There are few places in the US where you will find such a wealth of diverse races, religions, and cultures. From an educational standpoint, this offers us excellent opportunities to learn from each other, to broaden our experiences, and deepen our understandings.
Unfortunately, this diversity has revealed an unflattering side of our community, too. It’s something we don’t like to talk about, but which has to be acknowledged if we are to move forward. And that is the issue of racial intolerance and hate crime.
The recent incident of slurs and hateful symbols found at Glenelg High School is really just a symptom of a larger problem. Yes, these acts were quickly condemned by school leaders. Yes, we have made it clear that we will not tolerate such manifestations of hate in our schools. But what we find disturbing is the fact that these young people felt emboldened to create this graffiti in the first place.
Sadly, Howard County is simply feeling the repercussions of a trend that is happening statewide. A student in a nearby county wrote an AP essay suggesting the extermination of the black race. In another district, a group known as the “Kool Kids Klan” circulated a petition under a veiled resemblance to the KKK. And two Towson University students were attacked because of their Jewish faith.
So what are we to do in the face of such bold hatred? How can we respond, beyond our initial reaction of condemnation? Is there a way to be proactive, rather than reactive? How can we foster a community in which violent acts of hatred are not only condemned, but never occur in the first place?
As with most community issues, the solution lies in education.
Here are some practical and proven tactics for promoting tolerance and curbing expressions of hatred.
- After-school social events that integrate students of diverse ethnicities
- Exposing children to books that celebrate differences (The Skin You Live In, Where Does God Live, Don’t Call Me Special)
- Professional development for teachers on issues of diversity and equity. (For more information about what equity really means, please visit my earlier article)
- Teaching simple phrases like “Please,” “Thank you,” and “I love you” in different languages
- Multicultural or ethnic assemblies or special events
- Ensuring that diverse cultures and ethnicities are represented in our teaching staff
- Using a “strengths-based” perspective in discussions of difference (i.e., how a person’s differences make the world a better place).
- Classroom teaming between bilingual and traditional classes
- Training for students and staff in conflict resolution
We also need to continue to hold school districts accountable for promoting diversity in our schools, as discussed in one of my earlier blog posts.
While these actions may seem small, if they are carried through consistently for our children from a young age, we will see real results in the years to come. These results will not leave us in a position of “damage control” as we are now, responding to events in the aftermath of the pain they have already caused. Instead, we will reap the reward of a community in which there is no need to condemn such events, because they are simply no longer part of the landscape.
It is worth noting that minorities are represented by 63% of our students, but this percentage is not reflected in our staff, in which only 25% represent a minority group. This disparity raises important questions about how much we truly value diversity not merely in our words, but in our actions. This seems an opportune moment to focus our recruitment efforts on developing the talents of those who can best exemplify the value of diversity to our student body.
Together we can protect one of Howard County’s most valuable assets: the diversity of the people who live here.