Thursday, March 15, 2012

Genes and Tolerance

United States Army Recruiting Station, Los Angeles

When I pulled into the parking lot of Sophie's high school this morning, it was hard not to notice the array of camouflaged tents, trucks and soldiers spread out over the huge parking lot. It's gray in Los Angeles this morning, and when you don't have the patriotic gene , the sight of army recruiters at a city high school doesn't make you feel a surge of pride in your country. Call me unpatriotic, but I don't like teenagers to be recruited to fight for their country in the parking lots of their high schools. I don't care if they're promised an education, glory or one hundred vestal virgins in heaven. You're not going to see this scene a few miles away in the parking lot of a prestigious private school, peopled with the tender and the privileged. And no, I don't have an answer for how we're supposed to find kids to fight wars in countries like Iran and Afghanistan. I don't have an alternative, so I'll just sit in my car and steam a bit while I wait for Sophie's aide to come and get her.

The other day, Kim of Art in Red Wagons left a great comment after I posted about my struggles with moderation in politics.  She spoke of tolerance and directed me to a very interesting and eye-opening statement of tolerance as dictated by UNESCO, in 1995. Here's an excerpt that struck me, in particular:

Article 1 - Meaning of tolerance
1.1 Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world's cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. It is fostered by knowledge, openness, communication and freedom of thought, conscience and belief. Tolerance is harmony in difference. It is not only a moral duty, it is also a political and legal requirement. Tolerance, the virtue that makes peace possible, contributes to the replacement of the culture of war by a culture of peace.
1.2 Tolerance is not concession, condescension or indulgence. Tolerance is, above all, an active attitude prompted by recognition of the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms of others. In no circumstance can it be used to justify infringements of these fundamental values. Tolerance is to be exercised by individuals, groups and States.
1.3 Tolerance is the responsibility that upholds human rights, pluralism (including cultural pluralism), democracy and the rule of law. It involves the rejection of dogmatism and absolutism and affirms the standards set out in international human rights instruments.
1.4 Consistent with respect for human rights, the practice of tolerance does not mean toleration of social injustice or the abandonment or weakening of one's convictions. It means that one is free to adhere to one's own convictions and accepts that others adhere to theirs. It means accepting the fact that human beings, naturally diverse in their appearance, situation, speech, behaviour and values, have the right to live in peace and to be as they are. It also means that one's views are not to be imposed on others.

Wouldn't it be great if the thousands of kids at our high school could learn about that document instead of signing their lives away under bullshit pretext to fight in countries whose cultures are grossly misunderstood ?


  1. Thanks for sharing this. It should be mandatory reading--even in the prestigious private schools!


  2. Amen! I think it is much more important for us to figure out how to live in our own country with its deep divides before pretending we know how to make other countries do what we think they ought to do.

    It may seem odd, but I feel the same way about the tents put up by credit card companies in the common areas of colleges and universities during the first days of each fall semester. We are indoctrinating our young adults into a culture of war and debt. Ugh.

  3. "You're not going to see this scene a few miles away in the parking lot of a prestigious private school, peopled with the tender and the privileged."

    And that is the crux of it, right there.

    I read that definition of tolerance, and all I can think is the degree to which the GOP candidates are lacking in tolerance. To a frightening degree.

  4. I watched a program one time on how armies recruit young men. They purposely choose men under 20 because their brains have not developed enough yet to know they can die. Dying is something that happens to someone else. (It is the same reason why drinking and driving programs don't work all that well.)
    It is sad that we think ourselves so advanced and yet so many are still filled with anger and hate at how other people live. One day. Maybe one day we will learn.

  5. That picture, at Sophie's school ... something to the core, inherently wrong, with that image. I think the entire document is amazing, but I just read and re-read 1.4. Resonated with me today, as I cannot get off my mind the latest atrocity in Afghanistan.

    To lighten the mood a bit: My hometown,born and raised in Upstate New York,it's name:Vestal. Boy, talk about hearing the "vestal virgin" thing a time or two.

  6. No, you do not see this in the private schools because those of us are paying for our kids to go there on top of paying taxes for the public school. So, yes, we are paying to get out of a lot things that are required of the public school.

    I pay so that my kids can take the courses they and I feel they should be taking without the constraints and gate keeping that our public schools have.

    I pay so that they can have Christmas pageants and religious discussions without constraints our public school has--and mine have gone to independent school so it's not that I want a Christian based program. I just want them to be able to sing "Silent Night"

    I pay so that we don't have these recruiters on site,, I don't like them fishing in the old high school pond,

    I pay so that my kids don't spend a couple of weeks on the required state tests.

    I pay so that my kids can play any sport they choose despite ability level because there is a "no cut" policy and at the public school, you have to be very good to play at the high school level.

    I pay so that the class sizes are smaller and the focus is on college prep academics.

    I miss a lot doing this too, and sometimes regret it. I also feel each check I write for schools since I live in a very high property tax area where the public schools are well funded. We have paid dearly for this privilege, so, yes, we don't have to invite the military recruiters to our campus.

  7. I want to add, that there are worse things out there in the high school lots that claim a lot of young minds and lives each year, and break a lot of parents' hearts and nerves. We lose far more of our young people that way.

    With my kids grown now, and I did feel the way you did--none of mine went military, I've come to the conclusion that there are far worse way to lose your child and that there are things worse than losing a child. Never though I'd think that either.

  8. Catherine: Thank you for your comment; I appreciate a diversity of views on my blog. I'm puzzled by your tone, though, and not certain why your defense of the choices you've made for your children's education has relevance here unless I somehow offended you? I think it's ironic that we live in a country that sends its primarily disadvantaged kids to defend our "liberty, freedom and equality" while those of us who are more privileged can quite literally BUY a better way of life -- and out of the military, if we need to. That, to me, is not about CHOICE, but about commerce, and, frankly, offends and disgusts me.

    Your second comment about there being far worse outcomes than losing a child to the military is, no doubt, true, but I haven't implied otherwise.

  9. They (the Army recruiters) came to my son's PRE-school last year. Freaked me the hell out.

  10. It was more outreach than recruiting, but still.

  11. No. You are right in all ways. That is what I think, Elizabeth.
    And if we could lose our cannon fodder, perhaps we could lose our wars. But then again, you and I are merely pacifistic mothers who do not believe in war so what the hell do we know?

  12. Well, Elizabeth, you know that it wasn't always like this. Buried in President Bush's much-touted No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 was Section 9528, a requirement that all public and private high schools receiving federal funds must "provide access to students' names, addresses and phone numbers" to military recruiters. It also mandates that high schools must allow military recruiters the same campus access to students as is granted to college recruiters and prospective employers. Private schools receiving fed money, ie lunch subsidy, remediation, etc. are not exempt,
    As a retired 30 year high school principal, we were able to keep pushy military recruiters out of schools and keep kids free from undue influence. Now they can set up shop in the cafe, eat with kids, give out trinkets and have access to student lists and demographics, unless a parent opts out.
    Thanks George and the accountability freaks of No Child Left Behind, or without a behind?

  13. Phil: No, I did not know that. Astounding.

  14. I'm with you Elizabeth, believe me. In fact I often wonder if we should re-institute the draft to avoid the situation you deplore -- recruiters targeting the poor and minorities. Would we so readily enter wars if the children of the middle and upper classes were likely to be sent? (Of course, some of those kids would find a way out too, even under the draft, but the draft is more equitable -- if also harsh and terrifying.)

    I'm not sure how much of this is new, though. I remember military recruiters at my high school in the early 1980s, and just before I graduated they sent me a ton of material about signing up. So somehow they got my name and address. Being a pacifist even then, I ignored them.

    I think the point Catherine may be missing is that she can AFFORD to pay so her kids can avoid this indoctrination. Many, many other people can't. Maybe that's not a source of concern for her, but it is for me.

  15. No, Elizabeth, you did not offend me. But, I get a lot reverse elitism from those who can well AFFORD to pay for private schools. I drive a true clunker and we take a lot of cost saving measures to pay for that tuition. I also pay full amount in school taxes on top of the private school tuitions.

    As Phil states, students at private schools are not exempt from recruiting efforts, The rule provides the same access and in fact, one of the schools greets and accommodates military recruiters. So what I stated is not true in terms of it buying exemption from this activity. The military does not bother to "fish" there much however, because "they ain't biting there". Kids there are very much channeled into college which is not always the best direct path for some of them, but you put your child there in the hopes that it is.

    It's not a source of concern,because going into the military is one of the better/best choices for a number of those kids. THe deaths and jail sentences, street living, that occur at some of the public high schools in NYC is appalling. It isn't so easy to get into the military anymore, and for some kids that option is gone due to other activities they do. Believe me, it's not the worst thing in the world, and for many kids who have no direction, may be the best.

    The schools and parents should welcome the recruiters and control the recruiting process. It is definitely a viable option. I have 5 boys and every one of them talked to recruiters at one time or other, and I kept my personal feelings out of it. They chose not to go, and now in retrospect, it may not have been the better choice for any of them.

    I am not missing the point that I can AFFORD to pay for private school, but the recruitment of my kids for military is one of the least of the things that make my life better for that ability to afford. It doesn't even make my top 1000 on the list. Doesn't even make the list. THe advantages my kids private school give are far, far more appalling then avoiding those mass recruitment records. Which is why I pay for them.

  16. They are not allowed at SF Public schools. In fact the school board did away with Jr. ROTC bot kids that wanted it and were using it as a scholarship program to get to college fought back (no pun intended) and ROTC is back.

    It is frightening. My sons went to private school and I have no regrets or defences regarding that. There was usually one kid a year who ended up choosing the military. I have no idea what that rate is in the public schools here, but like the kids at my sons school, the high school students making that choice have to go seek it out, which is more appropriate to me.



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