Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Tolerance and state education.

State education, as it exists, is a nightmare of contradictions and conflicts. One can’t have a coercive educational system without putting individuals and groups into conflict with one another. It is unavoidable. The ultimate solution is always a voluntary system of education. But that leaves unanswered the question of how to deal with real problems today.

Should we simply ignore those problems and let the state sort them out? Or should we pick the least bad of the alternatives? Sometimes we even get to pick from competing goods, though not often.

To me the great problem is that America’s young are forced into these educational camps. The use of taxation to fund such centers removes from most parents the ability to seek out alternative schools for their children. So parents are forced to send their children in and forced to pay for the experience. Then they are forced to hear one side or another on any issue.

For instance a California legislator wants to mandate that all children be indoctrinated into the global warming doomsday theory, much the way Sunday School was used to indoctrinate children about theology -- and for much the same reason, I think.

When politicians aren’t forcing specific ideas from being taught they are working to forcibly prevent other ideas from being taught.

Thepublican state senator, Stacey Campfield, has introduced legislation in Tennessee that would ban the discussion of any “sexual orientation other than heterosexuality” in the schools. Campfield is a brain-dead conservative, but I repeat myself. He (you’d think he’d change his name to something more butch than Stacey) says unless such discussions are forbidden then Tennessee will become like California where he falsely claims “they’ve banned using ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ in books. He says he is particularly opposed to the schools promoting understanding or acceptance toward groups like gays, lesbians, bisexuals or the transgendered. Certainly no one in their right mind would want a good Christian state like Tennessee associated with subversive notions like tolerance of others.

The reality is that the schools have students who are gay or transgendered, or perceived to be so by their peers. These students are forced to attend these states centers or face incarceration or fines for failing to do so. And this means they can face daily torture and torment by the sort of students who, no doubt, would side with Stacey the Heterosexualist.

It doesn’t really matter if the student in question is actually gay or transgendered or whatever. The mere perception that he, or she, is so is sufficient to bring down the bullying of the intolerant. I suggest such bullies have a career ahead of them in the state legislature as Republicans.

But the students being victimized can’t escape without violating the law. At the same time the school would be prevented from discussing the issue that is actually the inspiration for the bullying. Under Stacey’s little bill it would illegal for the school to encourage the bully from understanding the issues that is causing him, or her, to harass another student. Instead the school is forced to allow this intolerance to fester.

While Stacey the Heterosexualist is trying to ban the teaching of tolerance about gay students another drama was unfurling in the town of Oxnard, California.

Lawrence King was 15 years of age and attending E.O. Green Junior High. While reports claimed that King was gay the descriptions I’ve read are more indicative of a gender identity issue. And certainly many teens who are transgendered first make the assumption that they are gay. Either way King was perceived as “gay” by fellow students. Many of them were okay with that but others were not.

One of the students who wasn’t tolerant of King was 14-year-old Brandon McInerney. Brandon regularly harassed and bullied King because of his perceived sexual orientation. Students report that this bullying went on all the time and that Brandon was just one of a pack of thugs who harassed King. McInerney didn’t believe in tolerating sexual orientations other than heterosexual. If he weren’t in jail he’d have a budding career in the Tennessee legislature.

Mr. McInerney went to the junior high the other day intent on settling his hatred for King, once and for all. He settled it by shooting the other boy in head several times and then fleeing the school. He was apprehended, is now in jail, and will be facing first-degree murder charges as an adult.

The killing sent shock waves through the city of Oxnard and through the students themselves. Two local high school students decided to hold a “peace” march promoting the idea of tolerance. They hoped for a hundred or two hundred students to be there. The Los Angeles Times reports:

The Goths in their black T-shirts were there. So were the punks with fluorescent hair and multiple piercings.

There were even a few adolescent boys carrying skateboards among the nearly 1,000 Oxnard youth and other supporters who turned out Saturday for a hastily organized peace march to pay tribute to Lawrence King, 15, the Oxnard student shot to death in a classroom last week.

Courtney LaForest, 16, was one of the organizers of the event. She said that like many students there she didn’t know King but that didn’t matter. “We are saying you don’t need to accept people who are gay, but you should tolerate them.”

Thirteen-year-old Connor Spies attends another junior high. But when he heard about the march he and two of his buddies joined in. He put it well when he said: “It will be a better future if we are more tolerant.”

Absent from the march, for the most part, were the adults. It was by students for students not for politicians looking to score points over someone’s tragedy. The local superintendent of the school district did join his students that day. But his official involvement was limited. When he learned of the students planning this march he sent words to the schools that were to support the idea.

How would this situation be handled by schools if the law proposed by Stacey were in effect? Ask yourself what it mean?

It would mean that the schools couldn’t make any moral distinction between the harasser and the victim. Whether or not the killer should have been tolerant or not would be entirely outside the realm of the school. It would require a moral neutrality as to whether or not students should tolerate others. Odd that the conservatives whine so much about morality and then dish the concept when it comes to hating people.

Stacey the Heterosexualist doesn’t seem to comprehend something so simple that even a 16-year-old high school student grasped it. That is the point made by Courtney LaForest. Tolerance merely means that you agree to leave other people alone, in other words you afford them their basic rights as a human being. Acceptance means you put your stamp of approval on them.

In a free society tolerance is absolutely necessary while acceptance is not. And to foster tolerance one must, paradoxically not tolerate intolerance. The great classical liberal Ludwig von Mises wrote:

Liberalism, however, must be intolerant of every kind of intolerance. If one considers the peaceful cooperation of all men as the goal of social evolution, one cannot permit the peace to be disturbed by priests and fanatics. Liberalism proclaims tolerance for every religious faith and every metaphysical belief, not out of indifference for these "higher" things, but from the conviction that the assurance of peace within society must take precedence over everything and everyone. And because it demands toleration of all opinions and all churches and sects, it must recall them all to their proper bounds whenever they venture intolerantly beyond them.

Liberalism demands tolerance as a matter of principle, not from opportunism. It demands toleration even of obviously nonsensical teachings, absurd forms of heterodoxy, and childishly silly superstitions. It demands toleration for doctrines and opinions that it deems detrimental and ruinous to society and even for movements that it indefatigably combats. For what impels liberalism to demand and accord toleration is not consideration for the content of the doctrine to be tolerated, but the knowledge that only tolerance can create and preserve the condition of social peace without which humanity must relapse into the barbarism and penury of centuries long past.

Against what is stupid, nonsensical, erroneous, and evil, liberalism fights with the weapons of the mind, and not with brute force and repression. The conservative wishes to have the option to use state force in order to prevent discussion, to shackle ideas. Libertarianism, in the quest, for freedom must demand the right to speak and discuss and therefore must oppose the sorts of laws this Theopublican is pushing.

Photo: The photo is of Lawrence King .

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