September 18, 2010
Many believed the election of an African American President ushered in the new age of a post racial American society, one of diversity and tolerance with global impact. Well into Obama’s first term we have witnessed anything but tolerance and acceptance of cultural, racial and religious differences. Unfortunately society’s ingrained prejudices will likely take generations to eradicate. It took 400 years to make racial equality a matter of policy in the United States. A major battle tackling racism came on the education front with the 1954 Brown decision outlawing segregated schools eliminating an impediment to economic progress for many and making great strides in American society. Through desegregation school kids actually experienced diversity and tolerance in their everyday lives. Mere association alone cannot remove entrenched ideology in the war on racism and xenophobia, but the education battlefront remains the best theatre. Teaching tolerance and diversity as part of the curriculum has proven to be an effective strategy in targeting early childhood development. Teaching tolerance in elementary schools reduces the incidence of hate crimes, racism, discrimination and bigotry.
Similarly on the march of progress religious intolerance remains another battlefront. How do we educate the public to understand and respect the various religions of the world? The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the establishment of a national religion by the Congress or the preference of one religion over another, and at the same time insuring religious freedom. It further outlaws teaching religion or what is known as “excessive entanglement” in the public schools. Public schools did much to eradicate racial discrimination but as for religious instruction there is a laissez-faire policy. When it comes to educating the public the society’s youth remains the better students. By adulthood bias and prejudice become entrenched and are less likely to be questioned.
In 1992, the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division (YLD) launched four Tolerance Education pilot projects in elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and colleges throughout the country. The ABA offered a Strategy for Teaching Diversity and Tolerance in schools recognizing children are aware of racial and gender differences at a very young age, and by age twelve they have formed stereotypes. In fact, recent studies show that tolerance education is most effective between the ages of four and nine years. Therefore, it is important to teach tolerance to young children and continue reinforcing the message over time. Age-appropriateness is involved in the creation of the different curricula that educators have developed. For instance, part of the curriculum includes classroom exercises from newsletters and newspaper sections directed toward younger audiences. Additional methods include short theatrical productions and role-playing exercises. Such programs give students a greater understanding of discrimination and prejudice.
Why not incorporate Diversity and Tolerance as part of a civics curriculum nationwide? Granted, States like Texas where political ideology controls curriculum would probably oppose it. Nevertheless its certain, diversity builds a stronger society, tolerance advances democracy, and compassion is essential for a better world.