Friday, February 9, 2018

Teaching tolerance

The other day, I noticed a copy of a magazine titled “Teaching Tolerance” on a desk in a local high school. The magazine is published every quarter, and it is printed by an organization called

I was born the same year that Jackie Robinson became the first Negro ball player in professional baseball, and I witnessed the civil rights movement blossom and flourish. Emmett Till was murdered on the same day that I turned 8, and Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I have a dream” speech my birthday in 1963. 

Overall, I would say that our society has become more tolerant than it was when I was a kid, but there has always been, and also will be, a certain percentage of our population who will forever remain intolerant.

Unfortunately, our society has become LESS tolerant in recent years due to the ascension of Donald “you’re fired” Trump, who has surrounded himself with people who are very much like himself. His senior advisor, Stephen Miller was brought up by a liberal Jewish family in California, but became radicalized after he read Wayne LaPierre’s book, “Guns, Crime, and Freedom” when he was in high school.

After graduation from high school, Miller went to Duke University, where he met Richard Spencer, an American white supremacist, who is president of the National Policy Institute as well as Washington Summit Publishers. Spencer was one of the featured speakers at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville last August.

To say “there were a few good people on both sides” at the rally in Charlottesville is EXACTLY the wrong thing to do, since depicting Nazis as ordinary gives them power. The link below takes a broader look at the issue:

According to the FBI, the number of hate crimes reached a 5 year high in 2016, and took a noticeable uptick at the end of 2016 after Trump’s surprise victory.

There will not be an improvement in our country until Trump is either forced to resign or forcibly removed from office, but there ARE things that can be done in the meantime to make our country a “kinder, gentler” America.

At the local level, the Tucson Unified School district has taken steps to ensure that our local school system is as tolerant as possible. Last September, the Governing Board adopted a resolution stating, "the Governing Board and the District, and its administration, teachers, counselors and staff will support all students equally, whether their immigration status is documented or undocumented."

On March 8, the district will hold a multicultural symposium (designed to build relationships among different cultures) at one of the local high schools. In order to further that goal, the district currently offers interpretation and translation in Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Kirundi, Somali, and Swahili.

I have been in 2 schools so far that have support groups for students in the LGBTQ community, but I am fairly certain that there are a lot more schools than that who do the same thing.

I am not aware of any specific courses in tolerance that are being taught in Tucson, although many teachers undoubtedly make efforts to do so. If they are unsure about how to go about doing that, a woman named Kathlene Holmes published an article in UT News (the newspaper of the University of Texas at Austin) in 2005. Her letter can be viewed at the link shown below:

If more teachers had taken her advice years ago, it’s possible that Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown would still be alive today.

One of the paradoxes of today’s political environment is that the most conservative religious voters in the country overwhelmingly support a thrice-married lying crook because they believe he was “chosen by God” to lead our country.

One of the troubling trends created by this group is the fact that more and more states are passing legislation to allow the teaching of the Bible in public schools.

The West Virginia legislature introduced a bill in January of 2018 that would mandate an elective course in both private and public schools that teaches "knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture" while also adhering to "religion neutrality." If the bill is passed, it would make West Virginia the 8th state to do so.
Not surprisingly, the push to pass the bill has taken place in the “red’ states. The Republican platform of 2016 encouraged state legislatures to offer the Bible in a literature curriculum as a high school elective due to the fact the Republican Party believes that “a good understanding of the Bible is indispensable for the development of an educated citizenry.

The danger with Bible study courses is that they can easily stray into attempts to proselytize religion. As a result, the courses have occasionally run into legal problems in places like Texas and Kentucky.

In April of 2012, Governor Jan Brewer signed a bill that allowed the Bible to be studied in Arizona classrooms.  Fortunately, the classes aren’t mandatory. In addition, the elective courses teach students about the Bible’s history as it pertains to its influence on Western civilization (this is starkly different than, say, preaching based on the holy book’s tenets).

The best approach to the problem is to NOT teach strictly about the Bible, but about other religions as well. According to, research shows that a world religions course helps reduce intolerance among students without undermining students' religious beliefs.

If you are creative, there ARE ways to fight back against the folks who are too rigid about religion. One example of that is the Church of Flying
Spaghetti Monster, which originated in 2005 to protest the Kansas State Board of Education’s decision to teach intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in public school science classes. Believe it or not, it is recognized as a legitimate religion in New Zealand and the Netherlands.

 I encountered a similar problem last spring when I taught a biology class and encountered a student who was a 7th Day Adventist. That religion does not consider the theory of evolution to be valid. The permanent teacher of the class advised the girl’s mother that her daughter could say “scientists say” rather than “the facts are” when discussing evolution, and the problem was solved.

Although I consider myself to be a tolerant person, the truth is that tolerance is not actually a virtue, and that odd statement is more fully explained in the article below:

Martin Luther King Jr. achieved his goals of racial equality by means of peaceful protests, but he never used the word “tolerance” in his speeches. For him (and he was right) “it would have been an obscenity to say white people should learn to tolerate us more.” The goal of the Civil Rights Movement was not simply appealing to liberal magnanimity, but demanding equity, including economic equity. Tolerance is a request that represents a retreat from that ambitious vision. When King marched on Washington D.C., he didn't say, "Learn to live with us." He said, "We're here to cash a check".

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