Today was the inaugural meeting of the "Tolerance Club" at our school. Founded to empower students to confront intolerance both at large and within their peer groups, it is our latest attempt to curtail the inevitable bullying that is part of middle school. The five adults who came together to sponsor this group have realized that the solution can not come from us; kids have to work to change the prevailing culture from within. We want to support them as they try. At the meeting this afternoon we encouraged the group to follow the advice of Gandhi and "be the change you want to see in the world."
About 18 kids showed up. They munched on chips and did a little survey asking whether they had ever been victim or bully in certain situations, and then we discussed the difference between merely tolerating and true tolerance. On their own they identified the key distinction between just putting up with someone and actually supporting somebody in being the person they are. We agreed that our mission would be to encourage tolerance in ourselves first and then in others.
The most powerful activity was also the most fun for the kids. We gave them maps of the school and colored sticker-dots and asked them to label the bullying hot spots. Then, on a master map projected on a screen, they volunteered to come up and place a dot and share an anecdote with the group. Where were the adults when this happened? we asked. They reported that we were there but we couldn't hear; we were there, but we weren't paying attention; we were there, but we didn't care. What do you wish we had done? we asked. Oh they had lots of suggestions, ranging from corporal punishment to a stern-talking to, but then they realized that we can't solve the problem for them. One sixth grader wanted to give up; he didn't believe it could be fixed, but the others in the group held out hope.
Who thinks you'd like to come to another meeting? we asked. It's totally cool if this isn't your thing.
18 hands shot up.