Tolerance, Schooling and Cognitive Sophistication
A week before a protest over the building of a new Catholic church in Bekasi, my colleagues were a little busy photocopying their identity cards. A religious teacher acted as the “agent” to collect them and filed any other documents needed.
Those papers would be submitted to the state officials and other parties responsible in the process of building new places of worship.
Along with other Muslims participating in the denial of the building of the church, my colleagues were encouraged to show that the unanimous majority of the subdistrict could not accept that building.
Furthermore, they wished to prove that the consent-papers claimed to have been signed by the local residents, as a necessary requirement legally, were fake. In the end, they would like to ascertain that the building of the church was illegal and would only disturb the community around it.
I did not submit anything myself. I told them that I could not join the protest since I did not know what was going on.
Honestly, I especially was not sure about why such a protest was needed.
Above all, more philosophically, I could not accept the idea that a majority can easily deny the wish of a minority to build a place of worship.
No matter how naïve my sentiment might be, would it not be more touching if Muslims — as the majority — could help the process?
In a discussion with some teachers after my denial of the denial, I came to realize that I have no such inferiority complex as a Muslim. I am confident with what I am and, hence, never thought of convertin, no matter the return.
“If every Muslim had such confidence,” I told them, “we wouldn’t need to react in anger to fellows with different beliefs”. Unfortunately, in fact, suspicion or anger looks to be the preferred choice. Inferiority, despite of being the majority, has distorted the sound mind in the form of illogical fear.
I went on to tell them that I had ever once been persuaded to change my mind about my religion and I had thanked the persuader and asked him to stop what he had been doing.
“If you approach the wrong person,” I finally advised the persuader, “you might be rejected harshly or he will proceed you before the law because of what you are doing.” He left and gave me some thin magazines and two books telling the mission of his religious sect and never returned.
For several days after the discussion with the teachers, I could not stop thinking of why certain people can risk all they possess in order to make someone or a group of people follow their belief or obey what
Why is a certain belief taken as the right one while the others are cursed as the ways of the devil? How should we map out those people: As the ones blessed by the God or contrarily as the ones with mental disorder to certain extent?
Working for more than 10 years at different schools, where mental and cognitive development should be facilitated to be mature, I have come to the conclusion that those intolerant people might have not reached what is usually called “cognitive sophistication”.
Someone with this quality can be measured by intellectual interests, openness to new ideas and willingness to risk uncertainty and ambiguity (Glock et al, 1975). The quality itself might be obtained more as the years of education increases, i.e. where cognitive skills, cultural knowledge and cognitive flexibility are more possibly acquired (Nunn et al, 1978).
The other pivotal things are the availability of democratic ideology at school, the concrete applications of tolerant values and how students are exposed to information to accustom them to flexibly.
However, as the years of learning of the teachers in the above story might be between 15 to 20 years or more, for instance, why have they not achieved the cognitive sophistication?
While many are very good at math, science or other subjects requiring logical and reasoning — or cognitive skills and flexibility, why don’t they have tolerance?
Here we arrive at the possibility that many of them were not educated at learning institutions with adequate democratic ideology and where concrete applications of tolerant values were unavailable. Correspondingly, they might be accustomed to receiving selected information instead of a balanced one on tolerance issues.
If this is the fact, can we hope that our schools will be able to promote tolerance through the implantation and dissemination of cognitive sophistication?
Was Merelman (1980) not right when he wrote that schools actually do little to teach democratic values because they themselves are not democratic places; because the schools themselves need for orders lead them to the creation of environments that foster the learning of constraint, hierarchy and inequality rather than values of freedom, equality and tolerance?
Realizing the negativity, we surely are not without hope. At least, we can keep in mind that intolerance is as old as tolerance. If one out of a hundred dares to speak the truth, the majority are still reminded that they are wrong.
The writer is a school manager and a researcher at Paramadina Foundation Jakarta.