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Iowa public schools should teach acceptance rather than just tolerance

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | MARCH 21, 2012 6:30 AM

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For decades, America's public schools have striven to serve as sanctuaries of tolerance — allowing students of all creeds, ethnicities, and religions to attend without much interference. However, what we need our public schools to be are forces for promoting acceptance — using information as both a shield and weapon to fend off the pernicious forms of hatred and prejudice that threaten our country's children intellectually and emotionally.

This past week in Dunkerton, Iowa, the seventh- through 12th-grade principal, Michael Cooper, resigned amid controversy. In a perfect example of hideous and deplorable prejudice, a performance by a Minneapolis-based Christian rap group — Junkyard Prophet — led to community uproar and the eventual resignation.

During an assembly, the band took the opportunity to inform the students of the "evils" of homosexuality, abortion, and sex while displaying pictures of aborted fetuses. The Associated Press reported one parent saying the group went so far as to inform the students that gay individuals were going to "die by the age of 42."

According to Junkyard Prophet's website, it is "controversial, daring, fearless, and honest." What its website does not clearly spell out however, is that the band is affiliated with You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International.

For those unfamiliar with that group, it is a self-described Christian ministry, but in reality, it is a group espousing hateful ideas through a number of outlets, including Junkyard Prophet. And though the band members might think of themselves as "fearless and honest," the Southern Poverty Law Center points out that the band is an "anti-gay" hate group.

It is at this point that it becomes important not to allow this single event to distract from the broader issue at hand. Yes, this rap group is hateful. Yes, Cooper made a terrible mistake by allowing the group to perform uninterrupted at a school assembly with children as young as 12 in attendance. But Cooper has resigned. So we should all be able to say good riddance to a bad administrator and focus on the greater issue.

What this incident does is raise a rather interesting question: Should schools be sanctuaries of tolerance or instruments for combating the hatred and disinformation disseminated by close-minded groups and communities?

To be sure, the First Amendment requires intolerance be protected in the public sphere. But K-12 schools are not the public sphere, and for far too long, people have contended that schools remain neutral to intolerance — so long as the competition between the two does not distract from day-to-day activity.

This approach is intellectually and morally apathetic. When mixed with the duty to teach young children, the idea that hateful and prejudicial opinions should be tolerated alongside messages of love and acceptance is despicable. Moreover, the idea that hateful and prejudicial opinions should be given consideration at all is dangerous.

Schools are temples of learning, and thoughts and expressions founded in fact and reason should be given prominence over biased ideas founded in fear and distorted morality. We should teach our children that ethnicity reflects nothing more than one's heritage, and that regardless of that, we are all equal human beings.

We should teach our children that being gay is no different from being heterosexual, and, by that measure, it reveals nothing more than to which gender a person finds herself or himself attracted. We should teach our children that women who have received the totally legal medical procedure of an abortion are not morally bankrupt, because no one, save for that woman, can understand in full the circumstances in which that procedure was sought. Perhaps most importantly, we should teach our children that hatred and prejudice have real, human costs and do real harm to both individuals and society as a whole.

If we as a state agree that communities should make an effort to quash hatred, then why would we not want our schools to reflect that communal sentiment and contribute in that effort together?

American schools are no place to give both hate and acceptance equal consideration. Under the First Amendment, good ideas and bad ideas might find equal protection, but hate deserves none.


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