Teaching our students not to hate


Schools have always been an integral part of our society, a place for students to learn and use that education to lead productive lives. Lately, though, it seems the fabric of our entire educational structure, from elementary school all they way up to our highest institutes of learning, is unraveling as a result of a dispiriting and dangerous rise in hate, bigotry and antisemitism, the likes of which we have never seen so widespread. Hardly a week, or even a day, goes by without reports of some form of hate taking place in or around a school setting.

Here on Long Island, over the past two years there have been numerous incidents of hateful words, symbols and actions involving schools throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties. In my own community of Merrick last year, I witnessed the scourge of antisemitism firsthand, in the form of horrible images that were drawn on the Chatterton Elementary School playground. Sadly, police arrested a 14-year-old boy who was charged with committing this heinous crime. Although the graffiti was ultimately erased, the impact of seeing those symbols of hate painted on a children’s playground remains heavy in my heart.

We live in a time when most of us have smartphones with all the information in the world at our fingertips. Unfortunately, rather than gaining knowledge from that access, too many people feel empowered to say anything they want from behind a screen without fully understanding the direct consequences of their actions.

Since the Israeli-Hamas conflict began last Oct. 7, instances of antisemitism have been on the rise nationwide. According to the Anti-Defamation League, between Oct. 7 and Nov. 7, the volume of antisemitic speech on X, formerly known as Twitter, jumped by a staggering 919 percent. That was coupled with anti-Muslim speech jumping 422 percent, according to the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. These instances of hate speech have become normalized and casually ingrained in our daily lives. In America, our soldiers who fought and died for our rights, including the freedom of speech, did not do so for hate speech to become such a prevalent part of our society.

More recently, young people are seeing many injustices in the world, and they are disgusted and outraged, as they should be. The practice of peaceful protest is deeply ingrained in our history, and has helped make our nation the great place that it is today. However, we are seeing people across the nation go from criticizing the practices of the Israeli government to using language that condemns the existence of Jews, and changes a peaceful protest to an environment that perpetuates hate and fear.

Protesting by preaching hate is just that. It is not asking for change; it is asking for hate and more violence. That’s why teaching history is so important: so that everyone has a deeper understanding of the context of what they are talking about and the actions they are taking. Instead, there seems to be more placating of students rather than teaching them. And it makes me question whether most of the protesters even know why they are doing it.

Hate has no place in Nassau County, and I’m grateful that I have been elected to a position in which I can work toward implementing changes to stomp out the fire of hate that is growing worldwide. To parents out there, I urge you to impress on your children the fact that while the wounds from an injury can heal, words of hate can have a more long-lasting impact. We are not born to hate; it is something that is learned, and as parents, community members and human beings, we need to ensure that the children who will inherit the world are being taught to love, and not to hate.

The English writer Charles Caleb Colton’s words about hate ring just as true now as they did back in the 1800s: “We hate some persons because we do not know them; and will not know them because we hate them.” Let’s use this example as a teaching moment, to spread tolerance and kindness toward one another.

Michael Giangregorio represents Nassau County’s 12th Legislative District.