I teach contemporary global issues to freshmen. Throughout the course, we cover sensitive topics ranging from the Israeli/Palestinian conflict to nuclear proliferation. For many young students, they arrive with a pretty set idea of where they fall on the spectrum in any given topic, and are looking to listen not for understanding but for flaws to use against the opposing side. One of my goals for each class, is to get everyone to understand BOTH perspectives in any given conflict; they may not AGREE with a different argument but they need to have the ability to listen to understand as opposed to listening for flaws in the opposition. This is often easier said than done, especially when it comes to very personal and sacred topics such as religion. One of the things that I love about working at Choate, is the diversity. In any given class (not dissimilar to Indonesia it seems), I will have a multitude of different religions, ethnicities, and nationalities. And one of the topics that comes up most frequently is the one that I admit is not my strong suit; religion. I have had more than a few students write their final papers on the teachings of Islam and it’s correlation to threats against the United States. Now, it is easy for me to try to ‘correct’ basic misunderstandings of Islam (especially when they are using sources like ‘billionbibles.com’). But I find it difficult, having very little experience with the religion, to try to convince a young student not to generalize an entire religion under one negative category. Growing up in the outskirts of Toronto, most of my friends came from Iran, Korea, Russia, etc and I understood the importance of tolerance and understanding in order to foster a sense of community in such a diverse area of the world.
I hope to use this trip to not only learn from reading the assigned texts pre-departure, but to take my own advise and learn the other side of the story so that I am better equipped to emphasize teaching tolerance in my own classroom.