Submitted by Ariel Martin-Cone
I was asked to write this blog piece about teaching tolerance, but I want to start by changing some vocabulary. Teaching tolerance promotes that idea that you just need to put up with something you don't particularly value or enjoy (Brussels sprouts, regular exercise, etc), but you don't have to like it. If, instead, you teach, promote, and encourage understanding and acceptance, you can challenge a student to understand another perspective and find value in diversity – not just tolerate the presence of difference.
Teaching people to understand and value things or people that are different is a difficult conversation at any age. Starting each school year with clear expectations and standards for acceptable behavior and language enables you to have a positive, constructive conversation – rather than just respond to the inevitable issues with a predictable list of consequences. Establishing a Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) shows students and staff that the community wants to recognize and support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) teens, staff, and family members, and can provide crucial support to students and staff alike. However, the goal of a GSA should be for the community to monitor itself, not for one committee to be in charge of deciding who or what is appropriate. A GSA can inform the efforts of teachers and parents working to help students see their peers as individuals, each bringing a unique set of values, beliefs, and behaviors to school right alongside their binders and sports equipment.
The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) provides a wealth of information and resources, as well as hosting yearly events to raise awareness and foster acceptance on any campus. Starting the year with Ally Day (check it out here) clearly sends the message that you don't have to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender to care about gay rights, and that anyone can be an Ally. Turning the pledge into a poster, or handing out stickers or bracelets to indicate your support is a great way to make your campus into a welcoming environment. Fostering this environment isn't easy, and requires patience and vigilance on the part of students and staff alike, but starting with acceptance can make all the difference.
Ariel Martin-Cone is a Landmark High School teacher and academic adviser.