How Can Parents Teach Beyond Tolerance?
Teach Tolerance
"They Shot Him, Papa!": Finding Smarter Ways to Talk to Kids About Diversity
Teaching Tolerance to Children 7 to 10
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How Can Parents Teach Beyond Tolerance?

It's no longer adequate for parents to teach their children simply about Tolerance. Think about it. What does it mean to tolerate someone? Might it feel better to step beyond mere tolerance and labels and see others who are different from ourselves as just ordinary human beings with different views or beliefs? Learn to replace tolerance by embracing and rejoicing in the natural diversity of humanity by making it the new normal. Simply shift the distinction of "them and us" to "us".

Parents can teach this by example — and in other ways, too. Talking together about respect helps kids learn more about the values you want them to have. Giving them opportunities to play and work with others is important as well. This lets kids learn firsthand that everyone has something to contribute and to experience differences and similarities. Things parents can do include:

1. Notice your own attitudes. Parents who want to help their kids value diversity can be sensitive to cultural stereotypes they may have learned and make an effort to correct them. Demonstrate an attitude of respect for others.

2. Remember that kids are always listening. Be aware of the way you talk about people who are different from yourself. Do not make jokes that perpetuate stereotypes. Although some of these might seem like harmless fun, they can undo attitudes of respect.

3. Select books, toys, music, art, and videos carefully. Keep in mind the powerful effect the media and pop culture have on shaping minds.

4. Point out and talk about unfair stereotypes that may be portrayed in media.

5. Answer kids' questions about differences honestly and respectfully. This teaches that it is acceptable to notice and discuss differences as long as it is done with respect.

6. Acknowledge and respect differences within your own family. Demonstrate acceptance of your children's differing abilities, interests, and styles. Value the uniqueness of each member of your family.

7. Remember that tolerance does not mean tolerating unacceptable behavior. It means that everyone deserves to be treated with respect — and should treat others with respect as well

8. Help your children feel good about themselves. Kids who feel badly about themselves often treat others badly. Kids with strong self-esteem value and respect themselves are more likely to treat others with respect. Help your child to feel accepted, respected, and valued.

9. Give kids opportunities to work and play with others who are different from them. When choosing a school, day camp, or childcare facility, find one with a diverse population.

10. Learn together about holiday and religious celebrations that are not part of your own tradition.

11. Honor your family's traditions and teach them to your kid and to those outside your family who want to learn about the diversity you have to offer.

When parents encourage a respectful attitude in their children, talk about their values, and model the behavior they would like to see by treating others well, kids will follow in their footsteps.

Teach Tolerance

We know we won’t achieve equality and justice through the courts and investigative reporting alone. The future of our great country lies in the hands of today’s young people.

That’s why we aim to put our legal work and Intelligence Project out of business: We’re reaching into schools across the nation with lessons to counter the bigotry and extremism that children hear in the media and even from people who are supposed to be role models. The SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance program works through educators to nurture a new generation that is more accepting of difference and more engaged in social justice than those that preceded it. We want kids to get along with each other and, just as important, see themselves as global citizens in a diverse society with the capacity to work together for a fairer world.

Since 1991, Teaching Tolerance has equipped hundreds of thousands of educators with classroom tools and resources that reduce prejudice, improve intergroup relations and foster school equity. This anti-bias program creates and distributes—free of charge—award-winning content through curriculum guides, professional development materials, films, articles and blogs. Teaching Tolerance magazine is sent to 450,000 educators in all 50 states and Canada twice annually, with a Summer issue available online and on iPad, and tens of thousands of educators use our free curricular kits. Teaching Tolerance provides these materials and an entire anti-bias curriculum so educators can integrate them into core classroom units, their own professional development and school culture—and across whole school districts.

Mix It Up at Lunch Day, the anchor event for Teaching Tolerance’s Mix It Up program, encourages students to do something simple yet powerful—sit next to someone new in the cafeteria. More than 6,000 schools participated in our annual Mix It Up at Lunch Day program in 2013, and more than 95 percent of Mix It Up organizers say the event prompts students to interact outside their normal social circles. Nearly 80 percent report those interactions result in new friendships across racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and other divisions.

Feedback from the Teaching Tolerance audience also indicates that our resources deepen students’ understanding of human diversity, raise their awareness about social problems and increase behaviors that counteract those problems. Further, more than 90 percent of classroom teachers who read Teaching Tolerance magazine report that it helps them think more deeply about diversity issues, better meet students’ needs and better teach. Eighty-five percent use the suggested activities in their classrooms.

Teaching Tolerance has attracted considerable external recognition, including 35 honors from the Association of Educational Publishers (AEP)—including the Golden Lamp, its highest honor—two Oscars®, an Emmy® and awards from the National Education Association, among others. In 2009, AEP named Teaching Tolerance magazine Periodical of the Year in Distinguished Achievement.

Teaching Tolerance to Children 7 to 10

Prejudice is learned. So is acceptance. Here are some tips for getting the issue of tolerance out on the table: (1) Hold many brief conversations instead of one long lecture. This will show your child that they can bring up the subject for discussion at any time. (2) Don't be wishy-washy. Children are far more likely to pay attention when you talk specifically and answer their questions directly. (3) Don't worry if you don't have all the answers. Lack of knowledge can provide a golden opportunity to go to the library or go on-line to find out more. (4) Don't tolerate prejudicial language or humor. (Editor: "Reply to All" when you receive prejudicial jokes via email and state the negative impact they have on you and ask not to receive them anymore.) (5) Use television and books as tools to explore prejudice and stereotyping. Parents Tips & Tricks

"They Shot Him, Papa!": Finding Smarter Ways to Talk to Kids About Diversity

Teaching children about diversity can be a tricky proposition. In the "No Child Left Behind" era, so much time is devoted to preparing students for test-taking that old school subjects like good citizenship, social behavior, and community values may get short shrift. (There is, after all, no standardized test for "plays well with others.") Multiculturalism -- so widely emphasized in the Marlo Thomas 70's -- often ends up limited to theme days and special projects. When my daughter was in Kindergarten, the subject of diversity did not arise in her class until Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

This is how we found out that they were talking about race: over dinner, she announced that Martin Luther King Jr. wanted people with white skin and brown skin to be friends but people got mad so they shot him. While that is not an inaccurate summary of the history involved, it does pretty much foreground the assassination and diminish the rest of his accomplishments. It's a little depressing to think that the legacy of Dr. King's life could be boiled down into "Equality will get you killed."

Obviously, race murder was not the subject we'd expected to be discussing when we asked "How was school, honey?" so we probed to find out what else she had learned. All she could remember was that people have different skin colors and that some people really don't like people with brown skin. As a mixed race girl in a school 95% white, this was not a small thing to ponder.

This theme continued all week at school, with her classmates making paints to match their own skin colors, which I assume was meant to be empowering, but which only cemented the notion of pigment being key. I was volunteering in class that week and was asked to make a rainbow using the skin colors labeled by student name; I counter-proposed and suggested a collage, with all the colors mixed. Both ideas are ways of saying "we're all in this together" but the second approach moved away from any kind of spectrum in which similar colors would be closest to each other.

The hearts of all involved were in the right place: the school for making diversity part of the curriculum and the teachers for trying to explore the theme in hands-on activities. But the truth is that this particular approach was a little clumsy, even if representative of how a lot of people handle the topic of diversity: sincerely, but in misguided fashion, seeking easy languages and metaphors for inclusion that nonetheless inadvertently emphasize division and otherness.

By the end of the week, the limits of this approach had been made clear when a white boy told a boy of color -- one of his best friends -- that they couldn't play together anymore because of the boy's brown skin. This reaction, I have to admit, was a fairly logical outgrowth of the white child's understanding of the lesson he'd just learned in school: that a white man killed a black man because the black man wanted their races to get along. For the white boy hearing such a message, not playing with his African-American pal could equal watching out for his friend's safety.

Good news: the divide didn't last -- the boys are back to playing to "Star Wars" again. But it illustrates why it is so vital for schools to find more sophisticated, meaningful ways to approach the subject of diversity. Here are 5 simple suggestions from a Dad on the front lines:

  • Don't wait till Martin Luther King Jr. Day to discuss diversity. Halfway through the school year is hardly the time to discover the topic. Keying it to one month implies it is not an ongoing issue and keying it to this one specific day makes it inescapably linked to violence.
  • Don't use race as the sole definition of diversity. Diversity of ethnicity, country of origin,
  • socioeconomic status, family configuration, religious belief, physical status --t here are a lot of points of entry reflecting the diverse lives of the children who make up a class. And with younger students, one approach is to begin even more simply, examining differences of any kind (house color, preferred breakfast cereal, kind of car) and talking about why those differences don't divide us.
  • Focus on the twin values of the civil rights movement: fairness and possibility. By helping children focus on how they and their culture can be most fair, and encouraging them to dream about what actions they can take to better their world, you encourage active citizenship.
  • Model diversity when not talking about it. From the names of children used in sample sentences to the characters who are featured in storybooks and activity sheets, you can make sure diversity becomes part of the fabric of learning -- even (and especially) when diversity itself is not the topic.
  • Remember that diversity is not an "us" versus "them." Teaching diversity is not about making some kids feel included while educating the rest about "others"; it's about finding language to acknowledge the real world as it already is and making all children feel at home in sharing it.

My daughter was right, Martin Luther King Jr. died; but he dreamed first -- and he dreamed big enough to change the world. I think that's something worth celebrating and teaching.
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