Teaching Tolerance

When teaching tolerance it is important to make people aware that they should recognize and accept the diverse cultures, beliefs and practices of the world. Dictionary definitions of tolerance include "the capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others" and "sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own." Teaching tolerance helps people to learn about individuality and diversity, while it also promotes peace and a civil society. For the battle with intolerance to be successful, teachers have to make efforts to educate children in the matter of mutual respect.

In 1995, the members of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) signed the Declaration of Principles on Tolerance. There are four major principles listed in the document that give an explicit definition of the term. The first principle states that tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of the cultures of world. It is defined as harmony in difference. Tolerance is not only a moral duty, it is a political and legal requirement and helps replace a culture of war with one of peace.

According to the second principle of the declaration, tolerance is not concession, condescension or indulgence. Tolerance is, above all, an active attitude a result of the recognition of the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms of others. UNESCO's third principle defines tolerance as the responsibility that upholds human rights, pluralism, democracy and the rule of law. It involves the rejection of dogmatism and absolutism and affirms the standards set out in international human rights instruments.

Consistent with respect for human rights, the practice of tolerance does not mean toleration of social injustice or the abandonment or the weakening of convictions. It means that a person is free to adhere to their own convictions and accept that others adhere to theirs. It is important not to try to impose beliefs on others. Tolerance means accepting the fact that all human beings, no matter how different from one another, have the right to live in peace and to be as they are.

Teaching tolerance is part of most religions of our world, although it is not always practiced. Regardless of their religion, many people have practiced or are practicing intolerance to gain personal or secular power. Ideas related to intolerance include xenophobia, which is the fear or hatred of strangers or foreigners; racism, which means asserting the superiority of one race over another; hate groups, where people join together to fuel racism and prejudice against others.

The history of mankind is full of examples of intolerance, hatred and prejudice. Slavery and racism in the United States and the Holocaust of World War II are among the most recent examples of intolerance. There are many people who oppose such acts and attitude and have fought or are still fighting for a world where diversity is no reason for hatred.

US President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) is among those who have struggled with intolerance. Lincoln firmly opposed slavery. In his campaign for president in 1860, he expressed his anti-slavery views and was determination to stop the expansion of slavery. At the beginning of 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all slaves within the Confederacy.

India's political and ideological leader Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948) led the long struggle for independence from Great Britain and inspired many to fight for civil rights and freedom across the globe. Gandhi developed a movement called satyagraha, which means resistance to tyranny through mass civil disobedience. The concept was entirely based on non-violence.

Martin Luther King Jr (1929-1968) was the leader of the first great African-American non-violent demonstration of contemporary times in the United States. His views were based on ideas from Christianity, while his non-violent methods came from Gandhi. King became the symbolic leader of American blacks and a world figure. Between 1957 and 1968, he traveled many miles to speak wherever there was injustice, protest and action.

Many other political leaders, philosophers and public figures are seeking to promote tolerance among all races, nations and religions of our world. Although slavery, genocide and other extreme practices of intolerance are not common, people in the 21st century still live in an intolerant society where diversity is not respected.

Teaching Tolerance: Selected full-text books and articles

Teaching Tolerance in Public and Private Schools By Godwin, Kenneth; Ausbrooks, Carrie; Martinez, Valerie Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 82, No. 7, March 2001
Teaching Tolerance: What Research Tells Us. (Research and Practice) By Avery, Patricia G Social Education, Vol. 66, No. 5, September 2002
Teaching about Terrorism, Islam, and Tolerance with the Internet. (Reflections in a Time of Crisis) By Risinger, Frederick C Social Education, Vol. 65, No. 7, November-December 2001
Encyclopedia of Multicultural Education By Bruce M. Mitchell; Robert E. Salsbury Greenwood Press, 1999
Librarian's tip: "Teaching Tolerance" begins on p. 237
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