October 23, 2012 10:20:06 AM
On Oct. 30, a national tolerance group will again encourage schools across the county to "mix it up at lunch."
This is not an invitation to a food fight, as the campaign's name might indicate. Instead, it is an effort to encourage students to spend their lunch time sitting by someone with whom they would not otherwise associate.
The Teaching Tolerance event, which is sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center, has signed up 2,688 schools this year, according to its website.
But even something so transparently benign as having lunch with someone you don't know is not without opposition. Tupelo-based American Family Association, an evangelical group, is urging parents to keep their children at home if they attend one of the schools that will participate in the event. The AFA, which refers to the SPLC as a "homosexual activist group," says the event is really a guise to promote the homosexual lifestyle.
In turn, the SPLC dismisses the claim as ridiculous and identifies AFA as a hate group.
The SPLC calls Mix-It-Up At Lunch Day "a simple act with profound implications. Studies have shown that interactions across group lines can help reduce prejudice. When students interact with those who are different from them, biases and misperceptions can fall away."
In this instance, the SPLC's arguments appear far more convincing than those of the AFA.
Only 25 percent of participating schools are high schools. The bulk of those participating schools are elementary and junior high/middle schools, where it's highly doubtful the issue of homosexuality is even expressed.
No Mississippi schools have signed up for the event, now in its 11th year.
Even so, we believe the idea is a good one and feel the AFA's position is in error in this case.
Whether it is part of an organized event or simply an independent act, exposure to people who are "different" is something that is of immeasurable value. It is also a lesson children cannot learn too soon.
Ours is an increasingly diverse world. The better we understand those whose culture, race, religion and even physical appearance is "different," the better equipped we are to function in a free, tolerant and harmonious society.
It should be pointed out that there are already means of achieving this in our schools. They are called extra-curricular activities. Things such as band, sports and clubs are mechanisms that draw people from all groups and promote tolerance in its best sense. There are few things better than these activities to help students understand and relate to those who are "different."
We heartily encourage students to mix it up, not only in the cafeteria, but on the playground, the band hall and the athletic fields.