Editorial: Tolerance more important than ever

The emphasis on respect for and acceptance of all people in our increasingly diverse society is one of our nation’s greatest strengths. In light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, it is now more important than ever that we reinforce in our children an appreciation of these fundamental American values.
Often the teasing and bullying that takes place between children is written off as “kids being kids”; however, statistics prove that such behavior frequently leads to more severe harassment and violence.
According to a November 2001FBI report, more than 11 percent of the 9,430 hate crimes reported in the year 2000 took place in schools or on college campuses. This statistic supports the critical need for providing our children with tolerance education at an early age.
In response to this need, and with the help of the California Hate Crimes Task Force, the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division has created the Tolerance Through Education Initiative, a series of youth training programs designed to assist lawyers in teaching diversity and tolerance to school children in their local communities.
The first program, “Welcome to School: Helping Kids Belong,” features a written curriculum supported by a video and CD designed to help lawyers teach third graders about belonging and respect.
A follow-up program, “Playing Together for Peace,” will be initiated at the ABA Midyear Meeting in February. This program engages elementary students in discussions and exercises to help them learn to resolve conflicts peacefully.
The third is the series focuses on hate crime prevention for junior and senior high school students, and will be introduced at the Young Lawyers Division Spring Conference in May.
As citizens of a nation built upon the strengths of our diversity, we must all be acutely aware of any threat to that which has made us strong. We must not accept childhood teasing and bullying as a right of passage, but rather recognize it as potentially laying the foundation for serious hate crimes that undermine the principles we hold dear.
As chair of the Young Lawyers Division, I am calling upon all lawyers to help strengthen the diversity that is the cornerstone of our democratic society by promoting respect among our nation’s youngest citizens – respect for those who look different, act different, or share different beliefs.
Laura Farber is Chair of the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division.