My Turn: Tolerance doesn't mean accentuating differences

Posted: Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Thank you for the article about the school counseling curriculum in Sunday's paper ("Same-sex discussion bothers parents"). Having been quoted, I want to clarify that I am in complete support of teaching our children respect and kindness to all individuals, regardless of our differences. My only concern lies with how the Juneau School District is proposing to accomplish this task.

In the draft counseling curriculum it states under the heading "Acquire Interpersonal Skills, that students will:

• "Learn about acceptance, tolerance, and respect for individual and group differences, e.g. students with special needs; students who learn differently; gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender students; students with different cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds, etc.," and

• "Recognize and respect differences in various family configurations, i.e. adoptive, step families, same-gender, single-parent, etc."

A school counselor reminded us in Sunday's paper that, "a lot of teasing among school children stems from their differences." I am just wondering why the focus of the curriculum points out specific differences, when these differences are the cause of most problems in our schools? When we begin group classifications, we only accentuate our differences. Why is it so important to force acceptance, tolerance and recognition of a group or issue instead of focusing on individuals? When we begin promoting and protecting one group or issue over another, we will always leave a group or issue of equal importance out. Then we begin doing exactly what we are trying to discourage - discrimination.

Regardless of the fact that we all have differences, we all have similarities. I would like to see more time and energy spent on emphasizing similarities and skills that will create a common bond. We all have the common right to be treated with respect and dignity. We all deserve to be treated with kindness. If the curriculum is trying to teach our children to "Acquire an Interpersonal Skill," then let's teach them a "skill" that will help them interact with each other. That is why I proposed at the last School Board meeting to delete the above-mentioned items and perhaps replace them with the following two items.

• "Learn how to show respect for all individuals, i.e. treat others how you would like to be treated," and

• "Demonstrate how to show respect for all individuals through kind words and actions.

These are skills that will help our children throughout the rest of their lives. Once we begin focusing on our similarities and teaching respect and kindness to our children during these elementary years, we will then begin to see less teasing, discrimination and harassment in our schools and communities.

Our differences are what make us unique and interesting individuals. Our similarities are what strengthen and unite us together as friends, as a community and as the greatest country in the world.

• Chris King is a Juneau resident and mother of three.

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