Before I start this post I think I need to state that I’m not anti-tolerance. However like my last post on the platitude of excellence, I think we might need to examine what it means.
Nicky Morgan is saying we shouldn’t shy away from promoting ‘fundamental British Values’ to the students within our school. Mutual respect, equality, tolerance and democracy. The western world is built on tolerance, we encourage it in our children, it makes the community we live in a better place. Tolerance sounds like an excellent thing to promote within schools. Tolerance I have read is a supposed virtue. We should tolerate children and in return they tolerate us. We want them to tolerate each other and this hopefully leads to a school community where we can co-exsist happily. It sounds well meant and promotes an inclusivity within the school community, something we hope that students will take beyond into society. People who are tolerant aren’t going to be violent, abusive or destructive. We should praise this sort of behaviour in our students, considering how much of it is in in the world around us. However what does tolerance really mean?
The Oxford English Dictionary describes tolerance as:
‘The ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with.’
If we use this definition do we want to teach our students to tolerate each other? Do we want them tolerate the opposite sex, other races, other religions, other lifestyle choices? To me if we use this definition we can use tolerance as a blanket to cover our students prejudices without challenging them. It says to me that we can teach our students that it is ok dislike equality with women as long as they can tolerate it. Its says to me we can teach our students that it is ok to dislike a different religion from their own as long as they tolerate it. Tolerance means we aren’t interested in our fellow human being and that we don’t really care about them. We just end up tolerating them. If that is where British society is heading I frankly don’t want to be a part of it.
Perhaps I am misinterpreting tolerance and doing the word a disservice. Maybe in the the modern world it has taken on a higher meaning and transcended the definition of the Oxford English Dictionary. Like the word excellence I feel it may have become trendy and hyper-inflated. Surely there are other values we would we want to teach our students that are not so ambiguous like tolerance is to me. Open mindedness, being welcoming, kindness, making new friends and a willingness to embrace new ideas are values I think we should be promoting. I don’t care whether they are British Values or not, I just know they would be the ones I want no matter what country or society I lived it.
I ask myself would teaching tolerance as a value just be appeasement in disguise? Are we just allowing the children in our schools to sit on the fence, not form an opinion, voice it, justify it and see if it holds up under the scrutiny of their peers? I believe tolerance is a fence sitter and what we don’t need to teach is how not to form an opinion. Should we not help develop a moral backbone in children, providing opportunities to help them explore their own moral compass? Whilst teaching tolerance within schools may ensure things are peaceful, what happens when these students see something that requires true action? What if they witness an act of racism, of inequality or a freedom of basic human rights being denied? Will they then tolerate that? I’m not so sure that is a value I want to promote or teach to the children in my school.
Ill finish this post with another quote from Mahatma Ghandi. “We must respect other religions, even as we respect our own. Mere tolerance thereof is not enough.” Replace the word ‘religions’ with cultures, races, lifestyle choices, genders and teach that. Then maybe we might get somewhere with a set of British values I could truly get behind.