Teaching tolerance in the classroom By Angela Ford and Erin Young

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.

Works Cited

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

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11 responses to “Teaching tolerance in the classroom By Angela Ford and Erin Young

  1. The subject of teaching tolerance in the classroom is a touchy one, but one of the greatest instruments a teacher can teach. I agree with the article that children need a constant figure to teach about diversity, tolerance, and respect, therefore the best place to begin is in school and at a young age. Furthermore, I think the Mix It Up at Lunch Day is a phenomenal idea that should be implemented within schools, periodically. By creating a multicultural community we, as teachers, are developing the key to a healthy, peaceful, and organized classrooom. Through a teacher promoting kindness and respect amongst all students in the classroom, the creation of tolerance can thus be established.

  2. March 30, 2009
    Blog 9

    Working at a local college, I have been overwhelmed with the lack of tolerance from “adult” students and can see that teaching tolerance at the elementary level is critical to broadening the awareness of diversity in the classroom and at home. I worked hand in hand with the Director of Multicultural Student Life to plan a memorial service for the local man who was killed this year in a race related crime. This event brought together the community, students and faculty in the Patchogue area and sparked multiple other events to help other communities/ families learn tolerance and deal with tolerance in their neighborhood. I loved the Teachers Against Prejudice website and was curious for more details on the “Mix It Up” program.

  3. I strongly agree that the topic of multicultural education is very important for teachers to bring into the class. I think the idea of “mixing it up” is a wonderful way to get students to interact with others of a different race, religion, culture, etc. I also think it is important for teachers to bring these different cultures into the classroom. For example, celebrating holidays of other cultures in the classroom can be a way to learn about others and their traditions. Children need to grow up respecting others and be exposed to the different cultures around them. They need to feel comfortable and have a sense of curiosity when it comes to other cultures, genders, and religions. It is the job of the teacher to create an environment where all students are welcome and can feel comfortable expressing themselves and learning about others.

  4. I think we have to be very careful when addressing the subject of tolerance. I was in a seminar recently where the speaker brought up an interesting point. He said that he did not like the word “tolerance” or “tolerate”. I believe he used the term “embrace” or “celebrate” instead. I had never realized the negative connotation attached to the word “tolerance”. The word itself creates a sense of superiority in regards to the person “tolerating” another’s differences. We must be conscious of the messages that we are conveying to our students even in terms of the language we use.
    In my opinion, embracing differences among the people in our society should be integrated into every lesson every day. Incorporating diversity into daily lessons creates a more natural connection to the concept as opposed to hyper focusing on the subject. We don’t want to bring a huge amount of attention to the topic. We would rather have our students feel as though it is a way of life. Embracing differences should be modeled by the teacher as well as be expected from the students. It should be as natural to embrace differences in one another, in a classroom, as it is to raise one’s hand before speaking. This mindset will, hopefully, translate to situations outside of the classroom as well.

  5. I think that it is extremely important that multicultural education is taught in elementary school. I agree with what Ckolm523 that that word “tolerant” definitely has a negative connotation. Children need to be taught to embrace people who are different from them and respect them for their differences not to tolerate them. I believe that it is our responsibility as educators to teach students the importance of respecting diversity. Teachers need to create an environment in their classrooms where students feel safe and comfortable in who they are and are able to embrace the differences around them.

  6. I definitely agree with ckolm523 and dcfarrell that the word “tolerance” is no longer useful in this capacity. It has been relegated to use by sincerely bigoted people like Sarah Palin, who “tolerates” homosexuality. Semantics aside though, I agree that schools must teach and celebrate difference if this country is ever to be truly united.

  7. I have to admit I never really took notice or thought about the idea of tolerance carrying a negative connotation, but putting it the way you did mikem677 I can totally understand. I agree with most of the other comments, that teaching a multi-cultural curriculum is extremely important. Along the lines of explicit and implicit curriculum, it is important to remember that as an educator it is our job to model certain behaviors, actions and respect in a classroom. Therefore, we must not only remember to bring multi-cultural education into the direct curriculum materials and lessons, but implicitly promote understanding and respect of individual differences to ensure that our actions speak louder than our words and vice versa. It wouldn’t be helpful either if we were to teach about respect and diversity but not act as such.

  8. I agree with the statement in the article that talks about not all students are brought up with tolerance and being exposed to diversity from birth. I think the mix it up campaign is a great way for studnets to get talking to one another and talking to people of different backgrounds. This campaign is a great way for elementary students to experience diversity and step outside their comfort zone of their friends and their same lunch table.

  9. Teaching tolerance should definitely be a priority in every classroom of all ages. To think even at an early age, teachers are promoting this all the time as children are learning to share, make new friends, and understand that they will oftentimes need to compromise when playing with friends. I feel that somewhere in the elementary years the subject of tolerance suddenly gets lost. Unfortunately this is also the time when children are beginning to become sensitve to issues of gender, sexual orientation, religion, and race. If not being addressed in the classroom, many views obtained by children can become quite skewed in which the child is never given an opportunity to dispel false information they may have incoporated into their world schemes. The classroom can provide the safe security that students need to explore such sensitive subject material. I think tolerance is something that should be addressed and discussed in every classroom, on all levels.

  10. I think teaching tolerance at an early age is a great thing. Not every child is taught that people are different. In doing the “mix up” at lunch this will hopefully help children see where other kids come from and minimize the different cliques that are in schools today.

  11. While the “Mix It Up” program sounds like a really good idea, I was in high school when it occured at my school. No one moved tables, it wasn’t even mentioned by students. It may work better in an elementary school where social pressure isn’t as intense as high school (cliques aren’t fully formed yet) and students are still more likely to listen to teachers and want to be involved in “special” school days.

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