Saturday, January 28, 2006

Continuing to miss the point

On a recent 60 Minutes, Morgan Freeman gave the greatest answer to the problem of racism, and in a larger aspect, any kind of prejudice at all.

He says he finds Black History Month ridiculous.

"You're going to relegate my history to a month?" asks Freeman. "I don't want a Black History Month. Black history is American history," he says, noting that there are no white or Jewish history months.

How can we get rid of racism?

"Stop talking about it. I'm going to stop calling you a white man," Freeman says to Wallace. "And I'm going to ask you to stop calling me a black man. I know you as Mike Wallace. You know me as Morgan Freeman. You wouldn't say, 'Well, I know this white guy named Mike Wallace.' You know what I'm sayin?"

Of course, he doesn't mean that we don't address the issue of prejudice, he means that we start living as equals in the true sense of the word. This means we should treat each other with the respect and dignity that all people deserve. Comments that attack a persons character, their race, their nationality, their gender, their sexual orientation, their weight, and their intelligence should not be considered acceptable in society. This is even more true in an education environment, where young minds are growing and creating their "frames of reference". One of the best things our school did this year is create the poster "This is a Hate Free Zone!" to have hung in every classroom in the school. It is a very brilliant and simple phrase. Your hateful comments and remarks have no place in the classroom, so keep them out or you will face consequences.

San Leandro High School (in the eastern Bay Area) is having a problem because this school is also demanding that posters be put up in classrooms, except they are these posters:

As you can see, the poster's focus in on issues having to do with gays and lesbians. Well, five teachers at San Leandro High School refuse to put the posters up in their classroom becausereligiousates reglious beliefs. The school is holding firm. You can read the details in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Two issues.
First, the whole "religious belief" excuse is bunk. If every teacher had the ability to manipulate the classroom accordreligiousheir relgious belief, then we would have a little problem with the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment of the Constitution, and have less of a unified school. You can't say "no" to your employer simply because yoreligion your relgion says so. It doesn't work that way.
Second issue is not only the poster, but also the meeting at the beginning of the year that the teachers attended. I'm against the poster for the same reason teacher Robert Volpa is.
"I think it's outstanding. Any hate language is not permissible. I have a problem with the district mandating anything that could be political."

And yes, the poster is a political statement. If the real issue is the language and actions of "hate", then lets deal with the whole spectrum of the issue, not simply identify the gay community as the main focal point of hate speech. What about the issues of race? What about gender? What about the nerdy kid that gets constantly bullied? What about the fat kid that has to take verbal abuse over and over again? Are we really addressing the problems of prejudice? Or are we doing what Morgan Freeman said not to do, focusing on a group of people and demandireceive they recieve different treatment than everyone else, including others that are oppressed.
By all means, educate teachers about tolerance and acceptable behavior in classrooms. Demand "Hate Free Zones". Demand that everyone in the class be treated with the same respect, have the same opportunity, and be afforded the same education. But don't make tolerance a "gay and lesbian only" issue.
It doesn't solve the problem.
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