Grow the tolerance, Weed out the hate


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  "I suggest that there is an answer to divisive cantankerousness! I suggest there is a yardstick by which we can measure actions to determine whether to tolerate them or condemn them."

t one of the schools in which I do business, there is a mood that permeates all transactions. There is a very strong flavor in the air. It is the flavor of acceptance of our fellow human beings. And now that Watsonville has become a City of Character, I expect that this get-along-with-your-brothers-and-sisters mood will begin to spread. I'd like to see it spread even onto the opinion pages of our local newspaper, which recently have been making us look like a cantankerous, divisive bunch!

At this school, when you check out the kids at recess, you can see that this is a heterogeneous group. It's a tossed salad of racial backgrounds brought together by their common need to become well-educated people. It is the proverbial mixed bag of academic levels, special kids one and all, striving towards excellence.

The school draws from a variety of neighborhoods, some impoverished, some up-scale. It is, however, a walking school. The attendance boundary lines are drawn to include different housing areas. Bussing is not required.

While I haven't seen the attitude expressed in any mission statement of the school, I have heard it sung by the students and the staff. Their song says, "Come along, you belong, ... and when you come along, we are strong." The song invites new people to play, encouraging them that soon will come "that magic moment when you hear them call your name."

That attitude of inclusiveness does not stop with the students. New staff and new parents are also welcomed. I notice that there is less staff turnover at this school than at other schools, perhaps because the people who come like to stay. The school community has become a family.

The custodian, Mike, is something of a marvel. In Mike's room with the brooms and rags there is a bulletin board on which he has mounted the photos brought to him by students over the years. He has photos of current students' parents when they were students at this school 20 years ago. This man leads a famous and well-attended kick ball game during lunch time. Been doing it for years. Everyone gets a turn. No one is excluded.

Is it a coincidence that this school is the one - unique in its community - in which bilingual education was retained following the passage of Proposition 227 by active parents signing the permitted waiver? I think not. It seems that tolerant people do not object to the speaking of another language, the celebrating of another culture, different strokes for different folks, when these do not infringe on their own way of going. Tolerance is a two-way street. You accept me; I accept you.

Let me note here, that while we can work towards accepting each other, we will not work towards accepting behavior which is out of line. We are tolerant, but do not tolerate bad behavior.

I suggest that there is an answer to divisive cantankerousness! I suggest there is a yardstick by which we can measure actions to determine whether to tolerate them or condemn them. Doubtless by now, if something is inherently evil, there is a law against it. That might be our standard.

Of course, laws change as new misbehaviors and new circumstances emerge. If a law needs changing, see your legislator!

I, too, am struggling, Watsonville, as I go about my day. I have my own intolerant attitudes that make me gnash my teeth! I am intolerant of spit wads in shiny clean bathrooms at schools. I cringe when cut off by pushy drivers on Highway 1, especially those with bumper stickers admonishing us to practice acts of kindness! I see red when someone dumps a bag of litter or a couch by the side of the road. But these things are against the rules. They have nothing to do with anyone's cultural heritage. They have everything to do with character.

Maybe the difference between a City of Character and the other kind of city is that in the former, people conduct themselves according to the rules and the laws even if nobody is looking.

I am glad that there is no rule that says we must paint our houses beige. I am extremely happy that there is no law that says we all must march to the same drummer. I think it's great that we have no law that prohibits arguing our point in the newspaper. But when we do, let's remember that people can read the hate between the lines when whole groups of people are maligned because of their ethnic background, for goodness sakes.

Sandra Nichols is a Speech and Language Specialist with Santa Cruz City Schools in Santa Cruz, California and sits on the Governing Board of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. This essay was first published in the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian, Jan. 19, 2002. The opinions expressed are those of Sandra Nichols and do not necessarily represent those of any school district, print publication or web site.

© Sandra Nichols 2002