Avoiding an Intolerant Society: Why respect of difference may not be the best approach

Educational Philosophy and Theory 42 (1):129-141 (2010)
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Abstract

The building and maintaining of a tolerant society requires both a general policy of toleration on the behalf of the state, as well as a minimal number of acts of intolerance by individual citizens towards their fellow citizens. It is this second area of citizen‐citizen relations that is of most interest for education policy. There are those who argue that the best way to achieve a tolerant society is by encouraging, or even requiring, the respect and appreciation of difference amongst a citizenry. In this paper I argue that using education to encourage the respect and appreciation of difference is deeply problematic for both adults and children. I argue that it is a poor servant of those whose differences it is meant to protect, and crucially that it cannot be justified on the key liberal premise of protecting the freedom of individuals to live their (non‐harming) lives as they see fit. I conclude by putting forward the educational alternative of respecting the basic rights of citizens irrespective of your view of their differences.

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