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You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught


by Brad Hull

It’s time to stop thinking that education is primarily about college and career readiness.  What an absurd notion.  It’s about human beings, individually, and about our humanity, collectively.  When we think about educating our young people—formally and informally, in the school, home, places of worship, through social media and entertainment, and in any environment—we should always ask only one question: “how are we defining our humanity and in so doing, how are we shaping our society?”  And yes, we have the power to shape our humanity, to ennoble it, to create a greater beauty, to find a path of peace and safety for all of its participants.  That is within our power and even more so, it is our calling.

And a second question for us all when considering our humanity, “what’s the assessment data look like?”  While difficult, a rational mind can understand how one person, most probably who was severely mentally ill, can be so perversely taught to hate that they mercilessly murder other human beings in cold blood.  However, I am incapable of understanding the hatred that has been spewed out since then by seemingly normal, seemingly well-educated people, many who are elected leaders in our country. This I find inexplicable. How can this be and how exactly do we teach that?

No! Our education system and the wonderful people that work every day to nurture and teach our children are not responsible for these events or the ugliness that followed in the aftermath.  Of course not.  People learn both inside and outside of the classroom.  However, it is that very separatist thinking, the separation of formal education and social issues, which can prevent us -- within our schools -- from imbuing wisdom, truth, and beauty into a vision for a better future.  This separation of education and social issues often leads us to ignore history, humanities and social studies; shun social emotional learning and character education including empathy and compassion; dismiss the struggle of self-knowledge and humility; and disregard the skills of developing multiple perspectives, honoring peaceful and reverent disagreement, finding common ground and the ability to live together amidst our differences, and debating in a healthy and open environment using the rules of logic and human respect that two millennia of Western culture have provided for us.

As a humanist, an educator and as a gay person, and in trying to grapple with my own despair and anguish for the LGBT community, for the victims and families of the shooting, and for the young children growing up in this society we have created for ourselves, I regret I have little to offer even amidst my best efforts.  However, I do have a reminder and a few questions.

First, a reminder taken from the musical, South Pacific (1949):

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught!

And now I ask you to consider these questions along with me because I am pondering them as well:

  1. If you are an educator, what simple steps can you incorporate into your practice that ennoble humanity and that rebel against the teaching of hate and intolerance?
  2. If you are in a field outside of education, what role can you play in your work environment and your career field to counteract the effects of the teaching of hate and intolerance?
  3. For us all as human beings, what do we need to examine from our own education, both formal and informal, that needs to be ripped out in order to rid ourselves of the vestiges of hate and intolerance in our own mindsets?

In considering these questions and acting upon them, let us honor the recent dead.


Brad Hull is a former teacher and the Deputy Executive Director of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY).

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