No-Hate Generation begins in high school classroom
When my mother was in high school, she could count the number of classmates she had who were people of color on one hand. She had no gay or lesbian friends, and the term “bisexual” wasn’t even part of her vocabulary.
Thirty years later, when I was 15 years old, I was one of three white people in my classroom of 10. I was also one of the only ones who identified as heterosexual.
My high-school classmates were a diverse mash-up of languages, cultures and identities. Meeting someone who spoke three languages at home or regularly dressed up for cosplay was just part of life. It was what was expected as a child of the no-hate generation.
The zero-tolerance bullying policy that schools claim to enforce was a reality at mine. Although it was put in place by the administrators, it was put into practice by the students.
Racial slurs and homophobic comments were surefire ways to lose friends. Smart kids were celebrated, not picked on. It was the exact opposite of the teenage sitcom stereotype.
It’s no rare oasis according to a 2010 study by the Pew Research Center, as it was reported that millennials are “more receptive than their elders to these newer patterns of behavior.” They are “the only generation to favor the legalization of gay marriage,” be “more supportive of efforts to ensure equal rights” and are generally more “confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change.”
Not to mention, this generation is ripe with people striving to make a leap toward greater acceptance.
For example, the viral NoH8 Campaign by photographer Adam Bouska was inspired by the passage of Proposition 8, which said that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid, but the scope of the campaign has grown to protest discrimination and bullying of all kinds. According to the NoH8 website, the message of the movement “can be interpreted and applied broadly, and speaks to each person in their own way.”
All this makes for a generation primed for universal acceptance. More and more young people are moving away from prejudice, with one of the first places to accomplish this being the high school classroom.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “the capacity for a person to learn will never be greater than during adolescence.” This makes emphasizing tolerance a high priority for many upper-school teachers.
“I’ve always brought up controversial topics in class,” said Mark Chapman, a government and economics teacher at Bellaire High School. He said throughout his 26 years of teaching, he has pushed students to try to see things in a more complex manner.
“I try to model acceptance and calm, rational discussion of contrasting viewpoints,” Chapman said. “I think my willingness to allow discussion of controversial topics also helps kids practice hearing others’ viewpoints in a more rational, safer way.”
It is important for teenagers to be introduced to new ideas, and it is especially important for them to be introduced to these ideas at school, as many may not get the opportunity at home. School provides a neutral zone for young people to learn and develop their own ideas without fear of judgment.
Class discussions can be a great forum for people to express their opinions and hear the opinions of others. And, as Chapman said, these discussions can help students find their own voices in the debate.
“Adolescents are just trying to find their own identities, and the easiest way to begin that process is to just wholeheartedly accept what your parents tell you,” Chapman said. “That is our job (as teachers) — to push (students) to re-examine those attitudes and decide whether that’s the way they really feel.”
Whether they grow up in households that are liberal, conservative or something in between, today’s teens and young adults are leaning more toward accepting one another. At the core, it’s not about liberalism or conservatism — it’s about people learning to understand and respect each other.
The National Center for Education Statistics reported that approximately four out of five students receive a high-school diploma, and there is a volume of research available on today’s extensive university enrollment, but it is also simply the build-up of violence. After years of seeing injustice and poor treatment of others, people are wondering what the point in all of this is.
Seeing this injustice is what makes modern America more tolerant; people have had enough of intolerance.
They see fewer reasons to not accept those of other races, religions and ideologies and more reasons to open themselves up to different ways of thinking. The millennial generation — the first one to grow up in a world without widely accepted racism, classism and homophobia — is poised to take the reins and make hatred a thing of the past.
Opinion columnist Elizabeth Murphy is an advertising sophomore and may be reached at [email protected]