by Kevin Currie-Knight
Suppose that you live next door to someone and think something about the way they live – their religion, their domestic arrangements, their politics, even their race – is wrong or objectionable. If you are a particularly grousy or dogmatic neighbor, you might take every occasion to let them know how wrong you think they and this thing about them are. This, of course, is not tolerance, at least in the sense that means leaving a person be.
The gentler course is to tolerate them, to let them live as they please and refrain from trying to change their ways if doing so will interfere with their ability to live the way they prefer. Maybe you see them next door and instead of trying to get them seeing the errors in their ways, you smile and wave, or at very least say nothing.
There are several reasons you might tolerate them in this way.
 You could tolerate them from a sort of skepticism about whether you really know the way they should live. I believe strongly that their way is the wrong way, but they are not me, so who am I to say that I’m not missing something? I could be wrong too.
 You could tolerate them from apathy or prudence. It’s just not worth the energy and time I’d have to expend to explain to that person the errors of their ways. The knucklehead probably wouldn’t change their mind anyway. I’ll just let it be.
 You could tolerate out of politeness. I know they’re wrong, but I also know that they are my neighbor and I think it’d be rude – and maybe not like me – to confront them. I’ll just say nice things to them, avoid them when I can, and continue thinking ill of them in private.
 You could tolerate them because you believe in the importance of autonomy. As wrong as I am convinced they are, I am more convinced that they have every right to live the way they choose, even if they are dead wrong in their judgment.
 You could tolerate them out of malice. Ha. I’m glad they are living the wrong way. They’ll find out the hard way, and I can’t wait for that moment of truth!
 You could tolerate them because you’ve taken it upon yourself to realize that you were wrong, that the way they are living is legitimate after all. Your tolerance has become something between acceptance and embrace of them and their difference.
The way many colleges of education – certainly mine – handle issues of teaching amidst diversity is to get teachers shooting straight for . And while there are things to be said for  that I’ll get to shortly, the overriding problem with  (and for that matter ), is that it’s a lot of work. It demands changing a person’s mind and, to use religious terminology, working on their soul.
Some of us – I count myself one – are really invigorated by diversity of many kinds, or at least see no problem with a wide scope of diversity. Other people, for a variety of reasons from temperament to religion, will be a harder sell. If a person’s religious convictions tell them that homosexuality is a mistake or confusion on the part of the declared homosexual person, it will take a lot of work to convince them otherwise. Behavior is much easier to change than belief, and the deeper seated the belief, the more a part of a person’s felt identity it is, the harder it will be to hinge their ability to tolerate to a change in their belief.
Given all of this, would it be a better strategy to tell teachers that the goal should be something more like  through ? “You have every right to think your students and their families are living in literal or figurative sin. But you have a job to do, and that job will be made easier and better if you just avoid making a stink about it.”
 through  have a lot in their favor. First, if we are talking about the person who believes very strongly that certain types of diversity aren’t legitimate,  through  set a much lower bar. They don’t involve the arduous and thankless task of changing the beliefs of others. And because of this,  through  respect the freedom of conscience, a value that at best is in conflict at times with the value of toleration. Second, in many cases, the person who wants toleration probably doesn’t care that much about the reasons for which they are being tolerated. They may, of course, want others to accept them as they are, but they probably care more that folks aren’t interfering with their ability to live and be happy. Last, a counter-intuitive point: because changing people’s deeply felt convictions is so difficult, it might be the worse course to pursue, because it puts already-marginalized people’s ability to live good lives entirely up to whether others choose to accept them.
Yet  through  have downsides, especially in school settings. First, the reason tolerance is what John Gray rightly calls “the unfashionable virtue” is that from the jump, it has a negative connotation. We tolerate house flies even though we’d love to swat them. We tolerate things about our job that we’d love to get rid of but know we have no control over. Tolerance is something we do toward things we have a problem with. And even though the often-marginalized person may be glad they are tolerated, like all of us, they’d prefer to be accepted or affirmed. Toleration is generally the second-best option.
There is, though, another reason why teacher education programs often aspire less to get teachers tolerating diversity and more toward affirming, embracing, and valuing diversity. It has to do with the unique circumstances of school as opposed to other areas of life. If we picture the situation with the neighbor, you and that neighbor have every opportunity not to interact with each other. In most situations, including this one, there is some element of choice to the encounter. We may not want neighbors of different political tribes to interact with each other – and stores even to sell to people the owners and workers think are problematic – but people can generally choose where they shop, and store owners generally prefer more sales to choosiness about who their clients are.
As nice as school is, it is a deep sea of force and coercion. Students almost never have a say in whether to go to school or what teachers they will or won’t tolerate. And unless parents have the means to choose how education will be provided to their kids, their kids are going to the school their children are zoned for. Unlike the situation with your neighbor, when a teacher finds out a student is (or the student’s parents are) gay and wants to tell them that the Bible says this is sinful, neither party has the option to bow out of the classroom, so as to avoid one another.
Add to this that ideally, the teacher-student relationship is supposed to be of a deeper kind than a casual neighbor-to-neighbor or clerk-to-customer relationship. Clerks and customers, or neighbors, can have deep relationships that go beyond mere tolerance, but for that to happen, they have to respect one another enough that they’ve moved “above” tolerance. It may be possible for a gay person can be friends with someone deeply convinced that homosexuality is wrong – or a pacifist to be friends with a war veteran whose killed three in the line of duty – but in general, these relationships will be stronger the more they move beyond “mere” tolerance of difference. To put it more starkly, if you are a teacher ideologically convinced of black people’s intellectual inferiority, you will have a hard time when you have a class with black people in it.
Where does that leave me? What do I think is the best way to produce teachers comfortable teaching in the face of diversity and difference? I had a student come to my office at one point who was concerned about a conflict between his convictions and the possible demands of a teaching job. The student was of a religious denomination that believed any deviation from heterosexuality (and, though the term didn’t come up, cisgender) was a sin and a sign that the person needed encouragement choosing the right path. He was uncomfortable with the idea that he might have to teach gay, lesbian, or trans students and might have to forego sending even the subtlest of signals to them about his disapproval of their lifestyle. This, he took care to note, is a demand he would not have in the wider world, where he’d generally be free to evangelize to or avoid people whose lives he did not approve of.
I told that student that I cannot likely change his mind regarding those convictions. And, yes, those convictions might ultimately not fit with the demands of teaching, at least when GLTBQ students show up. I told him that while I would love it if his mind were changed and he got either to acceptance of these people  or skepticism about your ability to know what their sexuality or gender should be , that would be a tall order that I cannot realistically expect. I told the student to shoot either for tolerance based on indifference ; politeness and professionalism ; or belief in their autonomy ; and I should say that this would be a tall order given that he was to teach middle-school aged students). And if you don’t think trading your right to evangelize in return for a teaching job is right for you, it will be best for all involved if you consider another line of work.