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Teaching Tolerance

I was reading Dale McGowan's wonderful blog The Meming of Life last night and got caught up in his post on Glass Houses. In his post he talks about the importance of teaching his children that ideas need to earn respect, but people are inherently deserving of respect. I agree that this is an important distinction. We need to teach our children to be respectful of all people, but we also need to teach them the value of challenging ideas and not accepting things at face value.

Teaching Tolerance

A while ago, I came across a great Web site on teaching tolerance to kids:

Teaching Tolerance

This excellent Web site has great age-specific resources to help parents and teachers to raise children that are more tolerant of different people. It has lots of tools to help you talk to your child about different genders, races, religions, disabilities, sexual orientations, and more. This provides an excellent base for taking advantage of children's natural curiosity about the differences in people and harnessing it as a learning opportunity. It also includes information for parents to help them understand their own biases.

Watch your words

We need to teach our children to be careful what words they use when challenging other peoples ideas. It can help to reaffirm your respect for that person. It is important not to call that person names. It can help to restate your understanding of their point of view. But it is fair to criticize, respectfully, that point of view. You just need to be extremely careful about the words that you use to do so. And even then, there are no guarantees that they won't be offended.

A two way street

Respectful discourse is a two way street. People need to understand that when you criticize their ideas or even their choices, it doesn't mean you are criticizing them as a person. For this to work, I think we need to teach our children and ourselves to listen carefully before reacting or before feeling offended. We need to teach them that it is okay to agree to disagree and still hug or shake hands afterwards. We need to teach them to be open to accepting other ideas and changing their mind if good arguments are put on the table.

Let's open our ears and our minds and help our children to do the same.

Photo credit: tipoyock on flickr
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Reader Comments (9)

Great post! I love the concept of ideas needing to earn respect, and the distinction between ideas and people. Teaching Tolerance has some great resources for parents and teachers. The site is run by the Southern Poverty Law Center - a pillar of the American Civil Rights Movement - they do great things.

I have to argue with the word 'Tolerance', though. Its an issue I've had with the SPLC site since I discovered it. I hope that we strive for teaching our children more than simple tolerance of others. Tolerance, to me, implies a sort of 'putting up with it' attitude (although I know this is not what you are intending!). As if simply tolerating someone's difference were enough. So when it comes to anti-oppression and educating our children on these issues, I think Respect is a better word to use - as in the theme of your post.

I do think tolerance is useful when talking about dealing with differing opinions, especially opinions that we really, really disagree with. Sometimes tolerance is the best I can hope for when reading stuff online (The Case Against Breastfeeding anyone?) Cultivating a tolerant attitude allows me to get my point across much more effectively, and is less likely to result in name-calling and personal attacks.

Thanks for giving me something deep to think about on this Sunday morning. BTW if you want another great resource for working with kids on these issues, check out http://www.antiracistparent.com/

March 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLindsay @ Kickypants

@ Lindsay - I agree! Respect is a better word. I meant to raise that issue too, but forgot to in the end. They had a great conversation about that on CBC Radio a while back that I enjoyed listening to. I think we need to both respect and even celebrate the differences between people and at the same time foster an environment for respectful debate and discourse about ideas.

March 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I think the best way to teach respect is to consistently demonstrate it to your children. How we behave with them as parents will teach them how they should behave with others.

Great post and thanks for the reminder!

March 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTwinToddlersDad

Respect can be such a sticky topic. I agree that all humans deserve respect and that the give & take of respect (as TwinToddlersDad says) is best learned through modeling. I find it so difficult to teach my son to respect people when most every adult with whom we come into contact exhibits rude, thoughtless behavior. I am so glad to see this issue being raised--parents are the first teachers & our lessons must be well modeled.

March 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJessica

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