More than half the students in my middle school receive special education services or some extra help for academics or behavior. We polled our student leadership to find out the biggest issues in school. They said, “Cliques.”
We were excited to participate in our first Mix It Up at Lunch Day on Oct. 30. We looked to the activities and discussions on the website for tips. The staff and students enthusiastically got involved.
So I was surprised to hear that the American Family Association has called for a protest against the event and like mine and thousands of others, that are participating in Mix it Up at Lunch.
The AFA claims that Mix it Up is an oppressive tool and that Teaching Tolerance is using it to push a homosexual lifestyle on Christian students. That’s false, of course. Mix it Up simply aims to connect students with other students they might not usually interact with, by encouraging them to sit with someone new one day at lunch. This can help break down all sorts of social barriers.
It’s barriers of misunderstanding that allow stereotypes and false perceptions of other groups get so extreme. I wonder if we could pedal backwards in time. What if the future members of the AFA had lunched with Teaching Tolerance’s future activists? Would there be such distrust involved in this conversation today? I think not.
I’m motivated to prove to the deceptively-named American Family Association that Mix it Up pushes no political, religious, or anti-religious agenda. Mix only seeks to promote tolerance and peace. And I feel excited that the way to win this fight is to follow Christ’s teachings, to “love thy neighbor,” to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:44). We will listen to those we don’t agree with, and do what we know to be right. We can hope that our commitment to peace will be more powerful than any loud falsehoods.
The Desmond Tutu Foundation recently gave accolades to Teaching Tolerance and Mix It Up. Those of us participating know this event holds peaceful power, and no hidden-biased-agenda. We must hold strong. We must insist on teaching children equality. Teach them to listen to, and develop tolerance for people who hold different beliefs. One way we can do that is to model it. Don’t bash back at the American Family Association. Understand that the people who have been convinced to boycott Mix it Up have only heard one perspective. They aren’t evil, just ill-informed. I think even this situation could be a good talking point in a structured discussion for middle-schoolers after the Mix it Up event at our school.
- “Some people really did not want us to do this activity at our school. Can you think of any reasons this might be upsetting to any person or group?”
- “Are there advantages to remaining tightly in a certain clique or group, and not interacting with people outside of that group?”
- “Do all cliques or groups have equal status? What does that imply? Do groups that have more status also have more responsibility? Explain your opinion.”
Personally, I can’t wait.
Craven is a social and emotional interventionist in Louisiana.