The events happening in the United States during the last week motivated me to talk about tolerance and intolerance today by updating a post from November 2010. That post reminded me that tomorrow, November 15, is the International Day for Tolerance.
Established by UNESCO in 1996, the event is based on 1995 Declaration of Principles on Tolerance “to take all positive measures necessary to promote tolerance in our societies, because tolerance is not only a cherished principle, but also a necessity for peace and for the economic and social advancement of all peoples.”
If there were ever a time when we need to promote tolerance, that time is now. One effective, but simple, way to explore tolerance is to look at the ways people talk about the concept during some class sessions this month and then produce projects that share their exploration with others on campus. Here’s one way to accomplish that goal through in-class discussion and collaboration.
- Ask students to record their understanding of tolerance. They can record personal experiences, working definitions, and responses to events in the news. The goal is to create a touchstone that they can return to later. There is no right or wrong answer. Everyone in a community can talk about tolerance for the values and actions of others.
- Move to UNESCO’s 1995 Declaration of Principles on Tolerance. Article 1 of the Declaration specifically addresses the “Meaning of tolerance.” Ask students to read the entire Declaration, paying particular attention to that section.
- Discuss the definition in the Declaration and how it compares to students’ own understanding. Explore the language that is used in the document specifically. Unpack the complex words, and note how the document attempts to be inclusive.
- If class time allows, students can work in groups, each taking one point of Article 1 and rewriting the explanation using less formal language. They can imagine themselves writing for younger students or writing sound bites for a general audience.
- After discussion of the Declaration, ask students to record how the document relates to their earlier notes on the concept either in class or for homework.
- Review the definition(s) of tolerance from the previous session, explaining that the class will spend time this session comparing to the ways that tolerance is discussed publicly.
- Share news stories about tolerance, intolerance, and bullying with the class. You can use local examples or these recent pieces:
- This election was a cultural civil war. Liberalism lost. Intolerance won. from the Washington Post
- People are wearing safety pins to stand against intolerance, from the New York Post
- The Knock at the Door, from Inside Higher Ed
- The Shocking Intolerance of Anti-Trump Liberals, from the Daily Signal
- These Photographers Chose to Confront Intolerance and Document What Works, from Time
- The Incidents Since Election Day, from Inside Higher Ed
- Ask students to begin by separating objective details and material from subjective details and material. Have them note when objective details are used and when subjective details are used. Talk about how purpose and audience influence the information and the language that is used to present it.
- Have students apply their definitions of tolerance to the articles, considering these discussion questions:
- Do the articles specifically use the word tolerance or intolerance?
- Are other words used to describe tolerant (or intolerant) attitudes?
- How does the perspective shift if you rephrase the pieces to use the antonym?
- How does the discussion in the articles align with the UNESCO Declaration and their own understanding?
- Finish the project by asking students to write about how one or more of the articles relates to their own or the UNESCO Declaration’s understanding of tolerance. Ask students to draw conclusions about how tolerance is discussed (implicitly or explicitly) and defined.
- Alternately, move the project toward sharing students’ exploration of tolerance outside the classroom. Ask student groups to create a text that explains tolerance and urges others to promote and practice tolerance every day. Check with your school’s office of equal opportunity office, student affairs, or residence life for help distributing students’ work to the campus community. Students can work on projects like these:
- create posters that are displayed on campus.
- write letters to the school or local newspaper.
- produce video or audio podcasts that share their messages.
- arrange a flash mob on tolerance.
- design an infographic that presents details on tolerance.
- create a playlist of songs that reflect tolerance, with notes on why they were chosen.
- curate a display for the library or student center.
- assemble a class photo essay to display on digital sign boards on campus.
- write flyers, pamphlets, or brochures to distribute on campus.
- post a meme-style campaign on social media, modeled on the photos in the image above.
Troubling actions and disturbing words have been commonplace during the political campaigns this year, and the last week has shown me that students need an opportunity to slow down and think about the issues. Many are scared, uncomfortable, or sad. Creating space and time in the classroom to contribute toward a safe, tolerant campus community seems like one of the best ways we can respond.
What strategies are you using to address students’ post-election feelings and teach about tolerance? Please tell me in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.
Credit: tolerance by ambar stefania, on Flickr, under a CC-BY 2.0 license