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March 1, 2003
Vol. 60
No. 6

Research Link / What Promotes Racial and Ethnic Tolerance?

Research Link /  What Promotes Racial and Ethnic Tolerance? - thumbnail
According to Indicators of School Crime and Safety, a 1999 survey found that about 13 percent of students ages 12–18 at school during the past six months had been called a derogatory word related to their race, ethnicity, religion, disability, gender, or sexual orientation. About 36 percent of these students had seen hate-related graffiti at school (Kaufman et al., 2001). What can schools do to address these types of problems and increase students' tolerance for those who differ from themselves?
Although the statistics cited above are troubling, Killen and Stangor (2001) present a positive view of children's and adolescents' attitudes toward those who differ from themselves. These researchers interviewed 130 middle-class, white children ages 7 and 10 and adolescents age 13. Although the adolescents were more likely than the younger children to favor excluding others from peer activities on the basis of their gender or race, both groups rejected exclusion in general, citing fairness and equal rights.
Some other research, however, contradicts this optimistic view. For instance, Godwin, Ausbrooks, and Martinez (2001) suggest that schools must become proactive in creating more tolerant individuals. These researchers found that simply increasing ethnic diversity in the classroom does not necessarily increase tolerance; in fact, greater diversity in schools tends to increase the threat students perceive from the group that is most unlike theirs. According to this research, more tolerant individuals perceive less threat from other groups and express a higher level of support for democratic norms. Schools in this study that had the most success in fostering increased student tolerance were those that supported more opportunities for students to develop interethnic friendships.

School and Classroom Practices

  • Multicultural or ethnic assemblies and special events.
  • After-school programs and other opportunities for students to mix.
  • Conflict-resolution training.
  • Recruitment of diverse staff.
  • Teacher-driven professional development on issues of equity.
  • Teaming between classrooms, usually a bilingual class with a traditional class.
Henze also describes innovative classroom teaming and parent involvement classes that a school in one case study used to enable parents, as well as students, to get to know people of other ethnicities. Henze suggests that we can build a more equitable society by bridging families, schools, and communities and that schools can play a significant role in this effort.

Teacher Training

Research conducted by Scott and Pinto (2001) concluded that teachers do not have sufficient opportunities in their preservice and inservice training to discuss students' cultural differences. Neuharth-Pritchett, Reiff, and Pearson (2001) support this finding by also showing that teacher education programs are not preparing preservice teachers to deal with racial diversity.
Proper training, say the researchers, would improve these preservice teachers' subsequent interactions with students and within classroom settings. They cited mounting evidence that teacher preparation programs that incorporate diversity throughout methodology courses are more likely to produce teachers who reflect on how their practices create better conditions for students of many backgrounds. Their research indicated that without this expanded training, only 16 percent of preservice teachers demonstrated a strong understanding of multicultural education.
Supporting this research, VanGunten and Martin (2001) found that the typical 10-week course in multicultural education only minimally affects preservice teachers' attitudes toward race, class, and gender. To better prepare teachers, Solorzano and Yosso (2001) believe that teacher education programs must be comprehensive, provide opportunities for discussion and debate around the issues, and identify and challenge racial stereotypes in the media, arts, and professional settings.
Training for practicing educators is also important. Wenglinsky (2001) found that quality professional development can help teachers overcome students' racial intolerance in the classroom. Eighth grade students whose teachers had received professional development in how to teach different groups of students substantially outperformed other students. Only one-third of the students, however, had teachers who had received professional development in cultural diversity.
Research has shown that school-based programs can promote racial tolerance among students. But these programs must be supported with effective preservice training for prospective teachers and comprehensive professional development for practitioners.

Godwin, K., Ausbrooks, C., & Martinez, V. (2001). Teaching tolerance in public and private schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 82(7), 542–546.

Henze, R. (2001). Segregated classroom, integrated intent. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 6(1 & 2), 133–155.

Kaufman, P., Chen, X., Choy, S. P., Peter, K., Ruddy, S. A., Miller, A. K., Fleury, J. K., Chandler, K. A., Planty, M. G., & Rand, M. R. (2001). Indicators of school crime and safety: 2001 (NCES 2002-113/NCJ 190075). Washington, DC: U.S. Departments of Education and Justice.

Killen, M., & Stangor, C. (2001). Children's social reasoning about inclusion and exclusion in gender and race peer group contexts. Child Development, 72(1), 174–186.

Neuharth-Pritchett, S., Reiff, J., & Pearson, C. (2001). Through the eyes of pre-service teachers: Implications for the multicultural journey from teacher education. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 15(2), 256–269.

Scott, K., & Pinto, A. (2001). Revolutionizing multicultural education staff development. Equity and Excellence in Education, 34(1), 32–42.

Solorzano, D., & Yosso, T. (2001, Fall). Toward a critical race theory in teacher education. Multicultural Education, 2–7.

VanGunten, D., & Martin, R. (2001). Complexities and contradictions: A study of teacher education courses that address multicultural issues. The Journal of Intergroup Relations, 28(1), 31–42.

Wenglinsky, H. (2001). Teacher classroom practices and student performance: How schools can make a difference. Research Report RR-01–19. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.

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