February 7, 2011 by readlisaread
I keep coming back to this theme. In big part, I think it’s because I keep seeing those Intolerant Behaviours that I abhor in others worming their way into my attitude. For example, I think of myself as VERY embracing of gender equity/sexual preference/same-sex marriage/open marriage/no marriage…..etc. And yet, once in awhile I catch myself out falling back on 1970’s mores. For example: the other day I was watching a Masterpiece Theatre presentation of Downton Abbey (a fabulous English period piece, grand atmospheres, wonderful costumes and 20th Century class struggles.) One of the characters was gay, though very subtly played (as suitable to the time he was living in). There was a scene between he and his former lover. The conversation was very tame, very PG, and I was not concerned about my 11 year old son (who had just happened by to see what was on TV) watching it. Until the lead man went in for a kiss. What did I do? Covered my kid’s eyes. Yes, yes, I did. And I mean, it was a really tame kiss, too. The question is, would I have covered his eyes had it been a heterosexual kiss? No, probably not, although I most likely would have said something like “Ewwww! That’s where Cooties come from!”, but I know I wouldn’t have covered his eyes. The more I think about it now, the more embarrassed I am by my suggestion of shame or secrecy. When I think of the possibility of either of my kids being gay, or any of my students, (which, let’s face it, is what…..10% of the population? 20% maybe?) my only particular thought is that I am glad society is so much more open and accepting of Lifestyle differences, and people are generally better educated and informed….and yet I covered my son’s eyes when 2 men kissed on TV. Jeez.
My next thought about intolerance regards growing up in a small town and the one ethnic group that was regarded as are many visible minorities around the world. In my case, I grew up alongside First Nations people, not ever understanding all (or even most) of the issues until I was well into my 30’s and 40’s. Like many Aboriginal people, the First Nations people of my area were displaced, exploited, maltreated and almost exterminated by my European ancestors. Throughout my life, First Nations people have experienced a variety of cultural identity issues. When I was young, they were Indians. Of course there were pejoratives and racist terms as well, but the accepted, “polite” term was Indians. And Indians all fell under the same umbrella, regardless of whether they were Coast Salish, Halalt, Haida or any of dozens of different groups. The government offices that looked after Reservations and aid had names like “Indian Affairs”, “Indian Support Workers”. Later, as the following generations began to be better educated and more politically aware, change (slowly) started to happen. Indians became Natives, then Aboriginals, then First Nations, and then another swing back to Aboriginals, and currently, the two terms are floated fairly evenly. It must add to the feeling of “not fitting in” that some of my students experience. Add to that all the internal structures, such as those who live on Reserve, and those who don’t, then there is the whole Metis thing…..and self governance and Treaty talks, and self policing….
So one of the things that I am sensitive to is encouraging my first nations students to have a voice, particularly when we are studying something like First Contact. One of the real difficulties in honouring first nations culture is in honouring their traditions. For example, there is a strong Oral Storytelling tradition, so that writing and committing stories to text are rare. Yet, children are raised to use their voices very seldom–to respect the hierarchy of their family and their society. Other issues arise around body language and proximity– first nations children tend not to look adults in the eye, and aren’t comfortable with contact (like a hand on the shoulder or leaning over their shoulder to look at their work).
I had a unique incident the other day with one of my bristly First Nations students. She will occasionally respond to questions in class, and generally when she does speak, it’s a well thought-out comment or question, but her contributions to class are rare. I set up an online discussion page for them, and she was even more hesitant to add her thoughts to that forum, because “she didn’t want people to see what she wrote”. But, eventually, she warmed up to the idea when she could see that her writing was no worse or better than most of the other students’. And, she could take her time and form her thoughts, edit and add and clarify before posting. Suddenly, she was more comfortable in the medium. A few months later, I gave that class their own blogs. Her “voice” is now very strong, and like most kids of this generation, she makes the space her own. I’m excited to watch all my students move into the digital world. The possibilities for them to communicate meaningfully and on their own terms is great. The first assignment was to post a blog entry about Intolerance. All going well they spread attitudes of tolerance…..