Of all the things going on in the world I don’t know why this one thing made me so sad. Our local paper today picked up a story about Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) being attacked for their Mix it up Day program. The American Family Association (AMF) is saying that mix it up day, programming to prevent bullying, promotes a homosexual agenda to elementary school children. And 200 schools cancelled their participation based on this.
Teaching Tolerance being demonized seems to be a new low. AMF has notified parents that their children’s schools are involved in subversive behavior and they have listed Southern Poverty Law as a hate group. That’s a petty retaliation for being listed themselves because of these kinds of campaigns, but it still gets reported. And repeated. All this when the SPLC is an organization founded to fight hate and bigotry.
I’m not even sure about the efficacy of Mix it Up Day – my daughter has a hysterical story about her experience of it last year – but I know it’s not evil to promote breaking down social and racial barriers at school lunch. There are many layers to cliques and popular groups that we all remember no matter how far removed from our K-12 years – looks, money, brains, sporting skill, sexual skill (or the promise therein) with other variables thrown in like class, race, gender, religion and sexual orientation. You get locked into who you are pretty quickly.
There is probably no more dangerous or difficult time in your life to attempt to change groups than school years. Teenagers are incredibly rigid in terms of what they believe is right/wrong, acceptable/unacceptable, cool or uncool. This goes for people, places, and consumables (music, clothes, movies etc.), no matter how much they insist on their individuality. I speak from experience. Even rebellion is rigidly sanctioned.
I think I’m feeling this attack so personally because I benefited, in a very convoluted way, from an enforced Mix It Up Day. During my middle and high school years there was a court ordered desegregation plan for my school district, which meant that black kids were bused to white schools and white kids were bused to black schools. I’m old so the Hispanic population was relatively small at that point and didn’t come up much.
Busing “Mix It Up Day” meant that for the first time there was more than one black kid in my school. That kid moved by the way because as the notices were getting mailed to everyone about what school they would go to a small cross was burned on his front lawn. His name was Frank and he was the only black person I knew up to that point.
Busing “Mix It Up Day” also meant that I now attended High School in a part of town I had only visited once before. Because that’s where all the black people are. It was also where all the museums were but that was beside the point. The majority of white kids I’d been attending school with for my entire life transferred to Catholic Schools, or the bizarrely named and unaccredited “Freedom Academy”, so they didn’t have to go to the black school. They did however have to take a GED to graduate.
I was one of about 20 white kids in my class. This was no hardship. It was interesting. I got a terrific education and took AP classes. I met people I would never, ever have meet. I got to be the guest weirdly patronized by the grandma at my friends wedding (“Isn’t that nice Loretta invited that white girl!”), and had a glimpse of what it means to be a minority. Just a taste.
I know what it is like to experience prejudice because of various parts of my identity but I will never claim, because of this or any other experience, to know what it’s like to be a minority in the US. So if I was walking around in my white skin, looking indeterminately well-off in the way that white people do, and never had my Busing “Mix It Up Day”, how would I get around to expanding my world view? Why would I bother? What would compel me? Where would that information come from?
I don’t have those answers. Lots of folks call themselves life long learners but I wonder if they mean this kind of learning too. It appears that SPLC’s program Teaching Tolerance is one means to present ideas that might not otherwise see the light of day in some schools & households. Alternately, I would bet money on the the fact that limiting experience based on a religious or moral agenda does not reduce prejudice.
Teaching Tolerance offers this definition from UNESCO’s Declaration on the Principles of Tolerance:
“Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. Tolerance is harmony in difference.”
They go on to say “Tolerance as a way of thinking and feeling — but most importantly, of acting — that gives us peace in our individuality, respect for those unlike us, the wisdom to discern humane values and the courage to act upon them.”
Which do you think is more perverted – teaching tolerance to our children, or the AMF’s attack on Mix It Up Day? You know my answer.