Promoting Tolerance, practical tips – What we should do to enhance religious tolerance at home (parents) and at school (teachers)

[ 0 ] 13/09/2022 |

12. Promoting Tolerance, practical tips – What we should do to enhance religious tolerance at home (parents) and at school (teachers) by Brian Vassallo

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“The highest result of education is tolerance.” – Helen Keller

Religious tolerance: Why is it necessary?

It is actually quite hard to imagine a world with no or little religious tolerance. Given the rapid increase in globalization, tolerance is a necessary prerequisite for society members to build relationships. The multiple varieties of cultures and people with different religious beliefs, coexisting in an intermeshed network of social communication, seem to be the hallmark of the 21st century. When religious tolerance is established and practiced consistently, unity and peaceful coexistence thrive among society members.  

According to the website, a hate crime is committed every hour, 50% of which is committed by young men in their late teens. Furthermore, The Leadership Conference Education Fund states that religious and racial biases are developed during early childhood and are fertile ground for numerous stereotypes by the time a child is twelve years of age.   

The need for more religious tolerance seems to come in synchrony with the compelling necessity to celebrate differences and heterogeneity. Henry Giroux, an American and Canadian scholar, and cultural critic, further clarifies that, when emphasizing difference and pluralism, a new and dynamic experience is created which ushers us into “hear(ing) the voices of others”. It is in such particular snapshots in time and frequently unpredictable moments, that we are frequently called to fulfill the noble mission of transmitting tolerant attitudes to those around us. It is also quite difficult to determine the effects that these debates have on the younger generation.  As parents and educators, it is our responsibility to stimulate and support healthy discussions within our families and schools but also to prevent destructive patterns possibly stemming from emotional turmoil, arising from these debates.  

Teaching religious tolerance at home 

The home environment is the ideal place to teach children about religious tolerance. Primarily we need to examine our embedded beliefs and attitudes toward those who profess a different faith than ours. Such examination is crucial if we are to encourage our children to be critical and equip them with the necessary skills to detect even the slightest stereotypical messages and discriminatory practices. It is a certainty that the prevalent attitudes cultivated in the home environment have the greatest impact on the way children perceive those who are different. For a start, it would be ideal to discuss with your child how you came to believe in what you profess to believe. This sharing of information is crucial as it provides the children with an understanding of the background for adhering to particular sets of religious beliefs and not others.  

It is also crucial to instill in your child the love of learning and the love of reading. Reading with your child about different world religions is not only a shared pleasurable experience but sets the ground for respecting diversity and mutual tolerance. Engage in open discussions, highlighting similarities and differences whilst keeping a positive outlook. When engaging in discussions, stress the importance of religious freedom among your family members as well as for others, making sure that your child understands the difference between accepting the person and adopting his/her religious beliefs.

Take pride in urging your child to share his/her beliefs among friends and relatives whilst urging others to reciprocate by sharing what they believe with your family. If you are concerned that your child might feel ostracised because of his/her expressed views, then discuss these feelings with the group/family member concerned and assume an active role in shaping the discussion to take an unbiased flow. Your child will notice your active role, internalize the positive attitude and unconsciously improve his/her skills at dealing with possible lack of self-worth. This will also help your child forge his/her way towards full acceptance within the immediate and extended society s/he lives in.  

It would be opportune to encourage children to actively fight stereotypes and intolerant attitudes by those around them. This can be done by involving them in activities that promote diversity, tolerance, and understanding. Such activities might include sports, art competitions, drama series, or television quizzes. Engaging in these activities will give them an opportunity to express themselves in front of other children and take the opportunity to share their beliefs in a social atmosphere.  

Direct confrontation is to be avoided and tactfully redirected in a more socially acceptable manner. This skill is not easy to master, especially for young children. But every instance of confrontation or harsh disagreement is simply another opportunity to further sharpen and widen an already existing repertoire of skills. 

Finally, if your child attends after-school religious activities, such as catechism lessons or Friday Salaat prayers, speak to the group leaders or educators to gauge prevalent attitudes of respect and tolerance. While, as a general rule, religious leaders are open to religious differences among community members, some may inadvertently perpetuate intolerance through inappropriate actions, insensitive speeches, or poor use of language. As explained before, the effects are difficult to determine or measure. If such incidences happen, it would be opportune for you, as a parent, to look into another church group or denomination which is more compatible with your world views, while at the same time not holding biases towards other groups. Similarly, as iterated above, be prepared to speak to the religious leaders and seek to establish ways and means on how to promote tolerance and mutual respect.    

Schools: The place to tackle intolerant attitudes 

Schools are not only a place to learn the three Rs – Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic, but an increasing need is felt to add another R- Relationships. School is not just a place to learn literacy and numeracy skills but is also a community-building place where a large number of social activities take place.  Schools, just like any other workplace, have policies that delineate rules that govern interpersonal relationships and behaviors. Carefully research the implications of those policies and the possible effects, positive or negative, which they might have on children’s developing attitudes and behaviors. Undergo additional research to supplement your existing repertoire of knowledge and skills. Together with the school authorities, re-examine those policies in the light of what you have recently researched and purposefully use those rules to challenge underlying assumptions about tolerance. Use those policies to stimulate discussions around tolerance and increased respect.  

At school, it is of utmost importance that textbooks and curricula are consonant with the principles and tenets of multicultural education, thus promoting equality, social justice, and religious tolerance. Hence, do not be afraid to suggest alternative books to the ones children already have. Also, do not be afraid or intimidated to ask your child’s educators about the methods they use to approach multiculturalism and equality teaching in their daily practice. Parents are important stakeholders in the educational process of their children. Probe into how teachers teach tolerance in their classroom. Delve in detail into what the vision of the school is and how and in what way this is translated towards tolerance and respect for others. If the school lacks the impetus towards diversity and tolerance education, transform yourself into a catalyst for promoting change. Come up with a small project, and promote it, clearly stating the positive outcomes arising from it. Try to work as a group, join forces between teachers and parents, and come up with a proper motto such as “Together we achieve more”.

As a parent, you have every right to ensure that the school you send your child to promotes an environment that encourages empathy, compassion, respect, understanding, and a sense of openness. You might consider initiating campaigns against bullying, name-calling, racism, intolerance, and the subtle bigotry that stealthily hovers around school corridors.   

Peer pressure is a tool that can work in our favor or against us. So, being able to use peer pressure to teach about the harm done by unfair behavior, social isolation, and racist attitudes, is both a challenge and a skill. 

Teacher bias

This is a difficult one! It’s really hard to admit that those people who have dedicated a significant part of their lives, devoted their time and effort, and invested so much money in their profession, can themselves be biased. However, even the keenest and most well-meaning teacher holds stereotypes and beliefs that inadvertently affect their students. 

A nineteen-year-old belonging to a Jewish community said “One day in a Biology lecture we were bargaining with the lecturer not to give us an exam the next day. I happened to have one euro in my pocket and said, ‘I’ll give you one euro if you forego the exam tomorrow.’ Another student from the back said, ‘One euro is a lot of money to a Jew.’” The teacher brushed aside the comment, but later he pulled aside the young man who told him that he was offended by the other student’s comment. He politely commented that as a teacher, he could have done something more.  

Personally, I think that the teacher should have stopped the lesson and debated the statement of the student. The biology lesson could have continued with interesting parallelisms between natural diversity and socio-economic diversity. The teacher could have explained that while biological diversity is partly genetic and partly environmental, human diversity can also be a result of multiple factors – some of which are easily identifiable while others are not. The teacher could have brainstormed about such factors with all the students in class and also reflected on the impact which such factors had or could have had on the current socio-economic dynamics of families. This would also have prompted students to reflect on how they can assist others to reach more socioeconomic equity within a classroom environment.  

Some thoughts on bullying 

Bullying can be the result of religious intolerance and is manifested by various kinds of aggressive behavior. It is also characterized by a real or perceived imbalance of power. Both children and adults who have been bullied experience long-term problems. Thus it is imperative to stop bullying at its very early stages.  Bullying can take the form of physical force or the use of personal information to create embarrassment and therefore control the person involved. It can also include threats, spreading rumors, physically or verbally attacking someone, or deliberate exclusion from a group.

Refer to the school values 

There are different ways to respond to bullying arising from religious affiliations. One of them is to assert one’s own religious identity by voicing it out, and responding positively to it, for example, “I feel great the way I practice my religion, what about you?”. It always helps if you are surrounded by people who might help you. A network of support works wonders. Like the previous examples look into the anti-bullying policies of your school and see if you can mirror the situation you or your child might be in with the existing school policies. Is your school aware of anti-bullying or anti-harassment policies? Does your school have them? If not, start lobbying for such practices to come into place. 

Also, refer to the school’s mission (or vision) statement to challenge perpetuated inequities you see (or perceive) in your school. Politely but firmly draw the attention of the school administration, saying “This school is dedicated to providing every student with equity schooling and opportunities in a safe and healthy environment. How can we respect every religious denomination in our school?”. Also, don’t present yourself as an armchair critic! Be proactive and propose tangible realistic ideas together with a strong sense of reaching out. Offer assistance when you see others struggling for whatever reason. 


Lack of religious tolerance is always a result of fear and insecurity. When we’re scared of the unknown and start losing our locus of control, we usually attempt to annihilate that which is causing us to be unstable. So, my final advice towards raising tolerant multicultural children is to work towards building confidence in them. Openness, self-respect, love, praise, positive criticism, honesty, and realistic expectations are the keys necessary to bolster children’s self-esteem and help to make them more secure and tolerant people, now and in the future.

NEXT CHAPTER: Crossing the Deep Cultural Divide

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