Tolerance training: Schools on tightropes

By Anne Collier

It certainly complicates the public discussion about dealing with bullying and cyberbullying: In an effort to tackle bullying and cyberbullying with empathy- or at least tolerance-training, schools around the US are finding themselves caught in culture wars, the New York Times reports. With national news coverage of cyberbullying-related suicides and growing evidence that gay and lesbian youth are prime targets of bullying and cyberbullying (see this), schools end up in the cross-fire because “many educators and rights advocates say that official prohibitions of slurs and taunts are most effective when combined with frank discussions, from kindergarten on, about diverse families and sexuality,” according to the Times, which zooms in on an illustration in Helena, Montana, where school officials released new guidelines for teaching first-graders that families come in all sorts of make-ups, including those with two moms or two dads, and fifth-graders, in the context of sex education classes, about diversity of sexual preferences and practices. “Some districts, especially in larger cities, have adopted tolerance lessons with minimal dissent. But in suburban districts in California, Illinois and Minnesota, as well as here in Helena, the programs have unleashed fierce opposition,” the Times reports. [See also “The freedom to *not* fit in.”]

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