In this week's Starr Points, columnist Linda Starr talks about teaching, preaching, and tolerance.
A reasonable request, as far as it goes. Unfortunately, it doesn't go far enough. Paige's statement asks teachers to preach the doctrine of tolerance but fails to charge educators with their most important task in ending ethnic intolerance -- dispelling the ignorance that engenders it.
Teachers are not preachers, a fact our society has lost sight of in its crusade to rapidly inoculate our children against the physical and moral dangers they face. Preachers urge right actions because those actions are moral imperatives. Teachers give kids the knowledge they need to choose right actions because those actions make sense. Or they should.
Instead of telling students that all people of Arab extraction are not alike, teachers should give kids maps and help them locate Arab countries and Middle Eastern countries. Do they know that Arabs don't come from a single country called "Arabia?" Do they know that Afghanistan is not an Arab country?
Instead of telling kids that the Islamic religion does not advocate terrorism, teachers should introduce their students to the history and tenets of the world's major religions. Do they know that Islam is the second largest religion in the world? Do they know that the name Islam is derived from the word salam, which means "peace"?
Instead of ... well, you get the idea. Today's kids are inundated with talk, but they are woefully short of facts. It is up to teachers to give them those facts. If we don't know them ourselves (and many of us don't!), we need to learn. We need to educate ourselves -- and then we need to educate our students.
We can't expect kids who are exposed to nightly reminders of the murders at the Pentagon and World Trade Center to not be angry. We can't expect kids who hear reports of "sleeper" terrorist cells throughout the world to not be afraid. And we can't expect that merely preaching tolerance will dissipate that anger and fear. Talk can't end intolerance, but facts can -- facts that make ethnic bigotry not just unacceptable, but unreasonable.
Certainly educators can model tolerance. They can insist on kindness in their classrooms and in their schools. But a teacher's most important responsibility is to teach -- not to preach.