One recent article on teaching children tolerance defined the term as follows: “Tolerance means respecting and learning from others, valuing differences, bridging cultural gaps, rejecting unfair stereotypes, discovering common ground, and creating new bonds.”
As a nation of immigrants, combined with our changing demographics and growing minority populations, we live in an increasingly diverse society. That fact alone makes it critically important that we embrace the idea of tolerance whereby we celebrate our differences in order to better instill respect for each other, thus expanding our cultural knowledge of others.
For obvious reasons, parents get the first shot at teaching tolerance to their children by living and modeling their values — by example, giving credence to the saying “home is where the start is.” Further, the evidence suggests that when parents encourage a tolerant attitude in their children, talk about their values, and model the behavior they would like to see by treating others well, children will follow in their footsteps. This goes a long way in breaking down barriers and minimizing the damaging effect the media have on shaping attitudes and preceptions.
Along with the parental role, our schools play a crucial role in teaching tolerance as well. In teaching tolerance, one must first do a selfassessment, examining his own cultural values and prejudices that could interfere with effective teaching and learning.
Our culturally competent teachers know that much of the research supports the notion that students who feel included tend to have better educational outcomes. These teachers find ways to include all the cultures into classroom instruction and make the content and curriculum personally relevant to the students as well. By doing these things, students tend to connect better to academic experiences, making it more likely for the teachers to reach all students.
Respecting the diversity of all students brings us to the realization that students are truly different, dismissing the notion that one size fits all. Students who get to know, appreciate and work with others who are different at a young age will make their interactions more meaningful and our classroom free of bigotry and intolerance, helping to ensure education equity for all children.
Recently at Hargrove Elementary School, the young scholars were engaged in a school-wide lesson on learning tolerance. Under the leadership of Principal Shajuana Sellers, the school organized an event celebrating the different cultures within the school, providing all the students a chance to learn some interesting and unique facts about the history and culture of African Americans, European Americans, Native Americans and Hispanic Americans.
It was a wonderful multicultural experience, an approach to learning, that on some level, should be every day, year-round.
As a community, let’s support our young people in their efforts to understand their ever-increasing diverse society, knowing that this diversity can enrich their lives in many ways, while making them “ambassadors for social justice.”
Together, we can all make a difference in a world scarred by hate and violence, doing all we can to lift up the future in every way we can.
Larry Sutton is a former teacher at Clinton High School.