Oct 27, 2011

Beyond Tolerance [Or, I Will Blame Other Teachers For The Lack Of Tolerance In America, Even Though I Am A Teacher]

Scott R. Conwell teaches at an urban charter school in the metro Detroit area. He has a wife and one daughter and is motivated mostly by wanting a better world for them to live in. Scott is a passionate educator and hopes to one day see an educational system that allows a powerful and equal education for all of America's students.
Diversity is the key. When my daughter was born my wife and I decided that diversity should be part of her life. We taught her at a young age that diversity was a part of everyday life. We also taught her that tolerance was not the whole story; we taught her acceptance. As a country that touts itself proudly as the "melting pot"; this should span into every household. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened.
I teach at an urban high school in the metro Detroit area. We are a "melting pot" of students. We have a high population of African-American students, we have a solid population of Hispanic-American students, and we have a small population of LGBTQ students. Our school conducts anti-bullying programs and initiatives, but they are not enough. When we teach "tolerance" of one another we are leaving out a key element of the picture. Tolerance without acceptance doesn't solve the problem. Often times, adults in our schools not only ignore the discrimination but even encourage it.
On "National Coming Out Day" several of our students chose to take the opportunity to reveal who they knew they really were. They declared over social media channels that they were LGBTQ. When they came back to school, they received the treatment that might be expected from the students; but what was worse is they also received it from the staff. These students were the main source of "copy machine" humor by the teachers, and the support that should have been there was absent. These students came to my classroom because they knew it was a safe place for them to declare who they were. They came to me seeking advice on acceptance. Unfortunately, within our school there were few places for them to go.
Every student, regardless of race, gender, religion or sexual orientation deserves an opportunity to attend a school where they feel safe to learn. How can we as teachers, administrators or counselors expect them to maintain focus on educational concepts when they are fearful of what will happen to them on the bus when no one else is around? We must have effective anti-bullying programs in schools; not just for students but for the staff. I know teachers who also live in fear that if they come out to their peers they will receive the same discrimination they see in the students. It is time for us as educators to right these wrongs.
My six-year old daughter understands diversity on all levels; why can't we understand this concept as educators? My classroom is a safety zone for acceptance; why isn't my school? Why aren't all our schools?

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