Acts of Hate in Schools

Last Updated: February 11, 2020

For more ideas and guidance on how to address these topics in your school, view our on-demand webinar: Responding to Hate in Your School.




Hate has been in the headlines regularly, from a string of attacks on Jews in New York in December 2019 to racist heckling of a parent in February 2020. The acts of hate that get reported to the police or covered in the media are only the tip of the iceberg, with experts estimating that more than half of hate-crime victims do not report the crime to authorities.

Symbols of hate are also increasingly visible within schools across the United States. Students of all ages, from elementary school through university, have been caught vandalizing their schools with symbols and speech that target racial and religious minorities, members of the LGBTQ community, and women. In January 2020 alone, racist and antisemitic graffiti has been found in high schools in Salem, Oregon and Brooklyn, New York, as well as in universities in Virginia and Massachusetts. The list could continue.

The regular rhythm of these reports risks making them seem routine, even a “normal” part of school life. Instead, we should talk about these acts of racism and antisemitism with our students—and not only when there’s been an incident in our own school. These conversations can help students understand the power and impact of hateful acts, and support their moral development and civic agency. In this way, education can be a part of preventing—not just responding to—hate at school and in society.

In this Teaching Idea, students will learn about the trend of episodes of hate in schools, probe their causes and impact, and consider positive ways that communities can respond.

Note: News stories covering hate speech may include offensive images and slurs. When sharing a resource with offensive language, it is important to acknowledge the terms and set guidelines for students about whether or not to pronounce them when reading aloud or quoting from the text. As always when discussing sensitive topics that may provoke feelings of fear, anger or concern, it is helpful to revisit your class contract and remind students of your classroom norms for respectful and safe discussion.

  1. Analyze the Rise in Acts of Hate Among Teens

    Read the brief CBS News affiliate article Acts of Hate Rise Among American Teens with your students. (Note: This article was published in November 2018, but the trends described in the article continue today. For broader context on the most recent FBI report on hate crimes, consider sharing the New York Times article Hate-Crime Violence Hits 16-Year High, F.B.I. Reports.)

    Use the Iceberg Diagram teaching strategy to analyze the trend described in the article and explore potential reasons why acts of hate are on the rise among American teens. At the tip of the iceberg, write “the rise in acts of hate among American teens.” Ask your students: What are some of the episodes of hate referenced in the article? What other examples have you heard about? Have there been similar incidents in or near your own community?

    Then, move to the bottom of the diagram and invite students to consider the underlying causes of this trend. Ask your students: How would you account for the rise in acts of hate among American teens? How might these acts be a reflection of what is happening in adult society or in students’ families?

  2. Explore the Impact Hate Has on Communities

    The Washington Post article A Black Principal, Four White Teens and the ‘Senior Prank’ That Became a Hate Crime explores an incident involving racist, homophobic, and antisemitic graffiti on a high school campus in Maryland.

    Begin by sharing a brief overview of the incident described in the article with your students. Then, ask them to read the following passages from the article:

    Tyler Hebron, a senior who was president of the school’s black student union, typed her feelings into an Instagram post [after the incident]. “It shouldn’t have taken this event to occur for us to observe the hateful actions of our peers,” she remembers writing. “We shouldn’t say we are surprised. We are not.”

    During her freshman year, a student flew a Confederate flag at a football game. Swastikas were scratched into the bathroom stalls. In 2017, someone had written the n-word and Principal Burton’s name on a baseball dugout. She had heard boys play a game to see who could yell the n-word the loudest. To her, this crime was just high-profile proof of the hostility she had always felt . . .

    The night before graduation, she found herself thinking about whether she should pack pepper spray in her purse. She wasn’t sure, she told her parents, that she felt safe.

    [In Principal Burtan’s] own house, his wife, Katrina, was wondering if he should leave, too.

    They had two daughters to think about, an eighth-grader and a senior at another Howard County high school, who on the day of the hate crime had come home and collapsed in her mother’s arms, sobbing. Katrina knew about the parents who warned Burton [the principal] not to talk about the incident in his speech at the graduation ceremony, and watched as some of them refused to stand and clap for him that day.

    “Are you safe?” she kept asking her husband.

    There had been so many incidents in his life that had made Burton question just that. When he was 16, and the parents of a white friend in his Michigan hometown called him the n-word. In college, when he and his fraternity brothers were pulled over and questioned by a group of white cops seemingly for no reason. At a convenience store in South Carolina just a few years ago, when a hostile clerk refused to serve him and his family.1

    Ask your students:

    • How do acts of hate—slurs, name calling, graffiti—impact individuals in targeted groups? How do they impact people who haven’t been directly targeted? How do they impact whole communities?
    • Do “small” acts of hate, like slurs and graffiti, make it more likely that violence will occur?

    If time allows, read the entire article with your students. Then, discuss:

    • What other problems did this incident of hate reveal in the community?
    • According to the article, the perpetrators believe “it was possible to do what they did without really meaning it . . .” To what extent do you think this is possible? How should the age of a perpetrator of a hate crime affect how they are punished?
    • This article profiles one of the perpetrators of the crime. What can you learn by focusing on the perpetrator? In what ways can focusing on the perpetrator distract attention from those who were impacted most by the crime?
    • What is the best way to make amends to those who are impacted by acts of hate?

Additional Resources

To explore community responses to hate, use our lesson Not in Our Town to explore how a community in Billings, Montana, came together after an incident involving antisemitic vandalism.

If your school or community has experienced an incident involving hate, use the following toolkits to help formulate a response and prevent additional acts:


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