High school is traditionally thought to be a “coming of age” time – a period of growth, learning and, hopefully, maturity in a person’s life.
An essential part of these four years is education, specifically focused on creating a student prepared for college and for life on his own. For this education to be developed and useful in any way, the learning environment must be safe and tolerant for all students in order for youths to become well-rounded, accepting people for the rest of their lives.
Young people’s opinions are valuable because they can give a glimpse into social norms, religious trends and political attitudes of tomorrow. For this reason, original thinking and an open forum must be nourished and encouraged in the very place the average teen spends most of his time – school -- guided by those with education and experience.
It is in this setting, during these important formative years, that the difference is made between a student who accepts others and one who does not, a citizen who votes and one who does not, a person who is interested in working toward for good of others and one who is not.
All people in a school have a responsibility to make it a healthy environment. Being a silent spectator to discrimination is as harmful as participating in hateful acts themselves. A student must feel that he is able to fully express who he is and what he thinks, regardless of differences.
Discrimination and intolerance can make a student hesitant to speak up; it can create fear to open up in a classroom ever again and additionally completely stop the learning process.
While school is the place where students are educated in order to have a career, it is also the arena in which a person learns the social skills to make him a good co-worker, parent and citizen. Acceptance is one of the most, if not the most, important skills to have throughout life.
In the “real world,” whether that be college or the workforce or any other walk of life after high school, not all people conform to one point of view.
The variety of people one meets might be much greater than what was experienced in high school and might be the first experience a student has with people very different from him – socially, ethnically, economically. Open forums encourage acceptance and tolerance.
Open-minded, interactive discussion can be a small step toward eradicating ignorance and discrimination, regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. Practicing intellectual opinion-forming, decision making and discussion during high school creates young people receptive to the views and needs of all people.
Students must be free to express themselves in a comfortable, safe environment without prejudice from any person. This freedom of expression and discussion of contrasting viewpoints in a safe environment allows students to reach their full potential as human beings, while also working toward the elimination of discrimination in the leaders of tomorrow.