Can Tolerance and Generosity be learned?
Why should we have to teach it? Are these not ‘caught’ rather than taught? These were some of the questions that came up as I set out to introduce an articulated curriculum of Tolerance and Generosity at my school.
Here is my answer.
Everything is learned. From the moment we are born, we are learning every second of the day. We learn to eat, crawl, walk, run and play. We learn a language, we learn to dance, sing or maybe fly a kite.
Babies gain knowledge at a staggering rate. Almost every experience they have is made permanent by the construction of a new synapse between neurons. By the time a baby turns 3 years old, his or her brain has formed about 1,000 trillion connections.
Babies learn the cadence of their parent’s speech, as well as that of their native language itself. If people can learn, then there must be something or someone who are triggers to initiate that learning. They are your teachers who are teaching you an unarticulated curriculum. That could be your mother or the cold winter that makes you look for something to cover yourself. That maybe a grandmother singing a lullaby or the hot water that scalds your hands. That may be a friend, a neighbor, a community helper, it may be the seasons, the elements or the places you visit — they all collectively become your teachers of something that is not articulated.
Why should we articulate a curriculum?
We articulate a curriculum in English and Science and Mathematics because we want to ensure that our children learn a particular concept at an expected level. We want to ensure a logical progression of learning objectives from one Grade level to another, from one course to the next within the content areas. Articulation explains how the students’ educational experiences are seamlessly woven with the content. We feel that this is absolutely essential in the disciplines we teach at school. There is a curriculum for PE, Music and Dance as well. These are articulated and assessed.
When it comes to Tolerance and Generosity however, it might feature incidentally at assemblies and concerts, in classroom rules and school expectations and intermittently in some moral instruction lessons or projects.
Children learn these at home or school watching those adults and others around them model their version of tolerance and generosity. They define whether it is alright to play with someone from a certain geographical area, a country or some particular religion. Parents show through their actions and sometimes through dinner time conversations their tacit disapproval of a caste, creed or ethnic minority. They say one thing and do another- and that is not just parents- that goes for almost all of the entire adult world. That includes your neighbours, your relatives and your teachers as well.
Children learn their own ideas of generosity. It might mean giving to your family members at Christmastime because they too will give you something in return. It might be genuine anonymous donations to someone whom the child has neither seen nor heard of. It might be the time someone gives to another. It might be thoughts on sharing possessions.
In all of these examples, there is no articulated set of expectations. You might learn this or you might not. You may learn this when you are five or maybe never.
I don’t wish to take a chance. I wish to influence the mind with positive thoughts of generosity and tolerance to assess how my children are developing the generosity of spirit. I want to see the progression of their thoughts. I want to provide genuine opportunity for both generosity and tolerance. I wish to make their thinking visible in these areas for that is what I think the world needs more than ever today. These are the 21st century requirements we must pay heed to. There will be fewer problems to solve if we learn both Generosity and Tolerance.
There are several other values you could articulate but I have chosen these two because they are a priority in our world. When we cannot open our hearts and homes to the underprivileged, we are modeling undesirable behavior. When we ‘preach’ tolerance but not live it, we are confusing the minds of the young ones in our care. I look at the naysayers and say ’watch me’. In a few years you will see how these young ones in my school will impact the world because they learned Tolerance and Generosity on their school’s curriculum.
NB: This article was written in February 2017 and published on Medium.