On Friday, we were learning about coins: names, amounts, how we count them…
One student first participated and then got distracted, and he pushed the coins onto the other student’s desk.
When I told him that what he did was not helpful or acceptable behavior, he drew my attention to the earring his partner had in the helix of his ear. (Before you start looking that up, let me help… I had to look it up myself. It’s that cartilage upper part of one’s ear.) It looked sort of like this photo:
Another student chimed in and said, “No good for boy!”
Wow. What have we been talking about all week? We just talked a couple of days before about how it doesn’t matter if people eat pig or goat or cows. We just all need to get along.
And the week before, just after the election, we talked about how we would keep each other safe. A religion is not enough to get people deported. (We hope.)
And now, earrings.
O.K. Here’s how the conversation went:
1st student: “Miss. Look. Ear. Why?”
Me: “Oh. I think it’s nice. He wears earrings.”
1st student: “No. No good.”
Another student: “Miss. For boy no. No good for boy.”
Me: “Does it hurt you?”
Me: “Does that earring hurt you?”
1st: “No. Not hurt.”
Me: “OK. So what he does is for him. What you do is for you. If you are not hurt, it’s OK.”
I explained how many people wear earrings in many places. My former partner teacher, for example, sports a nose ring. And some people put earrings where no one can see. But it doesn’t hurt us, so it doesn’t matter.
Some people have tattoos, I said.
1st: “Tattoos, yes. I know. OK. But not this.”
I don’t know if my words hit home after that. I tried to reconnect the ideas we talked of earlier, of how he doesn’t eat pig, but I like him. How this person doesn’t eat cow, but I like them. And how I don’t eat meat, but I’m still an OK teacher, and he can still like me.
He then proceeded to try to speak Hindi to one Nepali-speaking Bhutanese student. I then had to try to explain that not all Nepali-speakers speak Hindi because they didn’t learn it.
Religion. Nationality. It’s all hard without a common language.
The conversation went on to focus on how these students speak Nepali, but they are not really Nepali. I tried to draw parallels: “You lived in Kenya, but you are not Kenyan. You are Somali.” His answer: “He’s Bhutan? No. He look Chinese.”
I went on: Many of the Nepali-speaking Bhutanese learn Hindi because of their religion, like the student I was talking to learned Arabic to read the Quran, but I did not, because I’m not Muslim. Many Nepali-speaking Bhutanese are Christian or Buddhist or have no religion, and so they don’t learn Hindi. Some don’t eat cows. But some don’t care about cows.
And then the student wanted to know about me and my God.
Yeah. It’s complicated.
Catholicism, Anglican, then a full break with the church because my ideologies did not fit within the walls of the conservative communities I lived in.
I didn’t try to explain any of this. I just said I had no god. And another student said she had no god too.
But we all like each other, right?
We’re all OK?
I think we may have to try this again when the students come back after Thanksgiving break. This time with interpreters.
We need to define tolerance, and then we need to practice it.
I need students to see that the people who are pushing the anti-immigrant agenda (which scares them, and justifiably so) are also making judgments on other people’s dress, appearance, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, &tc. By making judgements about people’s earrings or food choices, are my students any different than those people who espouse ideas they fear?
By accepting, and asking questions, we can grow. We fear what we don’t know. But as long as others’ choices are not physically hurting us, we can learn to live with them. And learn from their choices. And respect the choices and the people who make them.
Only then, can we truly be peaceful people.
And in the end, that is the greatest lesson of all.
In searching for information to write this post, on how to fight fear and build tolerance, I stumbled across this blog post, which led me to this website: Search for Common Ground. Here, I found the profile below, of a conservative imam, El Mortada, who reached out to Christians on the International Day of Tolerance, Nov. 16.
He caught flack for reaching out. He had someone post a YouTube video threatening him. But he realized he couldn’t give in to fear and reached out again.
“I found this man needed a conversation,” El Mortada said. “He needed someone to sit with him and to explain: No matter how different someone is from you, it doesn’t make them evil.”
Such a wise, wise message.