On Monday, Hoover High School had a Human Rights assembly. The timing was perfect, following as it did closely after the Armenian Genocide Week of Remembrance and the Day of Silence, both days asking students to remember past episodes and present denials of man’s inhumanity to man.
I imagine there are similar school functions throughout the Southland of this great melting pot of a state — all trying to join our diverse student populations in a common understanding of what truly joins us together.
The message for this day was: For all the things that separate us, there is that one undeniable link, one unbreakable bond, and that is our common humanity. It supersedes race, religion, ethnicity, gender and all of the rest of the things that we mortals contrive to separate or distinguish ourselves from one another.
Our assembly featured some fine speeches, musical performances and PowerPoint presentations. The kids in the audience were mostly respectful, given the somber tone that was set at the beginning of the assembly.
Afterward, there were questions.
“Why do we need to see those pictures and hear those stories every year?”
“We know what happened. What good does it do to keep reliving it?
“Why make everyone angry about the past? There’s nothing we can do to change it.”
We teachers, of course, are ready to answer these questions with the standard responses: “Forgetting our history or ignoring its lessons runs the risk of repeating its mistakes.”
“We study history not just to mark significant events but to learn from those who went before us and resolve to make things better for present and future generations.”
These are questions that every generation has to face and think about anew. As long as any of us regard, for any reason, a fellow human being as less than human, we will continue to inflict suffering on each other and be resigned to mourn that flaw in our makeup.
During the assembly there was a rumor that a large contingent of young men at our school would walk out during the five minutes given to the Gay/Straight Alliance. I’m happy to report that it did not happen, despite the fact that on the Friday before (Day of Silence), more than 400 kids were absent from our school — mostly protesting (or taking advantage of) the “gay controversy.” (Bulletin for some of our parents: Homosexuality is not a disease that you catch.)
On the following Monday, however, two young men — one gay, one straight — stood before an assembly of their peers and managed to command their attention, and, I am so proud to say, their respect.
The prejudice and the struggles they described, as it turns out, were not much different from those described by groups that had preceded them in the show. The one common denominator involved one group dehumanizing another and then using that dehumanization to degrade and persecute. And even to kill.
As for parent Naira Khachatrian — whose passion to reform our schools has her spreading the word on local television that: Hoover High School promotes prostitution, that we are moving toward unisex bathrooms for our children, and that gay students are looking to recruit straight children into homosexuality — I want to say to her that she never would have been invited to our assembly. Our children are working on acceptance of others and celebrating their humanity, even in the persistent face of ignorance and bigotry that wants to divide people into “them” and “us” portions. That is a road that always has, and always will, lead to intolerance, hatred and ultimately persecution.
I want to say to the local station that accepted Khachatrian’s money and broadcast her distortions to an unsuspecting and unknowing audience: Shame on you. Your reputation and your integrity is based on how you seek, and not manipulate, the truth. Your smallness and insignificance is guaranteed as long as you are indifferent to that truth and operate without a conscience.
Robert Kennedy once wrote: “Only earthbound man still clings to the dark and poisoning superstition that his world is bounded by the nearest hill, his universe ended at river shore, his common humanity enclosed in the tight circle of those who share his town and views and the color of his skin. Perhaps in some distant future our descendants will seek enlightenment rather than vindication from the past. Perhaps they will be less earthbound and more in touch with a God whose main commandment is that we love one another, even our perceived enemies.”
For the present, could we at least stop hurting another?
DAN KIMBER is a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District, where he has taught for more than 30 years. He may be reached at DKimb8@sbcglobal.net.