Millions of K-12 students throughout the United States have participated in “A Classroom of Difference,” an “anti-bias” program produced by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The curriculum is often glowingly publicized as just what schools need to “eliminate harassment, bullying, and racial tension,” as one newspaper put it. But how much do parents and taxpayers know about the content of the program that many of their schools are rushing to adopt?
The program has grown dramatically since 1985, when it began in Boston as a joint endeavor between ADL and a local television station. Today, the “A Classroom of Difference” program “has been successfully implemented across the United States. More than 350,000 elementary and secondary school teachers—responsible for nearly 12 million students—have participated in A CLASSROOM OF DIFFERENCE,” according to the ADL website, which adds that the programs “operate in 29 U.S. cities and in 14 countries around the world.”
“A Classroom of Difference” is a project of ADL’s World of Difference Institute, which proclaims on its website its mission to “provide hands-on training to help children and adults challenge prejudice and discrimination and learn to live and work successfully and civilly in an increasingly diverse world.”
Concerned parents and taxpayers who would like a better idea of the actual content of the program will have a hard time obtaining a copy of the curriculum: “ADL’s A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute curriculum materials are available only within the context of a six-hour (minimum) staff development workshop, and are not for sale through ADL’s Resource catalog.”
The website does, however, provide some excerpts from the lesson plans. An “anti-bias study guide” for elementary and middle school teachers, for example, recommends that the images they place in their classrooms “reflect diversity in gender roles—women and men engaged in a variety of tasks, in and out of the home” and “diversity in family styles and configurations.”
A 1998 “A Classroom of Difference” study guide obtained by Campus Report contains many more suggested lessons. One recommended activity is to “have students rewrite the Declaration of Independence using modern-day language, gender-neutral pronouns and so forth.”
Another suggestion from that same lesson: “Have students research how historical events (e.g., the French Revolution) and prominent writers of that era (e.g., Thomas Paine) influenced the founders’ decision to write the Declaration of Independence.” (Any student who could figure out how the French Revolution, which began in 1789, influenced the Declaration of Independence, which was written in 1776, would have to be sharp indeed.)
In one lesson on “biased language,” students are asked, “Can you give examples of other words or groups of words that could perpetuate bias or stereotypes (e.g., use of words like ‘minority’ or ‘illegal alien’)?” The lesson includes this note to instructors: “It is crucial that students understand that everyone must work to rid themselves of stereotypical thinking.”
Another lesson in the study guide recommends that students “research a nationally recognized activist organization” and “share their findings with the class.” The accompanying list of suggested organizations could easily be mistaken for a Who’s Who of left-wing interest groups: the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Greenpeace, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Council of La Raza, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Organization for Women, and People for the American Way, among others.
Recommended readings for students include Growing Up Gay, Growing Up Lesbian: A Literary Anthology and Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.
According to an ADL representative, all “facilitators” (as those who teach the class are known) must undergo forty hours of rigorous training, after which they must serve as apprentices under more experienced facilitators before going on to conduct workshops on their own. The program usually lasts for an entire school day of seven hours, although the length of the program may vary according to the needs and desires of each school.
Although the ADL website quotes gushing reviews for the program, praise for “A Classroom of Difference” has been far from universal, even within ADL itself.
“Unfortunately, my exposure to the program at a leadership conference indicated that teaching the values of diversity, multiculturalism, and cultural relativism resulted in denigrating the values and achievements of Western civilization and the desirability of a common American identity,” wrote Carl Pearlston, a longtime member of the ADL Executive Committee. “There is now a nationwide industry of multicultural activists teaching various ‘sensitivity’ programs which increase awareness of racial identity, and result in racial separation and racial hostility.”
Explaining why he had left the organization after nearly 25 years, Pearlston wrote that, for the ADL, “fighting ‘hate’ became a euphemism for an attack on sexual morality, the traditional family, and the Jewish view that children deserve a loving father and mother, not two fathers or two mothers. It is only through a perverse notion of ‘tolerance’ that support for traditional teaching about the family is intimidated, and condemned.”
An ADL representative told Campus Report that she had not heard of any criticisms or complaints about the program during her tenure at the organization.
In the “Language” section of the workshop, “participants identify manifestations of various forms of bigotry in their personal and professional lives. Many people define prejudice in terms of individual actions without including the societal and institutional components of such behavior. In ADL programs ‘prejudice’ is defined as both personal and institutional, and defining key words is a core component of workshops. ADL’s definition of an institutional ‘ism’ is prejudice against a group or individual, supported, sanctioned, legitimized or reinforced by society. Such ‘isms’ include, but are not limited to, racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, ageism, heterosexism, ableism and classism. During the Language segment of the workshop participants working in small groups identify both personal and institutional manifestations of various ‘isms.’”
In the institute’s peer-education programs, students “learn how to work with their peers, distinguish between personal freedom and discriminatory behavior and develop leadership skills. Since 1991, more than 5,000 students, who influence the lives of more than 60,000 students in the United States and abroad, have been trained as Peer Trainers and Leaders.”
In another stage of the workshop, entitled “Examining Bias,” students “explore current demographics and cultural norms operating in the United States. Research has shown that the first critical step in addressing prejudice is for people to come to terms with their own unconscious stereotyping and the damage it can do (Allport 1987). One method facilitators use to address this concept in workshops is posing a question to participants: regarding a negative message they remember hearing or ‘learning’ when they were growing up about a cultural group different from their own. Facilitators ask participants to share what they remember with one other person in the workshop. Following the dyad discussions the facilitator elicits from all participants the sources of the messages e.g. parents, teachers, media, neighborhood, religious institutions, etc.
“This process allows participants to see that everyone has been affected by negative messages,” the description continues. “Establishing this concept removes some of the onus from participants for having learned these ‘bad’ things, and it decreases the need for defensiveness on the part of workshop participants. Additionally, this exercise allows workshop participants to see that biased messages and thinking are pervasive and very much a part of the status quo of United States society.”
Sean Grindlay is the managing editor of Campus Report Online.