This summer I attended a daylong workshop titled Teaching Social Justice 101 at the Holocaust and Human Rights Center (HHRC) of Maine on the campus of the UMA. Led by faculty from Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, the workshop attracted teachers and school principals from across Maine. (Encouraging side note: The HHRC had to add a second day of training to accommodate all of the teachers who were interested in attending this workshop.)

For me, every aspect of the workshop was invaluable, from tapping into the vast resources available on the Teaching Tolerance website to networking with educators from all over the state on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. Perhaps most thought-provoking, though, was the segment devoted to “speaking up/speaking out”. Taking time to discuss and and role-play four different suggested techniques for speaking up/speaking out against bias proved a hopeful reminder that this is a skill that can—and should—be developed by all those who care about social equity and inclusion.

The following four suggestions were developed by Teaching Tolerance to help people learn to speak up when they witness incidents of bias or hate speech:

  1. Interrupt. Speak up against every biased remark—every time, in the moment, without exception. Think about what you’ll say ahead of time so you’re prepared to act instantly—have a phrase “in your pocket”, such as, “I don’t like words like that.”“That phrase is hurtful.” “It surprises me that you said that.”
  2. Educate. Explain why a term or phrase is offensive. Encourage the person to choose a different expression. Hate isn’t behind all hateful speech. Sometimes ignorance is at work, or lack of exposure to a diverse population. “Do you know the history of that word?”
  3. Question. Ask simple questions in response to hateful remarks to find out why the speaker made the offensive comment and how you can better address the situation.“Why do you say that?” “What do you mean?” “Tell me more.” 
  4. Echo. If someone else speaks up against hate, thank her and reiterate her anti-bias message. One person’s voice is a powerful start. Many voices together create change. “Thanks for speaking up, Allison. I agree that word is offensive and we shouldn’t use it.”

I’m looking forward to sharing all aspects of the workshop with our faculty in an upcoming meeting, and I am excited to bring these speaking up/speaking out skills and the Teaching Tolerance social justice curriculum materials to the classroom.

Laura Purdom, Language Arts Teacher