Teaching Tolerance

By Bless, Nancy | Afterimage, September 1994 | Go to article overview

Teaching Tolerance


Bless, Nancy, Afterimage


The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), founded in 1971 in Montgomery Alabama, has an impressive record of achievement in prosecuting supremacists, Klansmen, and other hate groups. Center co-founder and Chief Trial Counsel Morris Dees continues to work despite death threats, and the Center keeps growing and attracting talented workers. SPLC has prosecuted cases of racial and economic injustice from Kian murder in Alabama and discriminatory coal company practices in Eastern Kentucky, to skinhead murder in Oregon and Klan terror against Vietnamese fishermen in the Texas Gulf. Their cases often take many years to resolve, such as a 16-year case against the State of Alabama that will end discrimination in the hiring of State Troopers and another that will amount to a major redistricting victory making the election of blacks to the Alabama State House of Representatives probable. Morris Dees and his staff conceived of an education program as their research revealed that established hate groups are attracting and training young people. Bias crimes are increasingly being committed by younger perpetrators. Teaching Tolerance is an education program of the SPLC intended to provide educators with a focused set of curriculum materials promoting acceptance of diversity

The Teaching Tolerance program has distributed between 50-70,000 copies of its first resource package, "The American Civil Rights Movement" to schools, churches, and civic organizations that request them. Each package contains a video and supporting materials such as a suggested curriculum, a historical guide, and copies of Teaching Tolerance magazine. Five more packages will be produced and distributed over the next few years. The second package, "The Shadow of Hate," will look at the historic roots of racial and religious persecution and its related violent expressions in the U.S. The last four parts of this series are in the planning stages and will deal with effective strategies for early childhood educators in addressing difference and intolerance, conflict resolution, teamwork, and community involvement.

The curriculum is designed for 6th-12th grade students with well-organized discussion, writing, and research plans for their instructors to use with them. Many of the exercises encourage hypothesizing moral choices: If you had been faced with this situation, how could you have responded? The Teaching Tolerance program is based on the premise that teachers don't need more philosophy and theory. Instead, they need well-researched and organized resources. These materials are easy to adapt for a variety of possible subject areas and teaching environments.

"Free At Last," a 104-page guide by Teaching Tolerance editor Sara Bullard included in package, "The American Civil Rights Movement," sketches the legal history of African American citizens from the beginning of slavery to the late 1980s. It also provides biographies of each of the 40 people whose names are inscribed on the Civil Rights Memorial designed by Maya Lin in Montgomery, Alabama. The biographies are arranged chronologically by dates of death, placing the people within their historical context, amid the local and national events of which their deaths were a part.

The biannual Teaching Tolerance magazine serves as a national networking forum for educators who want to examine issues of bigotry and promote understanding difference in the classroom. The magazine features articles by people like educator and Director of the Children's Defense Fund Marian Wright Edelman and poet Luis Rodriguez, as well as articles and letters from teachers. Since the program's inception in 1991 the magazine's circulation has risen to 250,000.

The videos included in the first two resource packages are written and directed by filmmaker Charles Guggenheim, a three-time Academy Award winner for his documentary films including RFK Remembered (1968) and Johnstown Flood (1989). A Time for Justice (n. …

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