OP-ED: Opportunity for Illinois students to Make Your Voice heard against hatred, intolerance
By ALISON PURE-SLOVIN and MARK KLAISNER
Mile after mile, from the biggest cities to the smallest towns, the Mobile Museum of Tolerance (MMOT) is helping students engage in a fight against hatred and intolerance with much at stake. For every mile the bus travels, hate is spreading much faster online – a click or an app notification bell ding at a time.
Illinois students, we need your help. Make Your Voice against hatred and intolerance heard this spring in this high-tech world where our safety is threatened every day.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center and MMOT have teamed up with the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools (IARSS) this spring for the Your Voice: Changing the World, One Speech at a Time, essay contest. This is part of our ongoing work centered around digital literacy to help students and families better identify and combat the online threats from hatred and intolerance.
The MMOT is a free traveling human rights education center visiting school districts across the state every week to offer hands-on workshops for students. The MMOT inspires students to use their voices to speak up against bullying, racism, anti-Semitism, hate and intolerance and to promote human dignity. From the Civil Rights Movement to the Nazi persecution of Anne Frank, students receive the tools and insight they need to see how we far we have come in addressing threats to basic human rights.
But the internet’s constant connectivity on our smartphones and other devices presents even greater challenges. The state of Illinois has recognized those challenges and now mandates media literacy, and our organizations are working together on plans to expand offerings for digital media education.
The essay contest asks students in sixth through 12th grades in Illinois schools to ponder this prophetic quote from the Center’s namesake, Simon Wiesenthal, who survived Nazi death camps and spent much of his life warning future generations of the need to keep fighting the hate that drove the Holocaust and other genocides:
“The combination of hatred and technology is the greatest danger threatening mankind.”
We see every day the obvious and often subtle ways hate groups and individuals infiltrate our homes and influence our children online. We are challenging students to be more mindful of those solicitations and to share their views on how best to fight back.
Participating students in the Your Voice contest are asked to write a three-minute essay (of no more than 450 words) on how the Simon Wiesenthal quote applies to their lives and their world today, and in the future. Students should consider our darkest days of human history, how humanity prevailed, and how we all can work together to address intolerance, hate, and bigotry.
Students are asked to submit their essay by April 3. Five finalists in two categories (grades 6-8 and grades 9-12) will be selected to then perform their essay as a speech via video upload for presentation to a distinguished panel of judges on May 7, then winners will be selected for prizes including a MacBook.
For more information on the contest, visit the MMOT website: https://mmot.com/.
When he confronted the worst of humanity those decades ago, Simon Wiesenthal knew our battles would change over time. We know how concerned he would be today with how easy it is for hate to spread online. Your Voice is an important part of our efforts to push our young people toward understanding and peace, and we hope many students learn how they can do their part for a better future.
Alison Pure-Slovin is director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Midwest Region. Mark Klaisner is president of the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools.