Tolerance – the Threshold of Peace

“Tolerance within the conceptual framework presented here is construed not as an end but as a beginning, an opening to a longer range and deeper process of peace building.” (Unit 1 of a 3 unit series published by UNESCO in 1997).

Editors Introduction

Not a day goes by without reports of ever more tragedies befalling people seeking safety and dignity by crossing national borders. Under circumstances not of their own making, people are forced to flee into more uncertainty, and often even less security. Their plight has become a global humanitarian crisis, sorely testing many national institutions and international human rights standards, and posing an ethical challenge of an unprecedented dimension. Tolerance, a fundamental value of democracy, has fallen victim to the conditions asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants flee, and, sadly has little valence in the immigration policies of the nations in which they seek refuge and asylum. This crisis frames this post in our 90K for 90 Years / Issues and Themes in 6 Decades of Peacelearning series, part of Cycle 2 in the series focused on r Betty Reardon’s work of the 1980s -1990s, looking at her human rights related publications. In this post we re-introduce Tolerance – the Threshold of Peace.

-The Editors (4/3/19)

Contemporary Commentary:
Mass Immigration a Test of Tolerance

By Betty Reardon
April 2019

The curriculum unit featured in this post emerged from my work at UNESCO in preparation for the International Bureau of Education conference scheduled for a 20-year review UNESCO’s 1974 Recommendation on Education for International Understanding and Peace and Education on Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms. In addition to preparations for the IBE conference, I was tasked with developing teaching material on education for tolerance as UNESCO’s contribution to the UN International Year for Tolerance (1995) and the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004). The task began with the distribution of a suggested teaching framework and a survey of efforts already underway to teach toward tolerance. The unit posted here was the survey instrument outlining the framework and soliciting samples of curricula for the development of tolerance. The final product of the project was a 1997 three-volume education resource under the same title published and distributed by UNESCO Press. The version posted here was further developed and extended, becoming Unit 1 of the three volumes, a resource for teacher preparation and adult non-formal education groupsThe materials gleaned from the survey provided most of the content for Unit 2 for elementary grades and Unit 3 for secondary schools. The preliminary version posted here contains a few samples applicable at each level. The entire three units can be downloaded below.

Download: Tolerance – the Threshold of Peace

Betty 75
Meg Gardinier, Janet Gerson, and Betty Reardon at Betty’s 75th birthday and “retirement” party.

The purpose of this commentary, as was that of the original curriculum units, is to facilitate civic education toward the develop social capacities to live constructively and cooperatively in a world in which human diversities are coming in ever closer contact as a consequence of the major global problems of war, poverty, oppression, and increasingly environmental deterioration. That purpose, I expected, would inspire those working in education for human rights and social justice to welcome the project. Contrary to my expectations, the topic was not without resistance, even from some human rights educators and advocates. “Tolerance is not the goal of those seeking to realize human rights,” or something to that effect was the response of one prominent leader in the field.  “Efforts pursue to it are a worthless waste of time. Tolerance does not assure true respect and human dignity.” I would not argue that in itself, it does so. The response is further indication that educating for goals as end states does not produce politically effective learning. Without consideration and assessment of what world order studies referred to as “transitions strategies,” the social and political processes and the historical changes through which change unfolds, we cannot expect to capacitate learners to achieve the goals. Consequently, the conceptual core and the teaching framework of Tolerance reflect the social and political process perspective that I consider to be essential to the strategic requirements of all peace processes. Tolerance is not a goal but an essential and pivotal stage in the process of achieving the recognition of universal human dignity.

Indeed, I cannot help but wonder if the current epidemic of hate crimes might not be reduced were some element of tolerance still in the attitudinal repertoire of those who commit them, serving as a restraint against acting out their hatred. I staunchly maintain, as I did in 1997, that intolerance, denying the human worth and dignity of the stranger or those whose ways or appearances displease or threaten, is the impetus toward a whole range of peace-obstructing violations of human rights, up to and including massacres such as that of 50 Muslims in New Zealand on March 15, and some of the intentional genocides of which such acts are the harbingers.  This argument about the significance of the dangers of the shift from tolerance to intolerance, and the positive possibilities that lie in the opposite move from intolerance to tolerance, is the foundation on which the three curriculum units, Tolerance – the threshold of peace was constructed. It was an early effort to launch UNESCO’s Integrated Framework of Action on Education for Peace, Human Rights and Democracy, produced by the IBE conference and adopted by UNESCO’s General Conference in 1995, and to educate for the implementation of UNESCO’s Declaration of Principles of Tolerance proclaimed in that same year.

Three decades later, political tensions involving human differences fan the flames of intolerance with even greater intensity, fueled to a large degree by the global immigration crises, people fleeing war, social violence, extreme poverty and environmental deterioration. Migrants arriving in lands of hoped for refuge, other strangers and those who are “different” are victims of “hate crimes” against individuals, mob violence against minorities and massacres, that have become the hallmarks of anti-immigrant movements. Under these circumstances, it might be useful to peace educators concerned with such violence to look again at the standards and principles world society has proclaimed to prevent such acts and movements, and the processes and politics which unleash them to follow the routes that lead to crimes such as the recent tragic violence in Christchurch, New Zealand and other such horrific instances. Among the many that have occurred since the publication of the 3 units are: the genocides in Rwanda; Bosnia; former Yugoslavia; Gujarat, India, and other massacres and acts of terrorism in India; in Norway and European cities; and in numerous communities in the USA. Peace educators might also observe how the crimes are most often committed with weapons of war and in a mentality of armed conflict, raising questions about the possibilities that weapons control and disarmament may hold for the reduction of hate crimes. “Is there a link” they might ask, “between disarmament education and education for tolerance?” Within the conceptualization of tolerance as a threshold, and the evident problematic of the weapons culture which pervades today’s volatile social order, I assert that it does.  It is one of the most dangerous aspects of the complexities that characterize the tolerance problematic, making the turning point from tolerance to intolerance lethal when attitude morphs into action and hatred becomes actual physical violence. In this new phase of education for tolerance, as a beginning, those connections are beginning to dawn on us who hold ourselves responsible for assuring that education is an instrument of peace appropriately designed to meet today’s incarnation of the ancient human challenge of encountering the stranger. Peace may well be determined by whether we meet the stranger as a threat or an opportunity; whether we see diversity as disordering or enriching. Peace education assumes opportunity and enrichment.

In the 1990s, when this curriculum was conceived and drafted, multiculturalism and education for diversity were beginning to emerge in response to demographic changes, bringing the distressed and displaced from cultures of the “Global South,” and the former Soviet empire into disorienting proximity to the still predominantly Western cultures of Europe and North America. There was not a general disposition to look upon the new arrivals as persons of intrinsic human value with equal claims on universal human rights. The West, having known the peoples of these regions mainly as colonial subjects or strategic power rivals, relationships that go hand in hand with racism and ideological prejudice, had cultivated an attitude of moral exclusion toward the stranger and the competitor. Responses to the newcomers in both Europe and the US were frequently similar to those that met various efforts at racial and economic class integration in American public schools from the 1950s to the 1980s, resistance to change, seeing it as threatening disorder.

The main response of educators then was to seek remedy for intolerance in multi-cultural education, as generations before World War II had responded to war with “education for international understanding,” assuming that dispelling ignorance of the other would lead to tolerance and understanding as a basis of peace. We know now that in both cases that response was insufficient to the severe realities that constituted the problems. Most of us are well aware of how multiculturalism is at present a political issue that divides societies between those who seek to find a socially constructive accommodation to immigration and those who wish to “build walls” against it, those who seek integration and those who seek separation. I see it as conflict between fragmentation and holism, and I believe that there is now an urgent need for strategic considerations in education seeking to address the contemporary political challenges of intolerance, considerations that take into account not only the short-range costs of intolerance to the societies which suffer it, but also the long-range impediments to planetary social and ecological integration, the requisites of human survival.

Building on but beyond the foundations of the normative responses provided by multiculturalism and human rights learning, to closely examine the political and economic interests at stake, such education calls for a clear focus on the political discourse that arises out of this new epidemic of disregard for universal human rights. It calls for more focus on the strategic and process aspects of peace-learning and peace-building that is given insufficient emphasis in our pedagogy. Understanding how change occurs is as important to our purposes as the why and the what. Just as examining the causes of the multiple forms of intolerance and their substantive distinctions and varied consequences is important to illuminating the complexity of intolerance.

Cultivating appreciation of the complexity and evolutionary nature that infuses the entire range of the violence problematique is a goal integral to peace education. It is particularly relevant, more likely essential, to effective learning in preparation for planning and undertaking social change. Awareness of how decisions on when and where to intervene to halt and reverse a process of intolerance is crucial to achieving positive change. The holism and systems approach that has informed my own practice of peace education have been attempts at making complexity more comprehensible and amenable to strategic planning and action. Observing and assessing the process is also essential to confronting all instances of intolerance and their tendency to evolve from minor forms of discrimination into more violent manifestations. A process-oriented view of the manifestations and instances of intolerance and a holistic and comprehensive view of its complexity can serve as a bulwark against the simplistic and reductionist views of single and specific causality, characteristic of intolerant thinking.

This is not to say that all intolerance arises from simplistic thinking. Indeed, it is not infrequent that such thought is the product of sophisticated ideologues seeking to manipulate all or segments of the public mind, to influence and, if possible control public opinion – as we see in ideologically directed news media. It is the evolution of this thinking that permits the development of bias into egregious acts of the sort that are reported daily, acts that severely wound communities and, in some cases, devastate entire peoples. As has been observed by scholars of genocide, perceiving the process of development that leads to such critical conditions is necessary to discern the points at which the problem enters into criticality and when intervention is called for to halt and turn back the evolution of ever greater violations of human rights. Tolerance – the threshold of peace suggests that the most critical of all is that threshold where tolerance – granting to others and aliens their rights to be who they are, to choose their own identities and to think and live unmolested within those identities and ways of thinking – is forsaken, and the process of intolerance that denies those rights initiates. How many tragedies might we have avoided had we recognized points of even seemingly minor expressions of prejudicial or discriminatory thought? How many possibilities for peace might have been available had we been aware of a problematic situation “turning around” as tolerance became the attitude with which those in conflict began to view each other? As acknowledged, tolerance does not resolve conflicts or other human oppositions, but it can serve to prevent more serious harm and allow for the undertaking of a more full-blown peace-building process toward just and fair relationships.

It was, I believe, lack of taking into account the full complexity and process nature of the realms of intolerance that produced this assertion by Arthur C. Brooks:

“People often say that our problem in America today is incivility and intolerance.  This is incorrect. Motive attribution [i.e. assigning evil purposes to an opponent or rival political party] asymmetry leads to something far worse: contempt, which is a noxious brew of anger and disgust…. not just for other people’s ideas, but also for other people. ‘the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another’ (quote attributed to Schopenhauer).” See: Our Culture of Contempt: The problem in America today is not incivility or intolerance, by Arthur Brooks, March 2, 2019, New York Times Sunday Review.

Forms, Symptoms and Indicators of Intolerance

I think that Prof. Brooks is incorrect, but Schopenhauer was right. Contempt is not distinct from intolerance, nor is civility the only indicator of tolerance or respect. Contempt is one of the multiple forms of intolerance to be recognized and confronted. “the…. conviction of the worthless of another” is the basis of moral exclusion, a habit of mind that hold persons and groups outside the sphere of justice, i.e. not deserving of the respect and rights granted to “one’s own,” “our own kind.” Only “those like us” are our “equals.” The attitude is one of the many in the panoply of intolerance. So, I prefer to add to, rather than reduce the forms of intolerance listed on the typology that appears in Unit 1 of the 3 unit version of Tolerance.  I do so, not only to illustrate the complexity of the threat we face, but also to account, as far as is possible at this writing, for the multiplicity of forms, places and circumstances in which it erupts. We are, indeed, assaulted everywhere and constantly with incivility and contempt as sharp-edged shards on the walls of intolerance that divide so many nations within themselves and from each other.  Accordingly, I suggest we also add to that list several more that are equally constant, and unapologetically murderous: white-supremacy/nationalism, authoritarianism, heterosexism/homophobia/transphobia, “Islamophobia,” and hatred itself. There is a common understanding of the first four of these concepts. The inevitably destructive attributes of the last needs emphasis. Hatred is that ultimate form of intolerance wherein in the hater wishes and often acts for the elimination of the hated, it is that state of mind which calls for and pursues genocide. In the US and various other parts of the world recent mass killings of African-Americans, Muslims and Jews are hate driven acts of violence intended to destroy the hated. We have seen such acts lead to intentional attempts to “destroy in whole or in part” groups against whom hatred had been deliberately cultivated, most often by authoritarian leaders.

The long list of symptoms or indicators are concepts suggested as devices for recognizing and assessing intolerance. They comprise ideas and actions that are interrelated and often are stages of a process of ever more severe manifestations of the moral exclusion that intolerance of human difference breeds. Racism intersects with sexism; anti-immigrant propaganda invokes Islamophobia; antisemitism initiates moral exclusion, etc. All these interconnect with each other in ideologies of supremacy, exclusive nationalism and nativism that in turn give a leg up to the rise of authoritarianism. In these days all are manifest in our focus problematic of large scale migrations into Europe and North America.

The Human Beings Who Comprise the Immigration Problematic

Tolerance Prelim

Because of the scale of the problem, the inquiry in this re-visitation of Tolerance focuses on immigration/migration, highlighting its urgency and attempting to illuminate the complexity of and interrelationships among all problems of intolerance. In that the core animating value of any peacelearning process is human dignity, it is necessary to keep humanity in the inquiry, a quality often overlooked when problems involve masses of human beings. All immigrant and refugees are individual persons whose sufferings are unique to them. Recognizing this fact, it is useful to also understand the differences in the statuses of the individuals. As an aid to that understanding and to the analysis, assessment, and formulation of responses to this humanitarian crisis, we offer the following definition circulated by HIAS (

Refugee: a person who has been forced to flee their home country due to persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group;

Asylum seeker: Someone who has fled persecution in their home country and is seeking Safe haven in a different country, but has not yet received legal recognition or status;

Internally Displaced Person (IDP): A person who fled their home but has not crossed an international border to find sanctuary;

Migrant: Someone who chooses to move from their home for any variety of reasons, but not necessarily because of direct threat of persecution.

To these terms, I add two other terms describing persons involved in current issues of immigration and tolerance.

Immigrant: Someone who has left their native country to live in another. Some of the countries most roiled by white nationalism inspired by current immigration issues have developed as nations of immigrants. The United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia have all seen a significant rise of the ideas and politics of white supremacy, that asserts that people of “Caucasian,” i.e. European origin, are superior to those of darker skin with origins are on other continents. It even claims superiority to some of those whose origins are actually in Europe and North America, such as, among others, the Sami and Native Americans.

Undocumented: Persons who have immigrated to a country that has not granted them the legal right to reside in there.

Evolution of Pedagogical Approaches and Animating Values

The larger conceptual framework of Tolerance evolved from the notions that informed two decades earlier the publication of Discrimination (1977 Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Sydney) that framed discrimination as cycle of injustice; defining it as “denial of human dignity and equal rights…” That publication also identified several varieties of large scale moral exclusion, subsumed under three major systemic denials of human dignity and equal rights that characterize the global order, sexism, racism and colonialism, acknowledged in Tolerance as “Extreme Forms of Intolerance.” Here I want to point to them as the structural and systemic foundations of intolerance rationalized by institutionalized moral exclusion (in later years I came to understand all three as manifestations of patriarchy, and believe that authoritarianism is patriarchy in the extreme). Both publications propose international human rights standards as tools for assessing and diagnosing the general problem and its particular manifestations. And both placed the problematic in terms of social and political processes.  Discrimination illustrated the cyclical process in a drawing by friend and colleague, Robin Richardson who was then doing peace education with the Minority Rights Group in the UK that had undertaken to address the challenge of encountering the stranger as manifest in the earlier years of migration of Commonwealth citizens from the Global South.

The Cycle Of Injustice

Robin showed how prejudice can lead to discrimination and ultimately to violence. These forms of intolerance feed each other, beyond intersecting to coalescing into ever more destructive harms. Were I to revise the drawing today, I would certainly include the massacres and genocide, the ultimate intolerance and the first “Crime Against Humanity,” the return of which stunned the “post-holocaust” world with the 1990’s massive ethnic violence of Bosnia and Rwanda, defying the assumption of “never again.” We know that it can happen again, and so as peace educators we are obligated to cultivate learning to discern and act effectively at points in a destructive social or political process that might turn intolerance to tolerance, crossing the threshold toward peace.

The pedagogy of Tolerance and Discrimination reflected these cyclical and developmental processes for the purposes noted above, and also because the developmental approach to curriculum development was especially appropriate to the purposes of teaching toward tolerance. This pedagogy was further developed in an adult non-formal curriculum, Freedom of Religion and Belief: An Essential Human Right, adaptable to upper secondary and university courses I  designed for the People’s Movement on Human Rights Learning that employed elements of the development process approach within a Freirean framework. (It should be noted that several of the gun massacres referred to here  were committed in houses of worship, Christian, Jewish and Muslim.)

In all three of these learning materials the values which animated the pedagogy and were the foundation of the social purposes of each the respective curricula were those at the core of all peace education, human dignity, integrity and agency. These values are best translated into politically actionable goals through the international standards of universal human rights. These, too, are essential learning materials for teaching toward tolerance, as is in the case of the immigration crisis, international humanitarian law.

Suggested Inquiry

The purpose of this proposed learning inquiry is two-fold: first, to explore and assess a range of possible strategies to be undertaken in countries of origin to overcome the intolerable conditions that lead so many to flee, to inquire into who might undertake them and what citizen action might be needed to encourage such strategic action, and second; propose and plan strategies through which civil society and governments might cultivate fundamental attitudes of tolerance, assuring that strangers would be received with respect for their dignity and cultural identities, and actions  taken to meet their immediate needs.

Keep in mind throughout the inquiry the fundamental structures in which the immigration crisis has unfolded and the instances of intolerance occur. Always be alert to opportunities that may possible turning points and thresholds that might turn the tide of intolerance toward the peace that is the realization of human rights. It is suggested that readings on issues related to migration/migration and its relevance to other global problems become the foundation for this inquiry into intolerance as it plays out in all its forms in the experiences of the migrants; and it is manifest in the circumstances and policies of the countries of origin and destination as well as those countries that have become “waiting stations.”

Discuss the concepts that comprise the indicators of intolerance and where they occur in various parts of the world.  Give special attention to those evident in your own communities and countries, with a view toward citizen action to overcome them, and to devising and implementing humane and effective immigration policies.

In addition to topical readings, conduct a review of the relevant international human rights standards that might be applicable, identifying whose rights have been denied by whom and what possibilities for accountability might be pursued, such as sanctions and or legal proceedings. A mock tribunal might be organized to illustrate the potential use of the legal standards as a means to confront the problem and seek a just solution. What standards may be in play in the cases of: those selling spaces on boats in the Mediterranean (so reminiscent of the Indo-China “Boat People” of the 1970s); those taking huge fees for safe escort into a land of hoped for refuge; traffickers, exploiting women and children in the “caravans” of refugees and asylum seekers fleeing toward the United States;  border agents committing sexual assault against refugee women and/or separating families; agencies contracted to accommodate refugees before admission or return to their former countries who consign children to “cages.” And in all cases those who make the policies these others carry out.

In addition to these suggestions, some beginning learning procedures and an inquiry appear with the list of indicators/symptoms in the link excerpt from Unit 1 of the 3unit series of Tolerance.

The Global Campaign would be happy to receive and share learning procedures and suggested materials for study of issues of intolerance raised by immigration, and/or any other approaches to reaching toward tolerance and a just solution to the immigration problematic.  Please email us at

A Few Resources

The International Conventions on:

Resources may also be obtained from the following agencies and organizations (Contact information on-line):


Read the series: “Issues and Themes in 6 Decades of Peacelearning: Examples from the Work of Betty Reardon”

“Issues and Themes in 6 Decades of Peacelearning” is a series of posts by Betty Reardon supporting our “$90k for 90” campaign honoring Betty’s 90th year of life and seeking to create a sustainable future for the Global Campaign for Peace Education and International Institute on Peace Education (see this special message from Betty).

This series explores Betty’s lifetime of work in peace education through three cycles; each cycle introducing a special focus of her work. These posts, including comments from Betty, highlight and share selected resources from her archives, housed at The University of Toledo.

Cycle 1 features Betty’s efforts from the 1960s through the ‘70s focused on developing peace education for schools.

Cycle 2 features Betty’s efforts from the ’80s and ‘90s, a period highlighted by the internationalization of the peace education movement, the formation of the academic field, the articulation of Comprehensive Peace Education and the emergence of gender as an essential element in peace education.

Join the Campaign & help us #SpreadPeaceEd!
Please send me emails:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top