Minnesota Mamaleh: In Our House, Tolerance is a Bad Word
I am so happy that his memory and years of tireless service are still being honored and remembered today. I wonder, though, what are kids learning about MLK Jr.’s dream? And how we are living it? I remember a student saying, “He wanted everyone to get along and he worked hard for it.” True.
I decided to try and find a project idea online to do with my kids about MLK, Jr.
You know, something that really gets at the heart of the matter. Something with construction paper. And glue. And maybe some glitter.
As I looked at the countless of search hits, my heart sank. Amongst many, many coloring sheets and crossword puzzles I came across the word tolerance. Just between you and me, I hate that word. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It always has. For me, it conjures up “putting up with” “endure” “allow.” I know, I know: accept, respect. However, my kids may tolerate spinach, long grown-up conversations and too-cold-to-play-outside days. They will NOT tolerate people.
People are meant to be celebrated. Enjoyed. Marveled at and learned from. But how in the world do we teach THAT?
I suppose we live it. As uncomfortable as it felt, I dug deep to the last time my kids and I were exposed to something (anything!) worthy of the label “real diversity.” My friends, my activities are very…homogeneous.
When I moved to Minnesota nearly a decade ago I was so uncomfortable with the sameness of it all. Coming from the San Francisco area it is quite jarring. And now…well to be brutally honest, I don’t always notice it.
Before kids I had so many ideals of the authentic learning that I would experience with my kids. And now I have so many ideals about sleeping through the night. Somehow, construction paper just doesn’t always scream authentic does it? I needed to keep thinking.
As I was still trying to come up with something that called out amazing! enlightening! diverse!, Kayli came home from public school Kindergarten breathless with excitement. “Mom! We learned about Passover today!” Hmm… “Really, K? What did you learn about Passover?” “There were slaves. And Martin Luther King, Jr. helped them!” Oh my sweet girl. According to Kayli, Abraham Lincoln was right in there, too, “helping the Hebrew slaves.” Along with Martin Luther King, Jr. Obviously.
I tried to de-tangle some of this for her. Different slaves. Different time periods. Different heroes. Same mistakes. As we were talking over lunch three-year-old Chloe was watching us with her big hazel eyes trying to make sense of what we were saying. It took every bit of willpower that I had to not pry her thoughts out of her. She looked so tender and not yet ready to talk.
As I lay down with Chloe before her nap time she sleepily said, “Same mistakes, Mama?” My heart skipped a beat at the teachable moment. Hooray for understanding! But oh-so-much pressure to send the right messages here.
And that is the heart of the matter. That’s the authentic learning that I was looking for. Making connections. Talking. Learning. Asking questions.
Living the same mistakes is a tragedy. Ignoring this with and for our kids: another tragedy. It was once considered politically correct and polite to “not see color.” I think the prideful term was, “color blind.” I don’t see color in my classroom, my play group, anywhere: TRAGEDY.
Colors are meant to be seen and that is what I want for my kids.
To notice differences and to be wild with curiosity about them. I want my kids to have the confidence in who they are and what they know to ask questions. To learn. To celebrate. NOT to tolerate. NOT to be and let be. Learn! Celebrate! Make others uncomfortable with your endless questions! (But only if you have to on the last one. We are in Minnesota after all!)
Galit, bravo to what I think is your best piece yet. Good for you for sticking those “San Francisco” ideals to the Minnesotans! Maybe the best example of celebrating diversity would be a little San Frantastic adventure? Maybe I’m just missing you! The thought I have after reading every one of your articles is how amazingly lucky your kids are to have you as their mamelah!
I love this post, Galit! Thanks!!!!
thank you so much ladies! fun to hear from both of you on here!
Thank you for that post, Galit!
You’re only the second person I’ve ever heard or read to point out the real meaning of the celebrated word “tolerance.” (The other one was a Jew, too; coincidence?)
You’re absolutely right about that word’s meaning. It really is nothing more than “putting up with.” Sure, our modern usage has sanded off the rough edges — somehow its connotation sounds now in our politically correct talk less “grudging” and more “polite,” “noble,” “right.”
No, it is not right! Tolerance is the _minimum_ standard. (Akin to politeness — the baseline above which stand camaraderie, friendship, love.) Political theorists like John Locke were advocating religious “toleration” back in the seventeenth century! Sure, western society has advanced quite a lot since then. But shouldn’t we have advanced farther?!
I do think this word — so much a part of how we talk about inter-ethnic relations — is holding us back from moving much beyond its core concepts. (Of course, it’s not the main thing holding us back; but it doesn’t help.)
Sadly, I do think sometimes that in our society “tolerance” is all too accurate. Too many whites still merely tolerate blacks in some spheres. And, I think (I hope that I am wrong), sometimes the best that Jews get from gentiles — even in this most wonderfully free of countries — is “tolerance.”
P.S. I think that if I see this more clearly than others, it’s partly because I am an immigrant. Do I read too much into your Israeli name, Galit, in thinking that you are also foreign-born?
There was a nice synchronicity between the Jewish and American calendars this year – we are reading about the Exodus from Egypt just as we honor the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. In my day school classroom, I took advantage of this to remind my students of these parallels (though perhaps I just confused them too….)
Hi Mike! Thanks for the note. I agree with you 100% and I absolutely love your explanation of celebrating tolerance holding us back as a society. You’re right! I think schools are *starting* to move beyond this concept, but there’s whole (celebrated!) programs with titles such as “Teaching Tolerance” that are still misleading/ misguiding (although their content is very good).
And, you’re right. I am Israeli! A “sabra.” 🙂
And, Amy thanks for pointing that out! I highly doubt that anyone in *your* classroom is confused, though!
I love this post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings on diversity. I especially like your words at the end about celebrating our differences. I find it interesting how some of my friends and family don’t point out differences because they don’t want to impress on the kids that different is bad. Eventually other children are going to point out differences – I’d much rather be the one to contextualize those differences for my children and frame them positively before other people can do it negatively.
I also agree that tolerate/tolerance is a bad word. Of course, I’d rather someone tolerate than discriminate… but celebrate differences is the goal in my household.
missy, hi! thanks so much for the visit and comment. your point is perfect: we want to be the ones dialoguing with and teaching our children. even if the convo is shudder-worthy-tricky. so happy to have connected with you!