divide if we are all dedicated to do so.
There is a huge difference between communication and conversation. We must commit ourselves to teaching our children the latter.
The writer is Superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.