During a recent class discussion, I questioned my students about their understanding of the difference between tolerance and acceptance. Immediately, I saw facial expressions change with their recognition of the relationship between the two terms. When discussing such issues in a classroom filled with adult students from a rural community, I steady myself in case there is backlash. I also make every effort to create an environment of open discussion rather than judging comments. Still, I was pleased that students nodded in agreement when considering the point that mere tolerance is not conducive to diversity. Several people in the class even noted that "the Bible doesn't say anything about 'tolerating' others; it says we should be accepting of each other."
Since the discussions in my classes, I have continued to mull over the attitudes and comments made, and from that I have drawn a few observations:
- Even though I am helping them polish their communication skills through writing, these students are eloquent in their expressions of diversity and acceptance.
- A closed mind can not expand or grow, thus any form of education, including life's lessons, comes to a halt.
- Fear of the unknown, which includes lack of knowledge, hinders acceptance.
As for Fred Phelps and his cult at Westboro Baptist Church, what are they so afraid of, that they find it necessary to travel from Topeka, KS to Palo Alto, CA to criticize students for celebrating diversity and acceptance? Congratulations to the forward thinking high schoolers in their efforts to demonstrate peaceful unity and for embracing those that claim to be enemies. In order for someone to be an enemy, his aversion must be reciprocated. May others learn to follow Gunn High School's example by letting their little lights shine brightly to shrink the dark shadows of hatred.