Fear and Ignorance In Today's Society
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these right, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving……..”
I keep thinking I’m getting too old for those words to have such an effect on me, but truth is I still get goosebumps when I read them. The words that have the greatest impact on me are….”that all men are created equal.” Let me tell you why.
I have always believed that the greatest thing we can teach our children is the ability to reason. Standardized testing serves no practical purpose in schools today other than to teach children how to parrot information that has been drilled into them. Often in my classroom I would ask my students if they were Democrat or Republican, and each year the students would raise their hands according to their political leanings and beliefs. Stop and read that sentence again. A twelve year old does not by nature have political leanings. What they are professing to are the political leanings of their parents, with no idea what those leanings are or mean. To prove it I would ask them what it means to be Democratic or Republican and to a student they couldn’t answer me.
Each year I would ask my students (this was a Catholic school) what it meant to be Catholic. Now understand that these were kids who had been baptized and confirmed in the Catholic Church, had attended religion classes for seven years prior to being asked that question, and not one of them could tell me the definition of Catholicism or how it differed from other Christian religions. They would proudly raise their hands and tell me that it meant they believed in Jesus Christ, only to become confused when I mentioned that so do the Baptists, Episcopals, and a healthy handful of other religions. Then they would raise their hands and tell me that Catholics received communion and felt pretty damn proud until I listed the other religions that handed out communion. It would continue like that until I finally ran out of class time and had to tell them.
Again, they were parroting what their parents had told them and that was good enough for them. I have always tried to teach my students to investigate, learn all viewpoints and only then to make an informed decision based on that investigation. Amazingly, or maybe not so, each year I would have some parents complain that I was brainwashing their children and trying to get them to believe in another religion or in the case of politics to believe in another Party other than the one they believed in. It is pure and simple ignorance and lack of reason and it needs to disappear from schools.
What we do not understand in many cases we will fear, and fear all too often generates hatred and violence. Let us take a look at racism. Racism in the United States is a time-honored tradition to many. It goes something like this: “My grandpappy hated blacks and my daddy hated blacks and I hate blacks.” There is no logic in that statement nor is there any reason; it is just a gut reaction and belief system handed down from one generation to the next. The average citizen of the United States has no understanding of Islamic beliefs; no concept of the fundamentals of that culture. The average white in the United States has no clear understanding of what it is like to grow up black in the slums of Mississippi or Detroit. The average white in the United States has no clue of the daily struggles of the itinerant farm worker from Mexico. What the average white in the United States does have is a hazy notion based on the beliefs they were indoctrinated with as children, or some knee-jerk reaction based on a singular moment in their lives, like the events of 9/11 or Pearl Harbor or the Watts Riots. Let me repeat: what we do not understand in many cases we will fear, and fear all too often generates hatred and violence.
The solution to this, of course, is education. We have a much better chance of understanding other people who are different from us if we take the time to educate ourselves and our children about different cultures. The hateful traditions of the past can be halted but they will never be halted as long as our children are lacking in the fundamental ability to reason.
College was the best thing that could have happened to me. Growing up during the Fifties and Sixties I was surrounded by racism and bigotry and ignorance but I really wasn’t aware of it; it was so subtle at times that it was like a draft of cold air that flows suddenly through a warm room and then is gone. Derogatory names and terms were quite common in everyday language but it was so pervasive that it seemed normal and acceptable, just like smoking in public was a normal occurrence at that time. It wasn’t until I arrived at college and was introduced to other beliefs and opinions that I actually began to realize that I didn’t know much at all. Sharing meals with others from different cultures was advanced education for me; working in the ghetto teaching black children to read was graduate work in the School of Life. I came out of college not brainwashed but cleansed, scrubbed clean of the indoctrination I had received growing up.
Education eradicated ignorance for me and by extension prevented fear. Today I do not fear other cultures nor does my son; he is well-read and well-schooled on the differences in each of us….but more importantly, I think, he is well-schooled on the similarities in each of us. I have never told him what to believe; I only asked that he do his research before expressing an opinion.
All men (and women of course) were created equal. I am not fool enough to think that all cultures believe that because they do not, but I do not fear them and by extension I do not hate them. In the final analysis we are all human: we laugh, we cry, we celebrate and we mourn. We all go about our daily lives, tackling the problems, rejoicing in the victories and try to forge a better life for ourselves. I can accept that and in fact rejoice in it.
I don’t know what difference I make these days; I no longer teach so I can’t reach out to students like I once did. I think, and maybe this is just wishful thinking on my part, that each of us can make a difference to change bigotry and racism and overturn this atmosphere of fear and hatred simply by working on one person at a time. It may seem like a small and meaningless step, the actions of the forever-gullible, but I do think that one person can make a difference. In fact, I have to believe that is true because to not believe it is to resign ourselves to a life where nobody trusts, nobody reaches out, nobody takes the chance to be…….human!
- Declaration of Independence
Drafted by Thomas Jefferson between June 11 and June 28, 1776, the Declaration of Independence is at once the nation's most cherished symbol of liberty and Jefferson's most enduring monument.
- I Have A Dream Speech - Martin Luther King Speeches
Martin Luther King's I Have A Dream Speech from the Mach on Washington with quotes and pictures in the public domain.
- Hate: Why do so Many?
Why can't we all just accept each other? It takes a less energy than hating.