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.
Scholars in diverse democratic societies have theorized tolerance in various ways. Classical liberal tolerance can best be understood as non-interference with forms of behavior or expression one finds objectionable. It has been criticized for being too permissive of hate speech and not demanding enough as a theoretical guide to civic education. Alternatively, robust respect is characterized by open-mindedness and respect for diversity. Critics have suggested that it is too relativistic and overly ambitious as a guide to civic education. Discriminating (in)tolerance suggests that tolerance should only be extended to individuals and groups who support the advancement of egalitarian politics and the interests of historically marginalized groups. It has been criticized for being overly authoritarian and dogmatic. Mutuality emphasizes reciprocity and sustained engagement across difference. Critics argue that it is not revolutionary enough to address past injustices and persistent inequality.
Rampage school gun violence elicits strong public reaction but often results in stop-gap policies that do little to address the violence. Such policies include but are not limited to zero-tolerance discipline, employing school resource officers, installing metal detectors, arming teachers, and active shooter drills. What nearly all of these post-rampage policies share is a desire to secure the school by making the school impenetrable to would be assailants. These policies have an effect on the democratic education in the United States. To this end, the educational and democratic significance of post-rampage policies “harden” schools. Post-rampage schooling of this sort turns children into soldiers and schools into bunkers at the expense of democratic education for the renewal of a democratic society. Thus it is critical to introduce methods and practices that “soften” schools and sustain education for democratic citizenship.
John M. Heffron and Rosemary Papa
The pressures—economic, political, and cultural—on educational leaders to think and act globally have perhaps never been greater than they are today. However, although it may go without saying that we live increasingly in a world of interdependent causation, of interconnectedness (and not simply between the local and the global, but between people and forces everywhere), this fact alone fails to fully explain the need for globally minded leaders in education. When so much of today’s interdependence tends to favor the strong over the weak on an essentially uneven playing field, a favorite complaint of critics on both the right and the left, the ways and means and ultimate purpose for producing such school leaders lie elsewhere, beyond today’s competitive stance. It lies in identifying and providing an unshakeable moral foundation for universal norms of social justice and equity; it lies in a revolutionary new approach to the knowledge base required of globally minded educational leaders, one that turns for guidance to humanistic thinkers around the world, past and present, the only test of their relevance being a philosophical one, not a psychological, an empirical, or a purely practical one; and it lies in embracing the multifaceted yet singularly cognizant of the human at heart. All this because the aim first and foremost is to develop thinkers, and then and only then practitioners. Practice follows from theory and theory from abstract, almost mathematical logic, a dialectical process of reasoning and argumentation. Globally minded school leaders distinguish themselves as masters of the lost art of argument, engaging actively in public dialogue and debate that seeks information, not some false standard of objectivity in the betterment of the human condition. Finally, the anthropological attitude that pursues processes of meaning making and value creation—not limited to an understanding of indigenous cultures, but extending to human and social relations in all their infinite variety—is the attitude of the globally minded leader. Such a one, in this sense of the term, is never finished, but in a perpetual state of becoming, a learning organization bound only by the self-imposed limits of his or her own curiosity and imagination. But the nature of one’s convictions is especially important here; it determines one’s actions, which in turn determine our value as human beings and as citizens of the earth, in linking commonalities of thought to actions that matter. Where do our convictions lie? This is the question globally minded educational leaders, in their challenges to sovereignty at home and abroad, are continually asking themselves on this journey with their learners.