RAYMOND – Each weekday afternoon in neighborhoods across America, classes and school activities end for the day, and our children leave their teachers and classmates and head for home.

Doors to the outside world close and families come together. Typically, the TV blares, music blasts and friends drop by.

There is robust activity, there are sibling and parental skirmishes, and, almost without exception, household dialogue is the most common backdrop for the remaining hours of the day.

For our children, school is academic but home is the living classroom. This is where our children spend most of their time, and where a different kind of learning takes place each day.

It is from uncensored conversation among adults — whether at dinner tables across America, or in heated discussions echoing from a garage or the basement — that our children learn what words are OK to repeat and, for the most part, what is acceptable behavior.

This is where children develop their views about the world. It is where expressions of tolerance, understanding and personal responsibility are learned, or where racism, hatred and bigotry are modeled.

With a few beers or a game of cards, caution occasionally goes south, and bawdy comments and belly laughter demonstrate approval of really bad jokes — intended to be funny — but that reveal hatred and disrespect for targeted groups or individuals in our society.

In truth, history has taught us that these jokes are really not funny at all. The mind-set they reinforce in the name of humor is far too often consequential and dangerous.

Were I inclined, it would not be difficult to reference a dozen or more negative words I have heard over the years, some created specifically to describe religious groups and racial differences.

These words include terms that demean people based on their sexual preference, societal and economic class, and even their general appearance.

What strikes me about the descriptives is the realization that again and again the worst among them often become the punch lines for that sad humor and the old jokester who still claims: “I really didn’t mean anything by it it was just funny.”

Freedom of speech and opinion is sacred territory — especially within the confines of our own homes.

That said, what exits our mouths is also fair game for those listening ears that are absorbing all that we say and do. Be it through our own tolerance or intolerance, violence or personal responsibility, human caring or hatred, bigotry or mutual respect, we are the blueprint for our children’s mind-set.

The use of degrading language at home validates children carrying the words to school the following morning.

Across America, our children are too often tormented by groups of playground bullies and, in some case, violent gangs. We should ask ourselves why racial slurs are launched at children too young to even know what the words mean.

Perhaps the young person being bullied or verbally assaulted on the way to school seems to be a fitting target of the “harmless” racial or homophobic jokes told in our own garage the previous night. In the right situation, could our own children feel empowered by hateful and violent words? The price of that possibility could be very steep.

Young people face countless challenges each day. Most often they are typical teen crises, enormous at the moment and gone before the day is out.

For some of our children, though, there are situations and circumstances in their lives that do not go away, which create conflict and anxiety, and result in ridicule, fear, separation from others and depression.

Each day, on average, a dozen of our nation’s youth, age 15-24, take their own lives. Among the most recent cases was the tragic death of a brilliant young gay musician in his first year of college, humiliated by a fellow classmate, a secret camera, and the Internet. His leap to death off a bridge made the front page of newspapers across America.

Will this untimely and violent loss of young life, or others like it, bring us any closer together, partners in a call to action to ensure that none of our children will fear or be diminished by what they look like, what god they worship, where they live, or who they are as individuals?