Sunday, September 27, 2015

What's In a Word?

Tolerance.  Shouldn't we expect more?

There are particular words that are used to help educate individuals regarding social issues. These words are intended to promote thought and impact positive change. For many I am sure the intended purpose was accomplished.  However, I am unsure if those people were the target audience.  I often wonder if the words we choose help or hinder what we hope to accomplish.

Many years ago, as a new teacher, I was bothered by the word tolerance.  I always felt it had a negative connotation.  When I hear "tolerate" I immediately think that this is going to be something unpleasant and I will just have to get through it--endure it.

Tolerance is defined firstly as the capacity to endure pain or hardship, and secondly as sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own (Merriam-Webster). Perhaps because I have been an educator most of my life it is all about the set-up, and this is not a good one.

I have not seen much from the "tolerance movement" over the past three decades that has changed my mind.  I continue to observe individuals and/or groups screaming at one another in the name of tolerance or intolerance, depending on your side.  Most recent high profile issues: Black Lives Matter versus All Lives Matter, Clerk Kim Davis and Same Sex Marriage,  and student Lila Perry and the Hillsboro Community.   On any given day we hear that there are wars taking place.  There is a war on women, a war on black men, a war on Christians, just to name a few.

People using this verbiage have either never actually been in a war or are intentionally using rhetoric in order to inflame emotions.  Just like "tolerance" war has a negative connotation.  Yes, it can indicate a campaign, struggle, movement, clash, etc., however by choosing specific words we determine, perhaps manipulate, the likely intellectual or emotional response we will get.

If our goal as a country and society is to understand and value each other we must realize that the words we use will enhance or hinder that goal.  We all have intellectual and emotional responses to what we see and hear.  For most the emotional response comes first and if it is strong enough genuine intellectual engagement may never follow.  Emotional responses are important and very much needed.  This is how we demonstrate we care and what makes us stand up when we see and injustice or help when we see someone in need.  I hope that we use are words to promote reconciliation and not divisiveness, to promote understanding and not take sides.

One thing I do know is that to value is better than to tolerate. We value what and who we know. Enrich your life, take a chance, step out of your comfort zone, and make a point to talk to people. Learn from them and let them learn from you.  It is much easier to value others when you know their story.

We all have stories to tell.  We all have stories that need to be heard.  

Saturday, September 26, 2015

It's Not You, It's Me

There is an enormous amount of great information available online.  I am continually being validated, challenged, and/or provoked by other professionals.   I appreciate others' insight and wisdom.  It is important that we continue to share the joys and challenges of student and adult learning.  

There is nothing better than a passionate discussion with a variety of professional perspectives and opinions. Regardless, of how strongly I feel about the topic at hand, I always walk away with something I had not thought of, need to learn more about, or need to reconsider.  

A few days ago I read Employers' Challenge To Educators: Make School Relevant To Students' Lives (+MindShift).  After reading the article I perused the comments to that continue the conversation and can provide additional insights to the topic.  I was taken aback by many of the postings. So much so that I returned to the article and reread it (more than once).  Still I could not see what brought on the defensive/attack-like comments.  

Granted, we all interpret through our personal lens, and online discussions are not the best for understanding the person behind the comments.  However, I have experienced this throughout my career; defensiveness over self-reflection.  

Educators seem to make the worst students.  We tend to be very defensive and to deflect from ourselves, our practices, and/or our system, whenever there are recommendations for improvement.   Too often we are preoccupied with proving "It's not me/us" that we perceive blame where none was intended, and we miss an opportunity to learn from others.  As the world is ever-changing so must we change and adapt to it.  

It is rarely about the wrong or right we make it into (teacher vs. administrator, education vs. business, K-12 vs. higher education, educators vs. parents, content vs. skills, etc.).  As we know better we do better.  It is our reality that what is right today, may be wrong tomorrow, and right again next week!

We must listen and reflect on what our community--students, parents, employers, employees, etc.--have to say about their needs.  We are the beginning not the end of the process. When we allow the discussion to become about us, it is no longer about students and learning.  Regardless of where the divisiveness originated we are obligated to overcome it; to listen, be open, and willing to consider there may be a better way.

Immediately dismissing another's input is reciprocal and diminishes our mission and the profession.  

I wonder how differently things would be if we started with this premise? "It's not you, it's me." Regardless of the answer, by examining our own thoughts, behaviors, habits, and practices, I believe something valuable will be discovered by the process. That discovery will help everyone in the community move forward--together!