Teaching Tolerance

Teaching Tolerance
As some of you may know, the art therapy programs in detentions around the state focus not only on self-expression, but also on teaching good character to our sweet juveniles. Each month, we focus on a different character trait, such as honesty, responsibility, citizenship, perseverance, kindness, or respect. The State Operated Programs even have a committee of talented teachers from programs around Virginia who are constantly working to improve our knowledge base about how we can truly reach our students through Character Education, rather than just preaching to them about becoming a better citizen.
Well, October is my absolute favorite month because I center my lessons around Tolerance. When I ask the students to give me their definition of tolerance, of course I hear a range of responses about how much alcohol they can drink, but then we start to get a little deeper into how much instigation they can take before they react. Finally, I hear responses like “treat others as you want to be treated” and “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Although these statements are simple, they absolutely capture Tolerance as I want our students to remember it.
We started this month with our Anti-Bullying Unit, during which the students create posters, using cartooning techniques, to hang around the school as a reminder to treat others with kindness. Once I felt like they had grasped the concept of Tolerance, we moved on to the heavy stuff.
Using http://www.teachingtolerance.org as my guide, I led a discussion with the students about stereotypes. We created a definition, which I always like for them to do in their own words, and then made a collage about stereotypes often found in magazines.
Next, the students completed a worksheet that I created using photos of people from different cultures. I had them match the images with stereotypes such as “I’m an immigrant,” “I have HIV,” “I’m a rapper,” “I’m insecure about my body” or “I’m gay.” When they were finished, they watched a slide show that I created with the true statements about each individual. They were surprised to see that the tough black man, who everyone was certain was the rapper, was actually gay. The Hasidic Jew, named Matisyahu, was actually the rapper. (Side Note, if you haven’t heard of this artist, you should definitely listen to “One Day.” It’s an incredible song… We studied it this month for our Lyric Analysis). We ended the month with the students creating a portrait of someone of a different culture (I had many available for them to trace if the idea of drawing a face was just too overwhelming). We used the portraits for my first printmaking lesson, which was totally fun and a great way to end the month, then the students added a phrase to capture something that they had in common with the person in their portrait (ie “I am human,” “I am beautiful,’ “I am worried” etc). I included a picture of my example, but the students’ were MUCH better!
The moral, of course, is that people aren’t always who we think they are, but also that we all have similarities, even if they’re not immediately obvious. I think it helped the students to do some writing about their assumptions and judgments, participate in discussions, see images of people from different cultures, and then create their artwork based on everything they had learned. By the end of October, I felt like they really got it. Even if they don’t always behave with Tolerance, at least now maybe they’ll think twice before mistreating someone else.
Til next month,
Erin

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