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date: 18 June 2024

Tolerance and Educationlocked

Tolerance and Educationlocked

  • Elisabet LangmannElisabet LangmannSödertörn University


Tolerance has long been regarded as essential to liberal democratic life as well as to educational theory and practice. In educational policy and research, the school is seen as an important sphere where interpersonal tolerance can be studied and learned, and within schools, teachers and students are frequently asked to embody and practice tolerance. Whereas the need and value of tolerance may be evident in everyday life, the concept of tolerance is regarded as puzzling or even counterintuitive within the fields of philosophy and philosophy of education. Despite its overall harmonious connotation, tolerance seems to require two contradictory yet interdependent responses: in order to be tolerant (open-minded, accepting, welcoming) toward the tolerable, we also need to be intolerant (narrow-minded, resisting, hostile) toward the intolerable. In the philosophical debate, much work has been done to discuss the reasons and justifications for extending tolerance, while less attention has been paid to what determines the way in which an encounter becomes an issue of tolerance in the first place. In relation to the latter, three enduring questions can be identified. Is tolerance to be understood as a symmetrical or a hierarchal relation between the one who tolerates and the one being tolerated (the dilemma of welcoming)? What are the limits of tolerance and how are they to be drawn and justified (the dilemma of drawing boundaries)? And how much “unwanted otherness” can one suffer and bear before tolerance passes into intolerance or converts into pure acceptance (the dilemma of enduring)? In responding to the dilemmas of tolerance, different competing but coexisting discourses or conceptions on tolerance have developed historically over time. Within philosophy of education, two main conceptions can be traced, each of them implying a different way of responding to the dilemmas of interpersonal tolerance: tolerance as permission and tolerance as mutual respect. Besides these more traditional conceptions, a third conception of tolerance as an embodied and lived practice is identified. Taken together, the different coexisting conceptions of tolerance can be seen as an invitation to an ongoing conversation about the meaning and value of promoting tolerance in education, between and within different schools of philosophy of education.


  • Educational Theories and Philosophies

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