Penn Experts Aid Grade School Teachers in Confronting Islamophobia in the Classroom

Blending interdisciplinary work with community engagement, two professors from the University of Pennsylvania are working with grade school teachers to address misconceptions and fears about Islam, as well as issues impacting students from Muslim communities. 

Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher, a senior lecturer at Penn’s Graduate School of Education, has spent the last decade studying the educational engagement and socialization of migrant populations. 

Jamal J. Elias, Walter H. Annenberg Professor of the Humanities and a professor in the Religious Studies Department in the School of Arts & Sciences, has focused his career on teaching others about Islamic thought, history and its role in modern times. 

In “Islamophobia: Confronting Bias in the Classroom and Beyond,” the first of what is hoped will be a series of workshops for teachers, Ghaffar-Kucher and Elias demonstrated how to identify and fight Islamophobia on Tuesday, Aug. 16. 

“There was an overwhelming interest in this workshop, which shows that Islamophobia in the classroom and beyond is a real issue and one that schools wish to address,” Ghaffar-Kucher said. “The teachers who attended want to incorporate workshops like these into their professional development in their own schools. There is a very clear need for such workshops throughout the country.” 

Organized by Penn’s Middle East Center, the three-hour workshop attracted nearly 40 teachers, social workers and leaders of local non-governmental organizations.  

Ghaffar-Kucher and Elias used common examples based on real-life bias-based bullying, such as young boys being called terrorists by their classmates or girls having their hijabs removed from their heads, to work through addressing bias-related acts in the classroom. 

As Ghaffar-Kucher referred to vignettes based on her research and news stories to illustrate bias, she asked attendees: “what would you do if you saw this?” In small groups, the participants worked through the examples with constructive ways to neutralize conflict and resolve the situation. 

“A lot of the teachers said these vignettes resonated with things that they’ve actually witnessed,” Ghaffar-Kucher said. 

Ghaffar-Kucher and Elias plan to continue to host similar workshops and have already been invited to speak at numerous public and private K-12 schools across the Philadelphia region.

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