Through the eyes of urban Los Angeles...

Monday, September 25, 2006

e-Tolerance: Education for The Real World

In recent years, differences in culture and race in Los Angeles County and throughout the nation have led to clashes between black and Latino high school students, the education system has fallen short of equally catering to the needs of different ethnic groups and cultures, and inner-city schools have been failing to prepare students of color for higher education. The dominant group often times unknowingly discriminates against minority groups because of racial differences and ignorance or intolerance of ethnic customs. In order to amend the problems mentioned and create a “colorless” society, teachers, parents, and students must place more emphasis on learning about different cultures and races. When people think about school usually history, geography, math, science, English, and physical education come to mind. However, passionate teachers, parents, and students who would like to eliminate racial tension and truly make fundamental change for our next generation of students should turn to the World Wide Web and incorporate lesson plans and school wide activities about tolerance since a traditional education does not prepare individuals for interactions with racially and ethnically diverse groups of people.

Tolerance.org, a WebAward nominee, can be utilized by e
ducators, parents, and students to pacify intolerance towards ethnic and racial diversity and bring a better understanding of “the other”. The Southern Poverty Law Center founded Tolerance.org in order to promote the ideals of the Civil Rights Movement by providing K-12 students, parents, and teachers, with resources fit to educate them about different races and cultures. In 2005, Tolerance.org was nominated for 2005 "Best Non-profit Website" by the WebAwards, a premier web site award competition the selects the best Websites in 96 different industries annually. Websites are often judged by various criteria, such as content, structure, visual design, functionality, and interactivity. The WebAwards do not provide public access to the variables they take into account while judging Website criteria, therefore, for the purpose of this evaluation the Webby Awards criteria will be used, for it closely parallels the standards used to assess Tolerance.org. The Webby Awards is "the leading international award honoring excellence on the Internet [...with] a 550-member body of leading Web experts, business figures, luminaries, visionaries and creative celebrities." Tolerance.org effectively delivers the elements worthy of an award winning Website to its audience through four different vehicles. In order to successfully inform and teach the wide-range audience accessing their information they created Teaching Tolerance for teachers and administrators, Parenting for Tolerance for parents, Mix It Up for teenagers, and Planet Tolerance for youth. Tolerance.org does an excellent job of providing useful resources, lesson plans, and school-wide activities aimed at building diverse communities of tolerance, but can be more effective by enhancing the user experience with more content and open dialogue about issues of race. The website should also consider revolutionizing its teen and kids sections of the site in order to be more effective in impacting their audience.

Teaching Tolerance was designed to provide teachers with lesson plans to expose students to recent news that deals with racism, like "Facebook becomes twisted tool for hate" an article by Will Nevin about online hate speech that includes discussion questions for class interaction. The site area also has a publication called ABCs (Anti-Bias Classrooms) that highlights cultural differences in order to promote open-mindedness. Last month's edition explored Latino Heritage month, which runs from September 15-October 15, and offers "essays and activities to help students gain a deeper understanding of past and present struggles for Latino civil rights." Although Teaching Tolerance grants access to great tolerance initiatives for the classroom, it falls short of fully engaging its user due to lack of content. According to Webby Awards criteria, “Content is the information provided on the site. It is not just text, but music, sound, animation, or video -- anything that communicates a sites body of knowledge.” Teaching Tolerance’s textual information supplies great insight and data but does not do a good job of using other mediums to generate appealing and relevant content. For example, video clips of historical events, sound bites of significant speeches, and pictures portraying the brutality of hate crimes are scarce on the sub-site. These sources would provide teachers with a better online experience and have them coming back to visit more often. However, the insightful information and educational classroom activities they offer educators can not be ignored. They make structured, untraditional activities available for teachers to utilize in the classroom for every grade level. These lessons expose students in racially homogenous high schools to other cultural and ethnic groups, which is now essential as our country becomes more and more diverse.

Parenting for Tolerance caters its well structured and organized site area to the needs of parents wishing to discuss tough issues with their kids, such as white privilege. Elizabeth Baucher, a Caucasian freelancer and mother from Ithaca, NY, wrote "Talk to Kids about White Privilege" which goes into white responsibility in dismantling racism and oppression.
For example, she goes on to tell her 7-year old son, "You have a lot of traditional privilege in this society, from your skin color and gender, due to the fact that your parents and grandparents are educated, and your family has some money." Controversial topics like this one can be difficult to discuss with innocent children and not knowing how to approach the situation is common. However, exposing children to controversial information, stories, and insight early on is vital to eliminating ignorance between cultural groups and establishing lasting change in our society. The parent section of the web site is filled with useful information that can be easily accessed, synthesized, and presented to children of all ages. The graphic on the left is an example of the site's basic structured, which makes finding a parent's desired information simple. According to the Webby Awards, "Sites with good structure and navigation are consistent, intuitive, and transparent[...] Good navigation gets you where you want to go quickly and offers easy access to the breadth and depth of the site's content." Once logged on, parents can effortlessly find information targeting every age group, which makes Web surfing less stressful for parents who are constantly on the move.

Mix It Up was created primarily to foster peer initiated interaction and tolerance between middle school and high school students.
Mix It Up offers useful information on how to start a school wide activity aimed at encouraging different ethnic, racial, and social groups to interact, as highlighted in Trevor G. Browne High School in Phoenix, AZ. Carrie Kilman of Tolerance.org reports that the school adopted the Mix It Up program and now holds a yearly event that brings students of all races and ethnic backgrounds together in order to "help students learn to see beyond boundaries of race, language, and national origin." The site area provides a short visual clip of the event in order to give students an idea of what the event encompasses. Even though empowering students to prompt change is a good idea, not everyone exploring the site will be bold enough to take initiative. According to a University of Kentucky Youth Internet Usage Study, over 77 million children and teenagers use the internet regularly. Rather than depending on courageous students to spark change, it is important to use the site to reach out to as many teens as possible, especially due to the possibility of exposing millions of users to this insightful information. Unlike the two other site areas mentioned, Mixing It Up does a poor job of educating and engaging the site user. It does not offer access to the informative and powerful stories, information, and activities offered in the teacher and parent sub-sites. Allowing students to explore and learn on their own can be very effective in enlightening teens who are not familiar with different races and cultures. Making recent stories and blog discussions on racism readily available are key for accomplishing Tolerance.org's mission on the teenage front.


Planet Tolerance enables child interaction through stories, games, and history lessons about racial tension and tolerance for children. According to the Webby Awards, "Good interactivity is more than a rollover or choosing what to click on next; it allows you, as a user, to give and receive. It insists you participate not spectate," which Plant Tolerance does effectively. The online history lessons allow children to explore historical sounds bites and images about building racial and ethnic tolerance. For example, anti-Semitism is a complex issue for young children to grasp if the concept of ethnic intolerance is unfamiliar to them. In order to help ease confusion, Tolerance.org posts stories like The People's Attorney about the first Jewish judge on the Supreme Court and the trials and tribulations he faced. Children begin to understand racial and ethnic intolerance after reading literature that caters to them. To balance the word content of history lessons and stories, Tolerance.org offers educational games to actively engage youth, but a clear message is not always conveyed. As a child, looking past the entertainment and fully understanding the underlying message may be hard to do. Children easily get caught up in the fun factor of video games and sometimes miss the educational substance. For example, VoteQuest's, a game about a journey for women’s rights, aims to inform kids about anti-feminism and the Women's Rights Movement. Although the is fundamental message may be easy to recognize for an adult, it may not be so obvious for those in their youth. Therefore, Tolerance.org needs to include more candid and insightful information for kids about the problems of discrimination in order to truly leave an indelible mark. Unlike the Teaching for Tolerance, which lacks technological content, Planet Tolerance should include more textual content for kids that can be easily synthesized and understood.


Overall, Tolerance.org goes above and beyond the required criteria of a website by providing exceptional content, simple structure, engaging technology, and different sub-Websites that effectively cater to four different audiences. Although a few blemishes exist, the site successfully caters to all three rhetorical appeals- to credibility by having scholarly, knowledgeable, and real life experiences to learn from; to reasoning by shedding light on controversial issues with facts, data, and rationale; and to emotion by revealing personal stories and situations that are extremely moving and thought provoking. Teachers should seriously consider promoting tolerance in their schools by integrating lesson plans from Tolerance.org in order initiate grass-root changes at the K-12 level. Tolerance.org has impacted the educational realm by encouraging tolerance through daily news about fighting hatred, guides to initiating open-mindedness for adult and youth activists, practical educational resources for parents and teachers, and entertaining and enlightening games for young children. Education should extend beyond the classroom and prepare individuals for the real world, where interaction with people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds will be constant and necessary.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for linking to the site that links to my column. I didn't know the thing had legs that long.

Will Nevin
nevin@cw.ua.edu

4:14 PM

 

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