Teaching Tolerance, Building on Common Ground

9/11  Tribute in Light. wikimediaFor most adults, the devastating images of 9/11 represent events in our lived experience. For kids in today’s elementary and middle school classrooms, however, 9/11 is historical, and they have no actual personal memories of the day. Even students who will graduate from high school this year were probably first graders in 2001, so they have a child’s perspective of that day.

On the other hand, the aftermath of 9/11 is still actively unfolding and has been witnessed by all of our school children. Television and other media show many examples of the fallout—wars in the Middle East, hunts for terrorists, security concerns at airports and train stations around the world, the desecration of religious sites. These can be scary and divisive images. By teaching the commonalities between cultures and religions, instead of comparing or even ignoring them, we can help students find paths to tolerating, and even valuing, the beliefs and customs of others.

Many online resources are available to help teachers integrate teaching tolerance into their classes:

Liberation Day MicronesiaVisit Teaching Tolerance’s website for some great ideas for all ages, like the School Holiday Calendar, which teaches kids about holidays from countries and cultures all over the world. For grades 5–12, their exercises like What’s Your FRAME? can help students see three very different perspectives: how they see others, how they are seen by others, and how they think others are seeing them.

Quaid e Azam PakistanCheck out the “Bursting” Stereotypes balloons exercise for grades 3–12 at EducationWorld, a teaching strategy that can be applied to nearly every lesson where tolerance is the goal. Those Tear-Me-Apart, Put-Me-Back-Together, Never-Be-the-Same-Again Blues activity for grades K–8 is highly interactive. Students tear apart and rebuild a paper portrayal of a person. This can launch great conversations about commonalities and tolerance.

Rastafarian NYDThe site One World, One Heart Beating brings together 17 interesting activities from Teaching Tolerance, Education World, and several other sites. Most of the activities creatively integrate music, art, and language with social, cultural, or psychological development and coursework, and span all ages. This site also includes an extensive resource list for teachers on bullying prevention, community building, and tolerance.

Catalan National Day SpainHistorians William Strauss and Neil Howe, authors of the books Generations and The Fourth Turning, have studied the cycle of populations in the United States since the first European settlers arrived. They suggest that, while each generation is affected by all historic events within their lifetime, the events witnessed in childhood and as young adults often have the greatest impact on personal and group development. This generation of post-2001 students—the Homeland Generation—has seen countless news stories showing the backlash of 9/11. As these students mature, they will be making choices and judgments based on early experiences, and how others react to these situations. By creating and celebrating an ongoing series of memorable moments that teach tolerance, teachers can help build a sense of understanding that will guide students throughout their lives.

How have you discussed the events of 9/11, and their aftermath, with your students? What does your class do to promote tolerance? How do you connect practicing tolerance in class to community and global issues? What unexpected commonalities have your students discovered amongst themselves?


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Suggested Resources
Bringing 9/11 in the Classroom—Useful Lessons from Teaching Tolerance
Five Lessons for Teaching About Tolerance from EducationWorld
Tools for Teaching Tolerance from One World, One Heart Beating
Everyday Leadership: Attitudes and Actions for Respect and Success Guidebook for Teens by Mariam G. MacGregor, M.S.


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