Teaching Tolerance

Why Aren't Black Students Allowed to Be Kids?

I went to a predominantly white high school and then to a historically black university. Each of these institutions, at some point, plastered posters featuring this visual: President Obama with his arms crossed, juxtaposed with a black youth wearing sagging pants whose body was marked with a big “X.” The poster included a snarky caption that read something like, “To get ahead, you must pull your pants up your behind.” The message was clear to my friends and me: We didn’t matter to anyone if we looked “black.”

Keep reading... Show less

How Today's School Lunch Lines Promote Class Segregation

When Dr. Rajiv Bhatia walked into the lunchroom at Mission High School in San Francisco in 2007, he couldn’t believe what he saw. Bhatia, then director of environmental health at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, was there to study food systems and look for ways to increase nutritional quality. What he found would ultimately lead him to an entirely different investigation: a system of blatant segregation that seemed straight out of the 1950s. In one line cash-paying students waited to enjoy a wide selection of à la carte, or “competitive,” foods. In another, low-income, mostly minority students stood single file to receive prepackaged free-or-reduced meals supplied by the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). 

Keep reading... Show less

How Predatory College Loans Are Bankrupting the Financial Future of America's Youth

In November 2005, Alejandra Lalama was feeling hopeful about college. The New Jersey teenager had been accepted at Full Sail Real World Education (now Full Sail University), a for-profit school in Florida specializing in music, video and film production. It seemed she was on the path toward her dream career as an audio engineer.

Keep reading... Show less

The Myth of the Hero Teacher

Political sound bytes about classroom incompetence and the crisis in education frighten me far less than the rhetoric of those looking to defend teachers by calling us “heroes.” The myth of the teacher as hero is a damaging one—and one we need to examine closely in these turbulent political and economic times. Deconstructing this myth reveals negative implications for students and for colleagues at a time when teachers need support—not labels that undermine our profession. 

Keep reading... Show less

The Shame Game: Mental Illness in America's Classrooms

Erin, a suburban Minneapolis teenager, began to grapple with serious depression and anxiety in the seventh grade. By ninth grade she was cutting herself dangerously, and she spent several weeks in residential treatment. But facing hostility at school proved to be the hardest part of her struggle.

Keep reading... Show less

Homeless in Suburbia

In Denver’s western suburbs, a social studies teacher thought up a novel approach to teaching her students the unsettling realities of urban homelessness. She assigned them the task of sleeping overnight in the backseat of the family car.

Keep reading... Show less

The New Racial Segregation at Public Schools

Overview: America’s schools are more segregated now than they were in the late 1960s. More than 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education, we need to radically rethink the meaning of “school choice.”

Keep reading... Show less


Imagine a classroom teacher detailing ways to taunt and name-call, drilling her students on chants designed to humiliate another group of students. Who, anywhere, would expect that to happen?

But in school gyms and stadiums, such behavior -- sometimes characterized as humor rather than humiliation -- often is the norm. Racial, religious, ethnic or socioeconomic differences between teams often increase the volume of intolerance, and win-at-all-cost boosters may ignore or even encourage such verbal venom. "We're talking about respectfulness," said Michael Josephson, founder of the Character Counts Coalition and creator of its Pursuing Victory With Honor program. "It's respecting everybody -- yourself, your fellow students, your opponent and the game itself."

Josephson brings it back to the classroom: "You don't have a right to yell out insults (at a school sporting event) any more than I could stand over your shoulder in class and boo and hiss every time you made a mistake." How nasty have trash-talking high school fans become? Consider a few examples from around the nation:

Keep reading... Show less

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.