Words Matter

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“Words Matter” is a two-year comprehensive educational action aimed at preventing hate speech and incitement, and promoting Freedom of Expression. It is a joint project of The Adam Institute and ACRI – The Association for Civil Rights in Israel. The action is structured to target diverse sectors of Israeli society, Jewish and Arab, alike. Operating top-down it engages policy makers in the political and educational arenas. Operating bottom-up, it trains and empowers educators and student peer-leaders, and provides educational programs for middle and high school students.

words_mater_characterIn order to achieve its goals the action will conduct a diverse series of activities: annual conferences, teacher training seminars, student peer-leader activism seminars, educational programs in the classroom, and student action-projects. It will develop and disseminate educational materials that will provide for in-depth and innovative experiential learning experience. These materials will include a bi-lingual educational manual (Hebrew and Arabic), which will be given the same title as the action itself “Words Matter”; online lesson plans for implementing educators, “Current Matters”. In confronting hate speech and incitement, and promoting FoE, special emphasis will be placed on those technological developments that are impacting current educational practice and behavioral norms of youth – the internet and the online social networks.

Objectives: Words Matter’s program has three objectives: to promote recognition of the importance and the need for education for and about FoE among decision-makers and actors in the Israeli education system; to increase awareness and knowledge among educators and young school student peer-leaders as regards FoE (especially for minorities) and the dangers inherent to incitement, hate speech, and silencing others’ opinions (even and especially in times of conflict and war), and to empower them to address these issues in their communities; to foster a democratic culture of discussion in school communities whose representatives will take part in the program. This will include the prevention or at least reduction, of hate speech and incitement, both on- and offline.

Structure and Content

Bi-lingual Educational Program

The new bi-lingual educational curriculum “Words Matter” was completed and presented in December 2015, at a special conference held at Haifa University (elaborated on below). The curriculum is a comprehensive theoretical and practical classroom guide to the teaching of FoE as a fundamental human right. The educational program’s several aims include emphasizing the importance of FoE on three levels: personal, social and political, highlighting the central role of FoE in stable and thriving democracies, providing an overview of the law and FoE, in Israel and other countries, presenting the values and principals of FoE as effective strategies in combatting racism and incitement and dealing with complex issues that arise in relation to FoE, e.g. those instances when FoE conflicts with certain basic human rights, or those circumstances when democracies legitimately restrict FoE.

The chapters in the educational manual include: The Importance of FoE, Conflict between FoE and Certain Basic Human Rights, Creative Solutions to Overcoming the Conflict between FoE and Certain Basic Human Rights, Gender and FoE, The Challenge of FoE in the Digital Era, Majority-Minority Relations concerning FoE, FoE in Education, Incitement – the Case for limiting FoE, FoE and Incitement – two Theories, and FoE and Racist Incitement – a Case Study. The FoE educational program has been designed to be integrated into the official civic studies program of the Israeli educational system.

Teacher Training Seminars

Each academic year, the Adam Institute and ACRI’s professional and subject-trained facilitators will be running training seminars for middle and high-school Jewish and Arab educators. These seminars will familiarize the educators with the new program. Special emphasis will be placed on combatting hate speech, incitement and de-legitimization of FoE on the internet and social networks, where youth are especially exposed to manifestations of intolerance and verbal violence. Participants will be trained to facilitate one of the central educational strategies in the implementation of the FoE program – the student action-project. Seminars have a modular structure and each trainee receives 16-30 training hours. Middle and high school educators (Jewish and Arab) from approximately 25 schools from different parts of the country will take part in training seminars annually. Therefore, in two years, educators from about 50 schools will be trained. All participants will be given official accreditation by the Ministry of Education.

Classroom Implementation

The educators are expected to begin implementing the program in their schools subsequent to the teacher training. The professional educational staff of the Adam Institute and ACRI will offer ongoing in-field assistance to the implementing educators as and if required, in particular, relating to the student action-projects. The Adam Institute and ACRI educational teams will also provide online in-field support in the following fashion: A monthly lesson plan will be provided, in Hebrew and Arabic, dealing with a current issue relevant to FoE. The title of the series of lesson plans is “Current Matters”. The lesson plans will be made available through Facebook and the partner organizations’ websites.

Student Peer-Leader Activism Seminars 

Each year, the schools will select 125 Jewish and Arab youth (250 student-leaders in two years), who show potential to be student peer-leaders. These students will be invited to attend an activism seminar. The goal of these seminars is to enhance the students’ understanding of the principals and values of FoE and train them to be peer-leaders in the field. They will be provided with the knowledge and tools that will enable them to enlist and enthuse their peers to become activists for democratic culture and FoE.  As in the teacher-training seminars, Special emphasis will be placed on combatting hate speech, incitement and de-legitimization of FoE on the internet and social networks. The student peer-leaders will also be encouraged to initiate action-projects with and amongst their peers, to stem the flood of anti-democratic culture, so disturbingly rampant amongst youth in Israel, today.

Student Action Projects in Schools and Communities

The student peer-leaders will be encouraged to initiate and conduct action-projects designed to combat hate speech and incitement, and promote FoE. The action-projects will be implemented in any of the diverse locations where youth meet: schools, recreational areas, on the streets, and online. Ideally, the action-projects will evolve from the personal interests of the student peer-leaders, such as projects on hate-speech graffiti, censored plays, literary censorship, or combatting online incitement and hate-speech.

Annual Conferences

The conferences are a forum for updated research in the fields of hate speech, incitement and FoE. They provide a platform for the presentation of “Words Matter”, progress in the field, and its impact on the participants, their communities and their immediate surroundings. The target audiences include educators, educational researchers, and students in higher education. The first conference, entitled “Between Freedom of Expression and Racist Incitement in the Education System” was held in Haifa University on December 22, 2015, in cooperation with the Haifa University Faculty of Education. The conference hosted six key lecturers from Haifa and Ben Gurion universities, ACRI and the Adam Institute. It addressed civic education in Israel, the politics of color, the legal aspects of racism and incitement, the education system’s role in fighting racist incitement and educational methods for coping with racist incitement in the classroom. In addition, it comprised workshops exploring the distinction between Freedom of Expression and Incitement and included a discussion about theoretical and pedagogical aspects.

Implementation

“Words Matter” – first annual conference

The opening conference of “Words Matter” – Adam Institute for Peace and Democracy and the Association of Civil Rights in Israel joint project , was held in Haifa University on December 22nd 2015. The conference “Between Freedom of Expression and Racist Incitement in the Education System” was organized in cooperation with the Haifa University Faculty of Education.

Dr. Arie Kizel, Head of Department of Learning, Instruction and Teaching in the Haifa University presented a critical approach to “Teaching Civics in Israel: Between Rifts and Narratives”. In his lecture Dr. Kizel pointed at the problematic use of language describing Israeli society in the Civic Education Curricula. He claimed this language makes educators and students perceive positive democratic phenomena as negative ones and by this prevents them from understanding democracy on the one hand and its failures on the other.

The most prominent example was the description of the multitude of groups and controversies in the Israeli society as rifts.  He argued that the by presenting  a phenomenon with positive value for democracy like multiplicity and controversy as reflecting a problem (rifts), is one of the factors impairing democratic awareness and paradoxically, creates rifts.

Prof. Henriette Dahan-Kalev from the Ben Gurion University presented her new study, dealing with the politics of color. This issue is widely researched across the world lately, following the many racist manifestations. Along with the connection between color and politics, Dr. Kalev presented racism in a new way. She argued that color based oppression doesn’t exist exclusively in relations between the hegemonic group and other groups, but is similarly used between the excluded groups themselves. Color is used by every group as a tool to exclude and oppress differently colored groups. (For example:  the racializing of the black African community in the Bedouin community). There are deep educational consequences to this phenomenon.

Attorney Dan Yakir, ACRI’s legal consultant presented the legal aspects of racism at large and specifically incitement for racism; he described the legal history of the struggle against racism since the Rabbi Kahane’s appearance in Israeli public life to date. In his lecture Dan Yakir aimed at clarifying the difference between Freedom of Expression and Incitement and that between Expression and racist action.

Sharaf Hasan, director of ACRI’s Human Rights Education Department and co-director of the “Words Matter” project, spoke about the Education System’s role in fighting racist incitement. Sharaf Hasan pointed to the deterioration in Democracy education in Israel. He described the low budgets dedicated for it in the educational system and pointed to its changed position toward the tension between a Jewish and a Democratic state. Further Mr. Hassan described teachers’ fear of speaking about contented issues and the unique problems teachers in Arab school face when dealing with democratic issues. He described the educational curriculum “Words Matter” to the participants inviting them to join the program.

Dr. Uki Maroshek Klarman, Adam’s Educational Director and co-director of the “Words Matter” project, spoke about educational methods for coping with racist incitement in the classroom. Dr. Maroshek pointed to the use of Democracy Education strategies which create a warped picture of society. For example, the way stereotypes are handled.  She stressed that refutation of stereotypes prevents the students from understanding social phenomena which require generalizations. Dr. Maroshek also pointed to the use of therapeutic language in the educational system to contend with civic issues and the price for this misuse. The last point dealt with teachers’ inability to treat their students as representatives of social groups and the personal and democratic prices the students pay as a consequence.

Dr. Zafrir Goldberg from the Education Faculty in the Haifa University talked about the integration of Antiracism Education into the curriculum and the teaching profession. In his presentation Dr. Goldberg pointed to the lack of chapters in History and Jewish curriculum pointing at cultural, religious and governing cooperation between Jews and Arabs. He presented his study describing the positive influence of combining positive aspects of the relations with the other in History and other subjects as a decisive influence on students’ perception of the racialized groups. He mentioned the appreciation Jewish famous scholars (like Maimonides) had for Arab thought. He presented the curriculum developed by the Center for Educational Technology in that spirit and recommended implementing it and similar ones.

Workshops demonstrating the new “Words Matter” curriculum: The new curriculum “Words Matter”, developed by the Adam Institute for Peace and Democracy and the Association of Civil Rights in Israel was presented at the last part of the day and the participants took part in workshops demonstrating it. The workshops dealt with the distinction between Freedom of Expression and Incitement and included a discussion about theoretic and pedagogical aspects.  120 students from the university’s Education School and interested teachers participated in the workshops. The participants received the newly published curriculum and were invited to spread the information among educators.

First Student Peer-Leader Activism Seminar

Tuesday, February 23, 2016 9:30-15:30, Ramat Efal

The seminar’s goal is to provide the students with practical tools to initiate school or community activities to protect Freedom of Expression and prevent incitement and racial incitement in the public sphere.

130 students will be participating in the seminar from 24 high schools