An Anything Goes Tolerance

Posted: July 15, 2013 in World On The Edge

Two months after my husband and I graduated from Spring Hill College and were married, I began teaching at Fourth Grade at Holy Spirit School in Tuscaloosa and he began Law School at the University of Alabama.

My classroom was a makeshift one. Things were different then, and the Catholic Schools were overflowing, so my classroom had been made from the lunch room. Over the top of a partition, wonderful smells of baking bread flowed into the room, churning the stomachs of teacher and students.

The mother of one of my students was the school baker. Every morning in Holy Spirit’s kitchen, she made fantastic rolls, and sent any that were leftover home with me. She was a tall German woman, a single parent who I never saw without a baker’s cap. She took pride in her job, and in her son. 

Even today I remember her face and the face of her son, as well as the faces of each of my other students. They were faces of freshness, of optimism, and of potential. But all were headed into an uncertain America when many values, good and not so good, had begun to shift sides. Soon, my husband would be called into service during the Vietnam war, and fingers were pointing all around, exposing racism, condemning capitalism, and touting ‘free love.’

“The Times They Are A Changin’” Bob Dylan had recently sung. Here are a couple of verses from that ballad:

Come senators, congressmen Please heed the call Don’t stand in the doorway Don’t block up the hall For he that gets hurt Will be he who has stalled There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’ It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls For the times they are a-changin’

Come mothers and fathers Throughout the land And don’t criticize What you can’t understand Your sons and your daughters Are beyond your command Your old road is rapidly agin’ Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand For the times they are a-changin’

I loved Bob Dylan’s music, and still do, but even then, the question nagged me: Will these “changes”  make for a better America?

I don’t know how many of my Fourth-grade students absorbed and acted on the call for change, but young people like to be part of a group, so I think many surely did. Those faces of freshness, optimism, and potential may have heard the call for change with wonderfully good hearts, but very tender ears. I was young then, too, and also heard the admonition that came during the height of the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley—Don’t trust anyone who’s over the age of thirty.

Now, some of us who experienced those many ‘changes’ first-hand are now decades away from their beginnings, so we can come to some conclusions at least. From my point of view, change just for the sake of change is not always good. From my point of view, we needed to get rid of dirtied water, but we should not have thrown the baby out with it. From my point of view, this was the very beginning of the ‘anything goes’ tolerance that we experience today. And I believe our confusion about what tolerance really is has greatly diminished the culture of our country.

What is your opinion?

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