Misunderstanding of tolerance project motivates students

PLYMOUTH — Now that it’s clear that the School of Inquiry is not promoting homosexuality, students have returned to their study of major world religions. Teacher Grant Masson said Wednesday that he’s never seen students so inspired by a project.
“The controversy (over the project) made it even more powerful because the students realized that people were watching what they were learning and that people cared what they were learning,” said Masson.
Last week, Plymouth Community School administrators held a meeting because a citizen had expressed concern that an event called “Mix-It-Up Day” — an event that came from the School of Inquiry’s religious tolerance project — was promoting homosexuality. Administrators and teachers at the school stated that neither the event or the overall project had anything to do with homosexuality, but agreed to consider changing the event just the same.
“We did not intend this project to be controversial,” said Masson, laughing ruefully.
Dr. Sam Boys, professor of religion and theology at Ancilla College, met with School of Inquiry students Wednesday to discuss religious tolerance. Boys asked students for their definitions of “diversity” and “tolerance,” and also spoke briefly about similarities between several world religions.
“The secret to coexisting is education, education, education,” said Boys. “Does this mean that we have to accept everyone’s beliefs? We can accept someone as a person and respect that they have those beliefs, but we don’t have to believe what they believe.”
Boys added, “There are all kinds of diversity out there — diversity doesn’t have to be religious diversity.”
“These students are on it,” said Masson, referring to his students work on this project over the past three weeks. “They are coming up with questions that I’ve never heard of before. They realized this project would be controversial, and I think they’ve embraced that. One girl said that this is the best thing she has ever done in school.”
Masson added that he believes most of his students had little to no knowledge of world religions before starting this project.
“There were a handful of students that are active in their church that have had them seek out and learn about other religions,” said Masson. “But a lot of the students (came into the project) stereotyping. Now, that’s not the case.”
Students will present their findings to a panel that includes area pastors Friday.
“The students have taken this project and run with it,” said Masson. “As an educator, I want to be part of that every single day.”