Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Education is one way to lessen hate

Like many, I am very sad and worried about the hate crimes we hear about including the most recent Synagogue shooting. Like most people, I believe in our country's freedom to live the life you choose, practice the religion you choose, and celebrate your cultural traditions as you choose. As long as you are not harming or hurting another, I believe in the freedom to live your life and reach for "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." I abhor what hate groups and hate crimes do to our country, and I believe that we can work to reduce and eliminate these crimes.

As educators, we have an important role when it comes to the early education about the many religions, cultures, traditions, and lifestyles people enjoy. I grew up in a a community that was not very diverse. Most children in my elementary school practiced a similar religion and had similar cultural identities and lifestyles. Yet via my parents nightly discussions about articles in the newspaper, television news, and school discussions and reading, I knew about and respected the many lifestyles, religions, and cultures that existed. Later as I was introduced to world history through the eyes of characters in books and real life stories, I gained greater empathy and understanding of hardships people faced related to prejudice and hate. After that the words of experts, the study of world religions, travel, and the experiences of friends and family members deepened that understanding and respect. I was fortunate to have a positive education related to people's differences and their rights to live the lives they choose. I learned early on, that people are people first, and people, for the most part, are good and deserve respect.

When I first started teaching, we spent a lot of time providing students with the opportunity to learn about the world and people near and far in many ways. At the early grades, we welcomed parents to come in to share their family traditions and celebrations. This offered students an early education about our similarities and differences. When they had the chance to join their classmates to celebrate their classmates' religious and cultural celebrations, they gained respect and interest in those traditions. As an educator, I learned a lot too from the parents who were willing to share. Also in those early years, teachers in my school invited local religious leaders from many religions to come in and speak to the students. That further educated all of us which helped to dispel prejudice and create greater community. Each grade learned about a different country too and engaged in the customs and traditions of that country. This built students' world view with engagement and positivity.

Lately, I believe, we've lost some of that rich teaching and learning, teaching and learning that helped students to develop with positive awareness of the world's diversity. Yet since that time our school has become much more diverse with students from many cultures and religions. This diversity alone is a teacher as children share their stories with one another. Though I believe it's time that we revisit our efforts to welcome all students and provide all students with a rich, positive education about the wonderful diversity our community and world holds, and the promise that diversity holds for our lives.

Good education works, in part, to lessen hate. Hate is often born out of fear and ignorance--education can lessen and work to eliminate fear and ignorance. Of course, hate is also perpetuated by mental illness and isolation too. We know that isolation and mental illness are conditions that exist in every community, and we have to work more to support people who face those conditions in positive ways. There's much to do to better lives and reduce hate. We can all contribute to this.