February 22, 2011-Every day we hear of children who are targeted for their skin color, religious beliefs and sexual orientation. Ironically, they are often discriminated against by their peers and through disproportionate disciplinary practices in the one place where they are expected to find safety as well as learn how to become a productive and active citizen of democracy: our schools.
How widespread are these behaviors? And how do students’ perceptions reflect the attitudes expressed by their parents and other adults?
“Until every school knows its own answer to these questions, further progress toward full protection of civil rights for all children will be difficult,” says Paula Smith, an associate professor of educational leadership and policy at the University of Utah. Smith is also chair of that department and executive director of the Community of Caring, a non-profit organization founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver on the university campus. She goes on to say, “The targeting of cognitively disabled children, Muslim girls who wear burkhas, Jewish boys who wear yarmulkes, gay students about the most personal parts of their lives, is not only cruel and often tragic; it may be against the law.”
The Community of Caring has teamed up with Ripple Effects, a technology-based learning program, to address this issue. They are offering free access for all U.S. schools to the Respect for Persons school profiler, an online survey completed separately by students and teachers that will determine a school’s institutional awareness of the level of inclusiveness in social interactions among students, and where they may be moving toward civil rights violations.
Alice Ray, long-time child safety advocate and CEO of Ripple Effects, says the goal of the survey is to develop a school-by-school awareness and “provide a snapshot to help schools better promote inclusive communities of justice and caring.”
The survey determines three areas of analysis: perceived adult behavior toward diverse groups of people, perceived student behavior toward diverse groups of people and personal attitudes toward diversity of the person completing the survey. Results of the survey are immediately returned to the schools for examination.
A school can register as many sessions as it wants and may use multiple surveys to determine how much behaviors have changed after inclusionary or non-discrimination lessons. According to the survey’s developers, often adults perceive their behaviors as bias-free, but students who witness their actions have another view. The survey allows teachers and school staff to register under a password so that their results are separate from the students’. All results are confidential and no survey is connected with any individual.
To register your school and obtain access to the survey, follow the instructions at www.rippleeffects.com/respectprofile/. The Community of Caring and Ripple Effects are providing the survey for free in order to honor the legacies of the late Martin Luther King, Jr. and Eunice Kennedy and Sargent Shriver.