Wiping Out Prejudices Before They Start

Teaching Tolerance, p.5

But who -- young or old -- really has it in them to intervene when they see others singled out for their differences? Those who do often risk losing the acceptance of their peers or being attacked themselves. For her book Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust, Malka Drucker of Santa Fe, NM, interviewed non-Jews who risked their lives to save European Jews during World War II. Surprisingly, she found that the rescuers didn't have a lot in common. "They were people I wouldn't have expected, which told me there are many paths to goodness," Drucker says. In fact, some were anti-Semitic, yet they had an abhorrence of intolerance that drove them to risk everything.

Drucker tells us that in countries where the rescuers believed they weren't the only ones, more people found the courage to act, a fact that is confirmed by recent research. "We know from studies that most people will conform to what their group is doing, even if it's clearly the wrong thing," says Dr. Aronson. "But if you know there are other people who are going to join you, you might find the courage to be the first to speak out."

Creating that kind of environment is a goal of the anti-bias movement. The Miller program, for example, teaches kids to speak up by using "I statements." Upon hearing a racist joke, a child might say: "I don't have the right to tell you what to find funny, but please don't say that around me." For older kids, who are more concerned about their popularity, standing up against hate requires an inordinate amount of confidence. Schools can help by instituting programs that send the message that other students will back kids up if they speak out and that even small gestures count. "One child may be able to respond, 'We don't say that,' while another child may feel more comfortable writing a note that says, 'I'm sorry for what happened; not everybody thinks that way,'" says Brian Willoughby, editor of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Web site, tolerance.org. "Establishing eye contact and letting someone know you're on his side can be one of the most powerful things a child can do to stand up against hate."

What's a Parent to do?

Though many organizations are doing a good job, experts agree this is a 24/7 issue and parents need to have ongoing discussions with their children. Here's how:

Parents Are Talking

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