A Real World Education

The value of learning in an environment with people who are different from you is as valuable as the content that you learn.

I remember it pretty clearly.  I was about six years old; a year before my family would move from Ontario, California to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.  A neighbor boy who I considered a friend was standing on the sidewalk facing three other neighborhood kids who were chanting at him, “Jonathan is a black boy.  Jonathan is a black boy.”

As a young kid (the only excuse I have), I took the path of least resistance and joined in with the three boys, “Jonathan is a black boy.”  I can’t remember what happened after that.  I don’t recall any resistance from Jonathan.

Hours later, there was a knock at our door.  My mom answered to find a teary-eyed Jonathan with his mother.  You can imagine the scene with me standing in the distant background.  When the door closed, I don’t recall what my punishment was.  I just remember the sickening feeling of seeing my friend, Jonathan, so hurt.

Ironically, the next year we moved from the racially diverse locale of Southern California to quite possibly the most homogeneously white region in the United States.  This move provided blissful ignorance to a life where I would otherwise be engaged with people who looked different than me.

I matured through my formative teen years with what I thought was an enlightened perspective, Jonathan’s pain still etched in my heart.  I would vociferously defend against any hint of racism, and was drawn towards discussions surrounding human rights in my social studies and history classes.  So enlightened. 

Well, maybe not.  I recall a time in high school when I was engaged in a discussion with a boy who in hindsight was likely gay, but certainly wasn’t comfortable with being outed.  I remember voicing my opinion that being gay was wrong, for reasons I can’t explain today.  I held firmly to that belief through college.  Of course, I didn’t really know anyone who was gay. At least I didn’t realize it.

In my first job after college, one of my co-workers was openly gay.  This was the first time in my life that I had been confronted with that experience.  And this person had all the bells and whistles that come with the most stereotypical picture of a gay man, quite literally.  He was effeminate, flamboyant, and over-emotional.  I was uncomfortable.

But I got to know him and his partner, who had all appearances of being straight as an arrow, by the way.  They are wonderful people, and so are most of the many other gay friends I have been blessed to know over the years. 

So, “Why is Dan discussing tolerance in a blog about Culver City schools?” you might ask.  Well, I have found that my greatest education wasn’t learned by being sheltered from life’s challenges.  It was by being immersed in it.  And I feel that Culver City’s public schools provide a broad expanse of students and teachers from all reaches of life that you can’t find in more sheltered confines. 

It is one of Culver City Unified School District’s greatest strengths.  From its racial, economic and cultural diversity, to the amazing fact that the students from Culver City High School elected a transgender homecoming king last year, our children are learning in an environment where they are confronted with people’s differences on a daily basis.   Talk about enlightened.

By being confronted with people who look different, have different backgrounds and different perspectives, I have a greater appreciation for the world we live in.  And I am thrilled that in CCUSD’s family of schools, my kids will have even greater access to that experience.

It is true that ignorance is bliss, but it is still ignorance.

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Madeline Ehrlich July 21, 2011 at 05:19 PM
In my opinion, this is an excellent article and you articulated well the issues of being different . Thank you Dan. Well Said.
Marni Parsons July 21, 2011 at 09:22 PM
Beautifully said, Dan
Maren Neufeld July 22, 2011 at 07:14 AM
I echo Madeline and Marni, really great article Dan!
Mike King July 22, 2011 at 06:23 PM
I am hopeful that my children's generation will go along way to eradicating the racial undertones, that still hold this great country back from how great it really could be. Very Eloquent Dan.
Dan O'Brien July 22, 2011 at 06:57 PM
Thanks for the comments everyone.


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