Dinosaurs and Tiaras: Facing Intolerance

I love that my graduate students have challenged, tackled and addressed controversial issues this semester.  Our focus on digital citizenship has addressed issues of intolerance week after week.  I find myself challenging my beliefs and asking questions that I never even thought of when I first started teaching.

My transformation started this fall when the freshmen from Rutgers, Tyler Clementi took his own life. I took it personally. I did not know Tyler, but his suicide made me determined to focus on a solution. Tyler Clementi could be my son, your son. He was a brother, grandson, nephew, cousin, friend, neighbor, and most importantly, a human being. This perspective launched me into uncharted territory. I am the mother of a son. What if this was my son? What can I do to make sure this doesn’t happen again? How can I make a difference?

The world responded and It Gets Better Project had people across the world stepping up and pledging to speak up against intolerance.  Celebrities posted their own stories and words of encouragement.  As our semester is coming to a close, I’m still concerned that I haven’t done enough.  Why do children and teens have to wait for it to get better?  Why can’t we make it better now?

Recently, the controversy around the J.Crew designer and her five year old son wearing neon pink nail polish hit the news.  Everyone seemed to have an opinion.  It made me dig deep.  My four year old is all about dinosaurs, but what would I do if he was interested in tiaras?  I kept coming back to the same questions: why would it matter?  Children need the opportunity to play and explore different roles – that’s what growing up is all about.  In middle school, adolescents try on new personas daily.  We support young adolescents as they figure out who they are socially, emotionally, physically, intellectual and morally.  Why are we not doing this in all phases of a child’s development?  What do we need to do as a society to change how we view others and accept individual differences?  Doesn’t everyone want to celebrate what makes us unique?  I certainly do!  I’m not waiting, I pledge to make a difference now.



  • Why do we label at all? Why? If a young girl is playing with trucks… would we say she is going to grow up to like the same sex? Why then would we say that a young boy who likes the color pink or wears a tiara…would grow up to be a gay man?! I am hoping that as a society we begin to drop all stereotyping and wait to see how a child develops and not label.

  • I’m totally with you! Why do we label? My dyslexic label haunted me for years! It is the reason why I never read a child’s file before the beginning of the school year. Thanks for taking the time to read my post and respond!

  • Wow this post is really awesome Marialice! The part that really stuck out to me was ” Why do children and teens have to wait for it to get better? Why can’t we make it better now?” I totally agree with this question. Why do we have to wait?!?! I always try to encourage my students to accept their differences. We talk regularly about how if we were all the same, life would be soooo boring. My students totally agree with me. We try to embrace our differences, whatever they may be. I know this is not the norm with other teachers even in my own school, but how easy is this conversation? If we start embracing and talking about how we are different at a young age with our preschoolers or kindergarteners we will all be more accepting.

  • I agree Jessica. Why do we have to wait? It drives me so crazy that we tells kids to wait, it gets better. Aren’t we just empowering the bullies?

    I love Glee and last night’s episode dealt with bullying. I was so aggravated the character Kurt (who moved to a new school because of bullying) only returned because the bully had a change of heart and decided to stop. Seriously?! He didn’t return because the school had fixed things and empowered students, he returned because the bully decided it would so.

    We need to start changing things, because this whole waiting things is only prolonging the bullying.

  • My favorite line in your post is “Why do children and teens have to wait for it to get better? Why can’t we make it better now?” This is the million dollar question, why can’t we make it better now? Children and teens should not have to suffer and wait for it to get better. We need to teach children and teens that its ok to speak out, and that being a responsible digital citizen is important. This topic needs to be discussed, and integrated into everyday life. By posting this you are making people think about these important questions and making a difference.

  • Just yesterday, a 2nd grader who I work with, told me and the other teacher in my room that he was taking ballet. He said he was afraid at first, because only girls take ballet. He thought he had to wear tights, and that would be uncomfortable. At first, his shoulders were down, and he seemed ashamed. As the conversation continued, be became more excited. He told us that he was doing it because he plays football, and his coach said it will help make his legs stronger when he plays. Only two of the players on the team decided to try it, and by golly, it is helping his game! Overall, he is excited about it, and enjoys going to practice! It was nice to hear that he didn’t let the stereotype bother him, and tried it.

  • Jessica, you make a great point. It’s one of the ultimate Catch 22’s of Life. Our Famous Founding Fathers professed that we are all created equal. Does “Equality” mean that we are all the same? My answer is “No”. Each one of us is a unique combination of chemicals and chromosomes. The Declaration of Independence was a political document. It was meant to guarantee the right to be different – to be unique. So the question Maryalice asks is of vital importance. As as teachers, we are a vital part of the answer.

  • This is a great example to share with my kids! We have been learning about gender socialization in my Sociology class. My students have been really interested in analyzing children’s TV shows, movies, and books to examine how gender stereotypes are “taught” to children in society.

  • I couldn’t agree more- intolerance is intolerance, no matter what form it takes. I was super frustrated a few weeks ago because a few of my students were talking about the Rebecca Black music video, laughing and making fun of her. This really got to me because after all we had done with cyber-bullying and digital citizenship, I was still seeing this intolerance! It really bothered me and it took a while for me to realize that while they hadn’t yet had the “aha” momment I was hoping for, some of my other students truly have had that “aha” momment! And the growth I’ve seen in those other students is what I’m doing this for. Perhaps I haven’t gotten through to the few students who mocked the video: I’m not giving up! But maybe what will help them change and grow is seeing their peers having a change of attitude. It all comes back to the pebble poem and the trickle affect. I may not have changed these kids’ minds yet, but perhaps their minds will be changed by their peers! That’s what gives me hope 🙂 Believe me when I say I’m not giving up!

  • The first thing I thought was aren’t there more serious things to worry about then this boy getting his toes painted! The only thing I see in that picture is a mother growing in her relationship with her son!!

  • This reminds me of an episode of Oprah (I love her, she is a friend in my head) a few months ago (I believe I mentioned this before in this class) there was a young couple (early – mid 30’s) that had a child. This chid was born a son, however, once the son got to a certain age, I think he was 6 or 7, he made a decision that he wanted to be a girl and wanted to paint his nails, and dress in all pink. At first the father had a hard time witht the whole concept because his mind set was “Who is going to love my “daughter” because she is different? It was a touching story and it brings up great points:
    1 ) Are we allowing our children to be who they want to be or who we want them to be?
    2) Is there to much pressure to have our girls be girls and boys be boys?
    3) Is there too much definition on being gender specific?
    This conversation could go on for days…

  • I’m all for dinosaurs AND tiaras! 🙂
    It is scary to see how many kids have felt that taking their own life is the only solution to end people hating on them. Why can’t kids be themselves with out the fear of ridicule, hate, and well death. In 2011, why does it seems that more and more students/people are more closed minded than open? What are people afraid of? So what if this little boy has pink polish on….who cares!?! Maybe he saw it on mommy, thought it looked cool and wanted to try it. Go for it kid! It looks great! I love the color!
    I think we need to encourage our children to be their own person, to be a leader, to be a change agent!
    When I was little I hated girl toys, trucks and remote control cars were so much more fun. Does that make me weird? Should I have been beaten to a pulp because I thought Barbie’s were stupid? My parents didn’t care, they didn’t call in a shrink because I didn’t want a Barbie, they were just happy I was outside and playing with friends.
    Why do people feel the need to label? We need to encourage people to be more understanding and stop stereotyping. Encourage change! Stop the labels and stop the hate!

  • The J. Crew add is interesting, because of the reactions it has incited. Why do we have labels? Of any sort? I’m not sure. I feel the same could be said about labels in education. Why do we label SPED, Gifted, Talented, Learning Disabled, etc? These labels create the same stereotypes. As much as I applaud people for taking a stand against mean – spirited behavior and doing so in response to Tyler Clementi…I am in agreement with you. Why do we have to wait for it get better? It should be great. Right now. There are certain things in life we have to endure, such as loss. Being treated unkindly is not one of them. We absolutely have to make a difference now! Be nice!

  • By speaking up and acting against injustices, we are making it better now, one bit at a time. It’s a lifelong process, as is learning. We are just impatient for the moment when “it” is better. In that time, that later “now” time, we will also be acting against other challenges that will distract us from remembering how much of a difference we have made since the 2011 “now” time.

  • You continue to make many positive ripples!!

  • Pingback: I care Jamey Rodemeyer! | The Dyslexic Professor

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  • You Re truly making a difference.
    God Bless you

  • Pingback: Digital Citizenship Summit Heads to Twitter HQ in October |

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