So while teachers, administrators and school counselors can always do more to reinforce lessons in tolerance, we think they are doing a good job overall. We can’t blame school districts for racist or homophobic students any more than we can blame them for students who won’t study and can’t pass math. There’s just so much a teacher can do.
Nor do we believe that good parenting will mean an end to intolerant behavior. If parents only listened more, taught by example a little better and punished children who behaved badly, all of us would grow up with peace and good will in our hearts. Not really.
There will always be people who hate others who don’t look like them, pray like them, don’t have the same abilities they do, aren’t “pure Americans,” speak another language or are attracted to others of their gender. But that doesn’t mean that our society should accept that hate crimes will continue to happen, and that people of color, gays, lesbians and the disabled must continue to endure prejudice and discrimination.
It remains true that parents and educators need to teach by example. Oscar Hammerstein II’s lyrics to the song “You Have To Be Carefully Taught” in the musical “South Pacific” are worth remembering: “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear, You’ve got to be taught from year to year, It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear, You’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught to be afraid of people whose eyes are oddly made, and people whose skin is a diff’rent shade, You’ve got to be carefully taught.”
It’s also worth remembering that some theatergoers in decades past criticized the song as inappropriate for a musical because such sentiments were too controversial.
But just as intolerance must be carefully taught, so must tolerance. Parents and other family members, educators, coaches, guidance counselors, doctors, police and clergy — and really all authority figures — must teach young people from the earliest age to accept and respect others. While that will not eliminate hate, every young person who is guided down the path of tolerance will be one less painter of swastikas, one less Frazier Glenn Miller, one less hater, one less killer.