Besides providing a vast material on its website http://www.operation250 to help students, parents and educators preventing radicalisation, OPERATION 250 started to work with schools to get closer to students and educators. According to Tyler Cote, Education Development Director, the idea is to develop tailored content according to the needs of each school to raise awareness on radicalisation in the United States. In some cases, Op250 will talk to students in classrooms and train educators. In others, the group will assume a more holistic approach, inviting students to analyze different problems in our society, which may be one of the many causes of extremism, and work to find solutions to this identified problem.
The idea of keeping the program as an extra facet to their already established curriculums enables schools to choose the best way to address such a sensitive issue.
The program started in September with a full school system located in Massachusetts, northeast of the United States. Students and educators from four schools have been discussing issues related to radicalisation with the team of twelve people from OPERATION 250. The average age of the students is 15, 16 years, but the group has also been working with children – an experience that continues to surprise Nicolette San Clemente, the co-Director:
What is really fascinating is that when we ask children ‘how would you solve this issue? What would you do in your own community, in your own school to prevent other children from radicalisation?’, we have noticed that by taking that more critical approach, we are allowing them to solve the problem using their own process and allowing them to think about the problem in a constructive and likely more productive way. We had one of these children who came up with this really fascinating idea about online group therapy for children. He came up with this theory that children who become radicalized may not have access to friends, they may not have access to conversations to talk about their feelings. And because they don´t have access to that sort of relationship, they build that relationship with a recruiter, or with a sexual groomer. What we did, is we allowed children to think about the problem in a different way. It is not just about identifying the causes. They identified solutions, which in some ways can be more beneficial than simply showing the signs or how to avoid being involved in something
In December, OPERATION 250 organized a workshop with 75 children aged 12 years. To Tyler Cote, the opportunity they give students to express themselves encouraged them to think about radicalisation in a critical way.
It is always good to have student-driven discussions because whenever we have student-driven discussions, we are able to get all their ideas and all of what they think and what they know about a certain issue onto the table. Something that we are very passionate about is not lecturing, but instead guiding discussion, while occasionally inputting facts and deconstructing misconceptions
The program that began with four schools is likely to expand in the next months. According to Mr. Cote, the ultimate goal of OPERATION 250 is to expand the outreach of the program to engage more students and educators in the United States. A country that historically has been facing problems due to radicalisation and the spread of extremist ideologies.
The most important thing for us is that this problem becomes a constructive discussion among students, parents, and educators. Terrorism and radicalization is often a taboo subject in our society, for many reasons. But we believe that children need to be made aware of these threats, and asked to work with the adults to find solutions to the problem. Because if a child is going through something it is likely his friend may know far sooner than an adult in the child’s life
When asked about what message they wanted to send to students, Mr. Cote and Miss San Clemente didn´t hesitate:
The biggest thing that we want people to take away is that this is an issue which can truly affect anyone. And as our society becomes more and more digitally dependent, ensuring our children are receiving a quality dialogue on online safety and critical thinking will prove to be vital
By Beatriz Buarque
*The name OPERATION 250 is a reference to the 250 young people who were recruited by ISIS since 2014 in the United States.
**Besides the program in schools, OPERATON 250 will also host a conference for educators in Boston area on Hate, Terrorism, and Online Safety. For more information, please reach out via the Contact page on Operation250.org