Diversity is the cornerstone of American society. The United States is one of the most diverse societies in the world, which is strongly reflected in the classroom. Today’s students differ in age, race, sexual orientation, religion, and culture and in the classroom, students are constantly surrounded by all these different characteristics which helps make it a wonderful environment to be taught tolerance. It is important for students to have a constant figure in their lives teaching them tolerance and diversity while establishing respect in the classroom and making a comfortable environment for the students learning and growth.
Children become aware of different racial and gender issues at a young age, however, they also begin to learn stereotypes which is why it is so important that tolerance is taught at an early, elementary level. Teaching tolerance in elementary schools can greatly help reduce the incidence of hate crimes, racism, and discrimination. If the appropriate school programs that teach tolerance are implemented correctly, it could help students better relate to the different races and cultures surrounding them, and furthermore help students to appreciate their classmates and other peers.
When teaching tolerance, it is important to develop the age appropriate curriculum especially when dealing with the younger students. Teaching tolerance could be as easy as having the children mix up who they sit with at lunch or rotating seats in the classroom or a more involved lesson such as having the students work on projects or theatrical exercises.
Here is one example of how tolerance is being taught in schools. Recently millions of students in schools across the United States participated in a national campaign to celebrated diversity and tolerance by eating lunch at a table where they don’t usually sit with the aim of meeting or “mixing it up” with different groups of students. Mix It Up at Lunch Day helps encourage students to question and cross social boundaries. By mixing it up, it is allowing students to explore and bridge differences among ethnic, racial and religious differences, as well as those related to disabilities, gender and class.
According to a 2008 survey, this program leads to positive interactions among students outside their normal social circles and increased awareness of social boundaries and divisions within the school. More than four-fifths of respondents also said the event helped students make new friends, and almost as many said it heightened sensitivity toward tolerance and social justice issues. (Thomas, 2008)
Although students should be taught tolerance at home from birth, not all children grow up in diverse settings and respect or dislike for people of differences will be taught in the home. Therefore, schools are a place where guidelines for tolerance can be set and followed. “Classroom teachers have a considerable impact upon their students’ conduct and attitude concerning cultural diversity and this should be utilized” (Ganly, 2007) Schools are the best place to teach tolerance because students are already surrounded by different people in the classroom environment. Students need a constant figure in their lives that teach tolerance, and diversity of all aspects should be used as a tool for learning, creating confidence, and establishing respect in a classroom.
Teachers who teach tolerance will make the students feel comfortable and confident. Students will not be afraid to express their opinions and talk about their beliefs and cultures if tolerance is taught in schools. Differences can be expressed and explored, not criticized or hidden. Respect can be established amongst the students and school faculty, and it will maximize the level of education for all students.
Below are a few useful resources for teachers that will help bring the message of tolerance into the classroom. http://www.tolerance.org/teach/index.jsp
Teaching Tolerance: This is a great site started by the Southern Poverty Law Center. It contains free materials teachers can order to bring lessons of tolerance into the classroom. All the resources are free and there is a simple order form you can download to get the materials.
Teachers Against Prejudice: This is another great site for teachers. It has a lot of good ideas including writing, essay, and art contests, and suggested book lists (elementary all the way to college level) for bringing tolerance into the classroom.
PBS Lesson: If you have internet access in your classroom, this is a great lesson focusing on current international tolerance issues. It draws comparisons to stereotypes of World War II with current tensions stemming from the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
Ganly, S. (2007, October 3). Tolerance Should Be Taught in the Classroom. Retrieved March 27, 2009, from AC Associated Content Information from the Source: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/392186/tolerance_should_be_taught_in_the_classroom_pg4.html?cat=4
Teaching Tolerance. (n.d.). Retrieved March 27, 2009, from Tolerance.org: http://www.tolerance.org/teach/activities/activity.jsp?ar=1056
Thomas, J. (2008, December 8). Kids Celebrate Diversity and Tolerance by “Mixing It Up” at Lunch. Retrieved March 27, 2009, from America.gov: http://www.america.gov/st/educ-english/2008/December/200812091155561CJsamohT9.968203e-02.html