Are YOU Standing Up for Tolerance?

Fair warning, y’all:  I’m about to ask you a few uncomfortable questions. 

Here we go.

First question:  How did you feel when Donald Trump — media celebrity and the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for President of the United States — suggested a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on?”

Next question:  How did you feel when you found out that one of the leading voices in the white supremacist movement is doubling down on Trump’s candidacy, recording a robocall in Iowa that ends with, ““We don’t need Muslims. We need smart, well-educated white people who will assimilate to our culture. Vote Trump.”

Final question:  How did you feel when participants in a recent Trump rally screamed “You’ve got a bomb!” at a Muslim woman who had done nothing other than stand in silent protest as Trump repeated his argument that Syrian refugees are ISIS terrorists in disguise?

Did any of that make you angry?  Were you shocked that such rhetoric could make its way into the national conversation on immigration in a nation full of immigrants?  Are you troubled by the fact that a man peddling the notion that outsiders are threats to our communities and to our culture is drawing tens of thousands of people to rallies where hate is openly tolerated — even celebrated?

Now imagine how the Muslim students in your school population are feeling.

Imagine being eight or eleven or eighteen and being surrounded by such public demonstrations of doubt and skepticism.  Imagine being eight or eleven or eighteen and hearing countless critics questioning your right to live alongside of everyone else.  Imagine seeing a kid who looks a lot like you suspended because the adults in his life assumed that his homemade clock was a bomb, or seeing an entire school system shut down because of backlash against a single assignment centered on your faith, or seeing armed ‘activists’ pretending to be ‘patriots’ protesting outside of your community centers.

Wouldn’t you feel anxious on a good day and downright frightened on a bad day?  Wouldn’t you worry — about the reactions of your peers or their parents, about the consequences of being open about your faith, about being misunderstood or judged or ostracized by people who just don’t understand?  Wouldn’t you struggle to trust the important voices around you given that some of the loudest voices in our country have transparently aligned themselves against you?

Wouldn’t you hope to find vocal support from your teachers?

Wouldn’t you feel safer if the person standing in front of your classroom — in front of your peers and in front of their parents — spoke openly about your culture and customs and traditions?  Wouldn’t you crave acknowledgement and acceptance from one of the most important public figures in your life?  Wouldn’t you be more likely to believe in fairness and justice and equality if you saw your teacher push against such obvious examples of unfairness and injustice and inequality?

Are YOU ready to lend that vocal support to the Muslim students in your classroom and your community?

Don’t get me wrong:  I totally get that — depending on where you live — lending vocal support to Muslims can be risky.  There’s bound to be a parent who will call your decision to point out the wrongs in the world around you ‘proselytizing’ or ‘too political’ to belong in a classroom.  They’ll call your intentions into question and accuse you of trying to brainwash their children with liberal ideology.  They might even email your boss or blow you in to the local talk radio station as an example of all that is wrong with the public school system.

But sometimes modeling tolerance — a trait that matters more than most in today’s fractured world — requires speaking out against the intolerance that surrounds us.

Ask Dr. King.



Related Radical Reads:

Are Our Schools Safe Places for Kids Who Are Different?


Lesson: Would You Stand Up to Injustice?


6 thoughts on “Are YOU Standing Up for Tolerance?

  1. D. Harris

    Thanks for posting and keeping us thinking about current issues and best ways to support our students.

    One request of us all. Can we change tolerance to acceptance? When we tolerate something, we still hold deep negative notions about that thing. But when we accept something, we are more open to understanding and making efforts to embrace and respect that thing. Just a thought.

  2. Michelle B. Mathias

    Hi Bill,

    I wrote the following to my school community addressing the issue in my December 10th column in our weekly newsletter at Edmunds Elementary in Burlington, VT.

    We are all used to political rhetoric getting a little nutty. Normally, it doesn’t impact our students, but when it gets too extreme, it can frighten children. When that happens, I have to take a stand.
    Students in Burlington have expressed concern about their own safety as a result of the rhetoric of presidential candidates, governors and legislators. It is unacceptable that children would be made to feel unsafe because of their religion or their ethnicity. Whether the source of comments students are hearing are news reports of statements from political candidates, governors or legislators, or from local citizens who support those positions, the fact that children are being made to feel unsafe and unwelcome is wrong.
    That we are seeing increasing levels of violence in our country cannot be denied. It would be completely inaccurate to attribute that violence to one religious group, ethnicity or ideology. Within days of the San Bernardino attack, there was an attack on a Planned Parenthood office in Colorado. This summer, nine were killed in a church in Charleston, SC. Violence has been perpetrated against people in Mosques, Synagogues, Churches, schools, universities and office buildings. The common link between the attackers is not their religion, their ethnicity or their race. It is their extreme and absolute beliefs that include an inability to tolerate difference in opinion or otherness. History is rife with the damage that extremists have done to humanity, the most horrific of which has been genocide.
    This community has been welcoming refugees from all over the world, many of whom are Muslims. They come from countries in Europe, Asia, Africa as well as the Middle East. The individuals who have had the courage to seek a better life for their children have worked hard to be here. It is far from easy to immigrate to a new country, a new language, a new culture.
    Extreme responses to violence are at the least damaging, and at the worst, dangerous. Failure to respond to extreme positions can be catastrophic as the holocaust proved.
    We need to help all members of our community to feel welcome and supported. How? We can check in with our families and insure that we are reaching out to them, especially now. A simple hello, a smile and the question, “How are you?” can be so reassuring to an individual concerned about what others may be thinking about them. We need to reach out and reassure our neighbors. If we are present when a comment that questions the right of any group to be here is made, we can challenge the comment. We need to be courageous.
    If these things seem difficult, we need think about how we would feel if our child was being made to feel unsafe. What would we hope our friends and neighbors would do?
    Dr. Michelle B. Mathias, Edmunds Elementary School, Burlington, VT

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Hey Michelle,

      I LOVE your email. So jazzed to know you — and so thankful for modeling the courage that it takes to speak up against the rhetoric.



  3. Dienne

    I agree, but can we move beyond mere “tolerance”? How about acceptance? Tolerance implies doing something grudgingly – well, okay, I don’t really like Muslims and I wish they’d go away, but since I can’t kick ’em out, guess I have to tolerate ’em. Acceptance or even welcoming is really what we should be striving for and modeling.

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Hey Dienne,

      I totally dig your suggestion that our goal should be to move beyond tolerance and towards acceptance! Never thought much about the differences between those words — but you are right: I care more about acceptance than tolerance.

      Thanks for pointing that out!

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