lessons in tolerance for the intolerant

Sorry for the silly title, but sometimes I get confused by emerging definitions of tolerance and one-size-fits-all approaches to morality. I'm especially uncomfortable with political indoctrination of children masquerading as moral indoctrination, and my antennae were raised by some of the code language used in today's Inquirer editorial. Titled "Lessons in tolerance," the ostensible purpose of the editorial is to tackle the idea that children should be shown films of gay families in order to tolerate them. But I just couldn't get past the routine phraseology that we're all being conditioned, numbingly, to accept uncritically:

As students leave summer vacation behind and resume their reading, writing, math and science, many school districts struggle with how to teach the harder lessons required in their curriculums these days.

By state mandate or societal necessity, they have to fashion lessons on conflict resolution, sex education, tolerance, diversity and anti-bullying - all while trying to respect parents' divergent views of morality.

Isn't the primary purpose of schools (the editorial deals with elementary schools) to teach kids how to read, write and compute? I mean, isn't that what the vast majority of parents are sending their kids to school for? Except for a minuscule number of parents who might be opposed such basic education, why should there be any reason for teachers to be worried about divergent views of morality? Did the state suddenly get into the morality business while no one was looking? Or is new morality being manufactured by politicians and educrats?

I don't know. But if the state is mandating that morality be taught in the schools, it sounds like they're opening a Pandora's box. Notice the use of loaded terms there -- "conflict resolution," "tolerance," "diversity," and "anti-bullying." In fact, with the possible exception of "sex education," each one of the above phrases has the ring of code language. Is there an attempt to covertly indoctrinate students with political agendas to which the parents have not been consulted and might not agree?

I wonder. Let's start with the seemingly innocuous phrase "conflict resolution." Sounds like a good, common-sense idea, right? No one wants conflict. So aren't these just two little words to which that no rational parent could possibly object?

Not so fast. Recently, I noticed an insidious movement called "Peace Studies" which among other things redefines the word "violence" to mean opposition to socialism. Last week Andrew Sullivan called it "ideology masquerading as scholarship" and praised Bruce Bawer for "putting his finger on something":

We need to make two points about this movement at the outset. First, it's opposed to every value that the West stands for -- liberty, free markets, individualism -- and it despises America, the supreme symbol and defender of those values. Second, we're talking not about a bunch of naive Quakers but about a movement of savvy, ambitious professionals that is already comfortably ensconced at the United Nations, in the European Union, and in many nongovernmental organizations. It is also waging an aggressive, under-the-media-radar campaign for a cabinet-level Peace Department in the United States.
I don't think this is happening merely under the media radar. It's happening under everyone's radar.

What especially bothers me about "conflict resolution" is that the phrase seems to be inextricably intertwined with "peace studies" -- to the point where if you Google them both, you'll see that in most of the colleges and universities, they are taught by specific departments called (guess what?) "Conflict resolution and peace studies." Naturally, degrees are conferred in these academic "disciplines." Duquesnes' department is typical, as is the University of Idaho's "Martin Institute for Peace Studies and Conflict resolution," and Georgetown's Conflict Resolution Association. The latter, by the way, hints at future careers in (guess what) teaching Conflict Resolution:

The broad themes of the program trace the three basic stages of conflict processes: first, the origins of disputes, second, mediation and negotiation, and finally post-conflict peacebuilding. Students are schooled in a variety of perspectives ranging from intergroup to community to global. Such themes as the role of religion in conflict and conciliation, alternative dispute resolution, multiparty negotiations, third party intervention in civil conflicts, and emerging norms in the resolution of conflict, are also highlighted. The program prepares students for further academic study, or for careers in the rapidly growing market for specialists in the field of Conflict Resolution.
My point is not to dispute the right of anyone to take these courses so much as it is to highlight what I see as covert use of code language, quite possibly with a deliberate political goal of indoctrinating elementary school students in a morally abhorrent system of morality which is anti-liberal and anti-Western. I'm lucky I don't have a kid, I guess. Because if I did, and if he came home and accused me of "structural and cultural violence," I'd want to sue the local school board.

OK, so that's only one phrase. But it is used so often and so reflexively that people just get used to it, and they figure it must be a good thing.

Another one is "anti-bullying." We are all against bullying, aren't we? What rational parent could possibly be in favor of bullying? Hey, when I was a kid, I hated bullies, and my dad taught me that I should never take shit off them, and that I should always fight back. Might schools today (and the Philadelphia Inquirer) consider that a "divergent view of morality"?

I think they would. "Anti-bullying" also appears to be code language for something very different than what the words might appear to mean. In this respect, my analysis is aided by the fact that many states have mandated anti-bullying programs and actually codified the definition of the word bully.

Bad news. "Bully" no longer means what it did when I was a kid. Here's the Colorado definition:

"any written or verbal expression, or physical act or gesture, or a pattern thereof, that is intended to cause distress upon one or more students in the school, on school grounds, in school vehicles, at a designated bus stop, or at school activities or sanctioned events."
Huh? You mean, it's no longer demanding lunch money by threatening violence? Or even calling someone derogatory names and threatening to beat them up? I'm not sure I'd agree that merely intending to cause distress is bullying, because countless statements could be seen that way, even such typically innocuous childish statements as "my daddy is stronger than your daddy" or "my shoes are cooler than your shoes" "my parents think Bush is an idiot and Republicans are chimpanzees!" (knowing that the other kid's parents are Bush voters) or the famous "that's so gay!" This is the kind of stuff children will say, and there is simply no way to keep "distress" out of it.

In a pattern which becoming so stultifyingly familiar that I fear I may be boring readers, "anti-bullying" is linked to "conflict resolution." (And of course "Peace Studies again.)

Have the schools been taken over by the John Lennon Imagine crowd? How the hell are we supposed to fight a war if we're attacked and all the kids were raised with this nonsense?

In what I hope is a coincidence, today's Inquirer has column by Pat Harner about "cyber bullying" titled "Bullies on the online playground." As to a definition, well, there's this:

Cyber-bullies discretely harass others through technology such as cell-phone text messaging and instant messaging, or via social networking sites such as MySpace or Facebook. Cyber-bullying typically includes threats of physical violence, the spread of reputation-damaging lies, or the distribution or posting of embarrassing pictures.

Nearly half of American teens have been affected by cyber-bullying. Since teens take their online culture very seriously, the impact of cyber-bullying can be tremendous. In most situations, victims do not know who cyber-bullies are; perpetrators often hide behind fictitious screen names and ambiguous e-mail addresses. Sometimes, children who were once targets of "real-world" bullying turn to cyber-bullying as a form of retaliation.

OK, threatening physical violence online is a crime. As to "the spread of reputation-damaging lies," what does that mean? Insults? Again, anything that might cause distress? Saying someone said things he didn't say? By the gods, I think I'm a victim of cyber-bullying by bloggers and commenters, and I think a lot of bloggers are!

I notice that the author is (along with the famed Helen Caldicott) on the advisory board of a group called Project for Nuclear Awareness, and she is co-hosting an anti-nuclear event with a man who's been nominated for Secretary of Defense. So naturally, I worry about pacifist agendas being crammed down innocent childrens' throats. In the name of "education" and in this case "anti-bullying." No doubt the activists who promote this stuff would cite reams of statistics to show that bullying leads to Nazism and war, and Neo-Conservatism, and they have just as much right to their obnoxious opinions as I do to mine. But should their point of view be allowed (through the back door) to be taught as "education"? I don't think so. As to distress, I'm feeling distressed right now just thinking about it, and I don't even have children.

Does that mean I'm a victim of bullying?

Back to the Inquirer:

It [fashioning lessons on conflict resolution, sex education, tolerance, diversity and anti-bullying] isn't easy.

No district discovered that more painfully last school year than Evesham in Burlington County.

As part of New Jersey's state-mandated health curriculum to "identify different kinds of families and explain that families may differ," the district showed one school's third graders That's a Family, a half-hour video depicting mixed-race, divorced, single and adoptive parents, and families headed by grandparents.

But it was the video's segment on same-sex couples that drove the town into an ugly mid-winter uproar.

Naturally, it drove them into an uproar. I don't doubt for a moment that this was precisely why they showed it. I believe the film was, to use their own language, "intended to cause distress." But no one would call it bullying, because it is being called a plea for tolerance.

There's a word which is bandied about a lot. Most of the time, it's used as a cudgel, to imply that not liking something is the opposite of tolerance. Nonsense. The very word "tolerance" means endure. Put up with. Saying "I tolerate loud and obnoxious music" is a perfect example. There is nothing wrong with tolerance, but by definition it often means tolerating people and lifestyles we do not approve of and with which we disagree. What I don't like about the way many activists use the word is that on the one hand, they're implying that it means love and approval (which it does not), while on the other they promote hate and intolerance of lifestyles they do not like.

Why aren't children being shown a video of parents who teach their children how to shoot guns, for example? Because children are being indoctrinated systematically to believe that guns are evil. The schools make no bones about it.

What do they call the promulgation of such ideas? Any ideas?

"Zero what?"


Zero tolerance!

Such anti-gun, anti-self-defense, lifestyle intolerance is reflected everywhere, and the bigotry is callused, thoughtless, almost reflexive. Yesterday in a short piece the Inquirer buried on page B-4 of the Local News Section, gun owners who experienced distress over the bullying tactics (and hateful remarks) of Pennsylvania State Representative Angel Cruz were dismissively referred to as "the gun lobby." (Not a new issue for me.)

Why is it that I have a feeling the Inquirer would take a dim view of those who thought the third grade film was being promoted by "the gay lobby"? (Something I hasten to add I don't believe.)

It's as if they think that "tolerance" means love and support for me, but "zero tolerance" for thee. Today's editorial continues:

At a public meeting-turned shouting match, some parents and school officials defended the video as a useful tool to teach tolerance and prevent bullying. Others derided it as promoting homosexuality. Both sides behaved badly, setting a poor example for youth.
I think it's arguable that such a film might, by creating a predictable backlash, actually spread intolerance and promote bullying, and I wonder whether it ever ocurred to the school to think about that.
In the months since, surveys, study and discussion led an advisory committee to recommend in August that the video be shown to fourth graders, rather than third. But the school board voted 7-1 two weeks ago to chuck it altogether.

That's probably for the best. Whatever its merits, the video has become a lightning rod locally.

Again, I think this is precisely the intent. Like the old condom-on-the-banana trick, such inflammatory issues act as red herrings -- by keeping culturally divergent parents pitted against each other. This allows the much more harmful pacifist agendas to slip through unchallenged, and (worst of all IMO) causes people to lose sight of the fact that the schools aren't doing their primary job of teaching kids to read and calculate.

Naturally, activists will obligingly keep the culture war fires burning:

A gay civil rights group is threatening to sue to force the showing of That's a Family, but a court order certainly won't further tolerance.

Evesham should recommit to its worthy, original goal - exposing elementary school students to a diversity of families - and find a new teaching tool to promote understanding of all groups.

Diversity? Isn't that also code language for selective discrimination? (Sorry, but I don;t have time for an essay on diversity right now. But that word! I couldn't let it go completely unchallenged.
In New Jersey, where civil unions and domestic partnerships are legal, that rainbow includes children with two moms or two dads.

Lessons can be value-neutral. Acknowledging that divorce exists, for example, does not "advocate" divorce.

Students as young as third grade do wonder why some families look different from theirs, and they do ask questions - not always in the privacy of their homes, as a number of Evesham parents seemed to desire.

Far better that the questions get answered in the classroom than on the playground.

That may well be, but I think if they're going to promote tolerance by stirring people up, they ought to promote a little diversity of opinion, because things like how to live your life are matters of opinion. Sure, it's undeniable that there are gay families, but once a school puts a gay family in a film, they're not only inviting editorial criticism from groups which oppose gay families, they're opening up issue of other alternative family lifestyles. Is tolerance limited to tolerating gay families? And "mixed-race, divorced, single and adoptive parents, and families headed by grandparents"?

Yes, as long as they don't have a gun in the home!


What will it take to get people to realize that the condom on the banana is the matador's cape?

Sorry if I sound tired. (I am.)

MORE: Parents who who got all caught up in fighting the gay video are foolishly imagining that they have "won" some sort of "victory." They are actually helping perpetuate the programs which indoctrinate students, and I don't just mean by creating a kneejerk backlash reaction by parents who disagree with them.

What is being forgotten is that implicit in any battle over the details of how a program is implemented is that the program itself is desirable in the first place. It is the conflict resolution and peace studies people who have won, because the desirability of their overall program is unquestioned, and therefore unopposed. I am reminded of Berkeley landlords who used to wear themselves out over annual rent adjustments (and the "pro-landlord" reps who used to say they'd "make rent control work"). It's almost as unsettling as the idea of Republicans working to make socialism work.

posted by Eric on 09.10.07 at 10:49 AM


Anti-bullying? Let me guess, they're passing off the job on the kids. The very ones who get bullied, and who then get bullied by teachers for getting bullied by the bullies.

We want to see bullying stopped we need to deal with the bullies themselves. We do that by the simple method of telling the bullies right flat out, you don't bully other people. Punctuated with a few swacks upside the head so the words sink in.

It would also help if certain parties learned that kids cannot reason and act like adults.

Alan Kellogg   ·  September 10, 2007 12:30 PM

“Have the schools been taken over by the John Lennon Imagine crowd? How the hell are we supposed to fight a war if we're attacked and all the kids were raised with this nonsense?”

I think that's the general idea... the far left isn't just rooting for defeat in Iraq, they are try to sow the seeds of defeat for all the wars that haven't even happened yet.

Watcher   ·  September 10, 2007 2:12 PM

Well of course. You have seen the bumper sticker: "I'm Already Against The Next War".

triticale   ·  September 10, 2007 6:33 PM

>Is tolerance limited to tolerating gay families? And "mixed-race, divorced, single and adoptive parents, and families headed by grandparents"?

>Yes, as long as they don't have a gun in the home!

Or don't homeschool their children. (Double-zero tolerance if they have guns and homeschool).

Marzo   ·  September 10, 2007 6:38 PM

My daughter is almost old enough to go shooting. I figure I'll take her when she's 10 or so. She doesn't ever have to go again, but she IS going to learn how to handle a gun safely. Same goes for my son, when he's older.

So far, the schools here haven't tried to teach them anything so stupid, but I'm keeping watch.

Rather than religious private schools, someone is going to need to start some "Old School" private schools...


Earnest Iconoclast   ·  September 11, 2007 11:03 AM

Youngest boy ran into this last year. Bullies learn very quickly to run to the authority and say that their victim called them a nasty name. And the fact that there's a group of them and only one of the kid doesn't mean anything to school administrations. And heaven help the kid who fights back.

You see, this is enforced with soviet sloppiness in schools. The administrators are afraid of the bullies, themselves. Not that I blame them, these are often the sort of feral kiddies who stop at nothing. OR they're administrators darlings. HOWEVER the powers that be will go after the kids who fight back to the full extent of their power.

It's like... they want to make kids dependent on government and "the proper authorities" or something. Gee, I wonder why.


Portia   ·  September 12, 2007 12:52 AM

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