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PERSPECTIVES

Eyes on the Prize

A message from Teaching Tolerance interim director Jennifer Holladay.

"We won … again!"

Left on my cell phone this summer, the simple three-word message summed it up well: for the second year in a row, the Association of Educational Publishers (AEP) named this magazine "Periodical of the Year" at its annual awards gala.

Teaching Tolerance likes to win awards. Who doesn't? We win a lot of them, too. We've been nominated for four Academy Awards; we've won two — and an Emmy; we've garnered more than 20 honors from the AEP; we've been named "Multicultural Agency of the Year" and a "Friend of the United Nations." The National Education Association has honored our founder with both its Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Award and the Friend of Education Award.

We're doing really well, right?

Maybe.

In 2005, on the eve of our 15th anniversary, Teaching Tolerance took a step back and asked, "Are we capturing the prize we're really after? Are we helping to instill a commitment to equality and justice in our nation's young people?" Two years — and numerous surveys, interviews and literature reviews — later, we came to an answer: "yes, and no."

We've done well in offering activity ideas teachers can use to help students learn about diversity. More than three-quarters of Teaching Tolerance readers use our activities, and nearly one in four teachers nationally say they've utilized our materials. Ten thousand schools have enthusiastically adopted our Mix It Up at Lunch Day program — designed to get students interacting across group lines, to be held on Nov. 13 this year. More than 90 percent of organizers say the event helps break down boundaries so students can get to know one another.

"One should use praise to recognize what one is not."

Elias Canetti, Nobel Laureate in Literature

Yet, if our nation's young people are to embrace equality and justice as core values and help transform our world, becoming more tolerant of others is not enough. Students also must come to see, analyze and work against the structural and social practices that continually create and re-create a world of division — "us vs. them," the "in-crowd" and the "out-crowd," the "haves and have nots." It is on this front that we've likely fallen short. We've probably played it far too safe.

The stories in this issue of Teaching Tolerance remind us that this particular juncture in history is no time to play it safe:

 

POVERTY.

Almost 16 million Americans live in "deep or severe" poverty. If your school traditionally runs a canned food drive, coat drive, toy drive or other donation drive for the "needy" — we ask you to go deeper this year. Turn charity into service-learning, allowing students to examine the root causes of poverty and better understand the human beings who experience it. Brandi Neal profiles schools that have made the switch.

 

RACE.

This month, our nation marks the 50th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine, a landmark event in the quest to integrate U.S. schools, as well as the three-month anniversary of a new Supreme Court decision that makes school integration more difficult. The pages of this issue are graced by both Little Rock Nine member Minnijean Brown Trickey and NAACP chair Julian Bond.

 

RELIGION.

Last October, Congressional Quarterly's Jeff Stein asked Willie Hulon, chief of the FBI's national security branch, "Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?" It quickly became clear Hulon had no idea. Would your students know the difference? They may not be making critical national security decisions (yet), but they are inheriting a world where religion increasingly is used as a tool of division. In Modesto, Calif., one school district has made the powerful choice to disavow ignorance by mandating study of world religions. Learn how they did it.

The Teaching Tolerance team shared a big group hug after winning the Periodical of the Year Award, and then we got back to work. There's another prize we're really after.

Jennifer Holladay

Jennifer Holladay has worked with Teaching Tolerance for more than a decade; she currently serves as its interim director. Email her at editor@tolerance.org.