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Friday, November 5, 2010

Courage and Tolerance

Earlier this week, in the aftermath of the campaign frenzy and election, I provided a Blog post reflecting on the disturbing trend of high volume, full contact partisan politics. I suggested that the impasse produced by inherent adversity, entrenched minds, and a "with us or against us" environment, is a poor example of conflict resolution, cooperation, and communication for our youth. With that said, how are we to proceed in developing the opportunity for youngsters in Green Island and elsewhere to generate perspectives and cultivate opinions of their own so they can unleash new possibilities and expand horizons beyond the limitations of future and unpredictable political and ideological stalemates? How will they know?

Let's begin by differentiating between two ways of "knowing." For instance, "knowing that" generally refers to understanding facts and retaining information, a simple, almost formulaic transactional process commonly found in typical schools. And then there's "knowing how," which involves exercising a skill and demonstrating ability - a process that challenges schools in an era of high stakes, fill-in-the-bubble assessments. But this isn't meant to be a debate on measurements. Rather, the point is adults - parents and teachers alike - teaching children (and future leaders) how to appropriately engage in the crowded marketplace of ideas, beliefs, values and opinions to fill their shopping cart with options, proposals, and eventual solutions. I'd answer that question by simply suggesting that we rely on the means of transmitting skills that has worked across all cultures and over recorded time- by modeling and demonstrating.

Yes, I know it takes time and patience. You have other things to do. I realize it can get messy and personal, and especially uncomfortable if you offer a view of all possible sides of an issue - not just your own. I know it would be easier if maybe someone else could do it instead. I accept that it's more difficult than just giving someone an instructional manual or an itemized list of steps. I understand all that. But if we as adults don't make the time, display the patience, assume the risk, and invest the commitment, then we are sacrificing what we pledge ourselves to in a democracy.

Let's not forget that as schools across the country devote themselves to preparing for tests of "knowing that," we must remain vigilant in the need to prepare them for "knowing how." What is our test for courage? What is our test for tolerance? When do we move beyond offering medals for tests and begin to test our mettle?

I found the following quote by Ralph W. Sockman that offers a point worthy of consideration.

"The test of courage comes when we are in the minority. The test of tolerance comes when we are in the majority."

It's easy to concede defeat and surrender in resignation when we are in the minority regarding an issue, a vote, or a population. Conversely, it's easy to assume victory and boast triumphantly when we are in the majority in terms of a matter, a decision, or statistics. Our form of government has depended on a system of checks and balances to avoid a tyranny of the majority. We must commit to that in thought and action when we are confronted by someone or something that is different or unfamiliar. And we must recognize that how we respond to the test of courage and the test of tolerance becomes a model for our children. It is a heavy burden that must be lifted.

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