Did you know that today’s American youth are displaying intolerant actions at alarming rates-and at younger and younger ages? The FBI tells us most hate crimes are committed by youth younger than nineteen. It’s important to remember that children aren’t born hateful Hatred and intolerance are learned. If today’s children are to have any chance of living harmoniously in this multiethnic world, it is critical that adults nurture it. Here are seven strategies, from my book Building Moral Intelligence that you can use that help curtail bigotry while at the same time influencing your students to treat others with respect and understanding.
- Confront your own prejudices. The first step to nurturing tolerance is to examine your own prejudices and reflect on how you might be projecting those ideas. Chances are that you are communicating those attitudes unintentionally to children. Do make a conscious attempt to temper them so aren’t passed on to your students.
- Commit to a tolerant, respectful environment. Culture does matter. So if you really want students to respect diversity, you must adopt a conviction to emphasize respect and tolerance. Once students knows your expectations, they will be more likely to embrace your principles.
- Refuse to allow discriminatory comments. When you hear prejudicial comments, verbalize your displeasure. How you respond sends a clear message to the child about your values: “That’s disrespectful and I won’t allow such things to be said in my house,” or “That’s a biased comment, and I don’t want to hear it.” Students need to hear your discomfort so that they know you really walk your talk. It also models a response youth should imitate if prejudicial comments are made in their presence.
- Embrace diversity. From a young age, expose students to positive images-including music, literature, videos, public role models, and examples from the media that represent a variety of ethnic groups. Ignorance fuels prejudice so expose students to different races, religions, cultures, genders, abilities, and beliefs.
- Emphasize similarities. Encourage children to look for what he has in common with others instead of how he is different. Any time you hear a student point out how she is different from someone, you might say. “There are lots of ways you are different from other people. Now let’s try to think of ways you are the same.” Help her see how similarities outweigh differences.
- Counter discriminatory beliefs. When you hear a student make a prejudicial comment, listen to find out why he feels the way he does. Then gently challenge his views and point out why they are incorrect. For example if a student says, “Homeless people should get jobs and sleep in their own houses.” You might counter: “There are many reasons homeless people don’t work or have houses. They may be ill or can’t find jobs. Houses cost money, and not everyone can pay for one.”
- Live your life as an example of tolerance. The best way for any child to learn tolerance is for him to watch and listen to your daily example. So ask yourself each day one critical question: “If my students had only my behavior to copy, would he be witnessing an example of what I want him to emulate?” Make sure you are walking your talk.
Of course the best way to teach children tolerance is not through out lectures but through our example. So be a living textbook of tolerance for your students and for all other children. Hatred and intolerance can be learned, but so too can sensitivity, understanding, empathy, and tolerance. Although it’s certainly never too late to begin, the sooner we start, the better the chance we have of preventing insidious, intolerant attitudes from taking hold. There has never been a time when it is most important for educators to do so than now. . .