• by Rosana G. Rodríguez, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • February 2011 •

Rosana RodriguezEditor’s Note: Like others, IDRA is deeply saddened by the tragic events in Tucson and the tone of discourse in recent months. Intolerance and injustice undoubtedly have played a role in where we find ourselves today. These issues are at the core of IDRA’s mission. Clearly, there is much more work to be done across the country.

Educators, community and parents must work together to sow seeds of educational equity and excellence in a time when our nation needs more than ever to feel united. We have a great opportunity and a great responsibility to create future leaders who embrace the benefits of diversity and who set an example of justice and democracy within a civil society. We share a commitment to ensure quality teaching, excellence and equity in education as we prepare students to be responsible adults who value diversity and seek a better quality of life for all.

An educated but intolerant populace may appear to increase our standing as a nation economically but will only result in leaders unable to interact effectively in our interconnected world. We cannot look solely to test scores to measure the quality of education we provide for our children. We must pay close attention to our interactions and look within to eradicate the evils of exclusion and hate that have potential to destroy rather than build up our schools and communities.

This article speaks to partnerships between parents and educators in sowing seeds of collaboration and inclusion for a better life for all children. It is an important topic as we hear about an alarming escalation of bullying and violence and as we see the consequences of lack of attention in preventing these behaviors. Together, we can promote positive social behaviors for a more just and peaceful world through healthy interactions with others who differ from ourselves in race, language, ethnicity or perspective.

MacArthur Prize-winning educator, Vivian Paley, describes one powerful action she took with her kindergarten class to foster more positive social relations. Paley was concerned about how to keep students from being ignored or isolated by their classmates. So, she instituted a simple rule, “You can’t say, ‘You can’t play.’” She describes how she helped very young children overcome and prevent loneliness and rejection that are often tied to negative or violent behavior as adults.

What are some seeds of tolerance and justice we can sow together at home and school to foster a more civil society? Here are a few to consider.

Sow seeds of curiosity. Teach children to be curious rather than certain (Wheatley, 2005). There is great benefit in developing a relationship with those we believe are different from ourselves or who we think we cannot understand. Often we are afraid or unwilling to listen to anyone with a different point of view than our own. We cannot be creative without change, often without some inherent confusion involved in change. If we value our own perspective so much that we are unwilling to listen to others, we limit our ability to grow. Teach children to love learning, to be genuinely curious and to be open to new ideas and diverse perspectives.

Sow seeds of justice. Help children develop a sense of justice as fundamental to democracy. Justice does not mean we all need to agree with one another and share the same perspectives. We can join our hearts even if we have very different opinions, views and approaches. Teach children to include rather than exclude, not to fear listening to other ideas, and not to fear speaking about their own perspective even if it differs from others. Show them ways to take a stand for equity and justice.

Sow seeds of patience and listening. Teach children to respectfully listen to others. Sow seeds of patience by teaching that conversation begins with good listening skills. Foster interests in new ideas without thinking immediately that these pose a threat. Respect and peacefulness are grounded in the ability to hear and see others, and recognize that we can learn from everyone, even those we feel are most different from ourselves. Practice active listening by helping children repeat what they have heard the other person say. Teach them to ask clarifying questions without pre-judging and to avoid incendiary or accusatory language that polarizes differences and can escalate into destructive conversation and behaviors. Show children how to listen for areas of disagreement and view these as opportunities to grow and learn.

Sow seeds of tolerance. Expand the worldview of children by exposing them to a wide perspective of cultures, languages and races. The bedrock of democracy is our diversity. Children must be taught that diversity is a treasure that strengthens our nation, not something to be feared but appreciated and valued. In classrooms and at home, this can be done by a variety of books, resources, and use of the Internet with adult guidance. Discuss these together and help children compare and consider perspectives other than their own.

Sow seeds of collaboration. Be mindful of healthy and unhealthy language that is used at school and home. Instruction that reflects the knowledge and appreciation of the students’ community is a wonderful start. This begins with an asset-based, valuing approach from teachers and parents. Watch for how you describe the neighborhoods and families of other students (Lindsey, Karns & Myatt, 2010). Evaluate ways in which you are willing to examine your own assumptions about people from low-income, impoverished or diverse communities. Collaboration must be the standard for professional leaders as well as in families. Practice modeling for children of all ages “getting to yes” with others of different views.

We must learn how to adapt our schools and homes by sowing seeds of equity and excellence, learning more about the diverse communities our schools serve, and tapping into the richness in culture and community resources that can improve teaching and learning (see Rodríguez, García & Villarreal, 2010). As Terrell (2009) has said, the journey begins within as we individually explore our own presumptions, prejudice and fear.


Lindsey, R.B., & M.S. Karns, K. Myatt. Culturally Proficient Education: An Asset-Based Response to Conditions of Poverty (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press, Sage, 2010).

Paley, V.G. You Can’t Say You Can’t Play (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1992).

Rodriguez, R., & J. García, A. Villarreal. Community Engagement Series for Educators (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2010).

Terrell, R.D., & R.B. Lindsey. Culturally Proficient Leadership: The Personal Journey Begins Within (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press, Sage, 2009).

Wheatley, M. Finding Our Way – Leadership for an Uncertain Time (San Francisco, Calif.: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2005).

Wheatley, M.J. Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future (San Francisco, Calif.: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2002).

Wilkins, A. Yes We Can: Telling Truths and Dispelling Myths about Race and Education in America (Washington, D.C.: The Education Trust, 2006).

Rosana G. Rodríguez, Ph.D., is director of development at IDRA. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2011, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the February 2011 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]