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Dr Christina Easton, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship

Opening Minds: A New Analysis of Tolerance for the Classroom

Schools in England are required to teach ‘tolerance’. But what does it mean to be ‘tolerant’?

Political philosophers have focused on tolerance as forbearance – refraining from interfering with ways of life that you disapprove of. In contrast, Ofsted and the Department of Education have interpreted tolerance as an attitude of non-disapproval. For example, decisions taken in recent years by Ofsted inspectors indicate that they view teaching tolerance as including teaching a positive attitude towards LGBTQ relationships.

Can a rigorous, coherent analysis be given of this understanding of tolerance? With the aid of a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship, Dr Christina Easton will present, defend, and explore the practical implications of a novel analysis of tolerance as non-disapproval. Dr Easton, who is currently at the London School of Economics, will join Politics & International Studies at the University of Warwick in January 2022 to commence her Fellowship.

Changing citizens’ attitudes

But is it really the business of the state to tell people what they should approve and disapprove of? Dr Easton will give a new account of the intrinsic value of citizens holding certain attitudes.

She will investigate whether new arguments can be given for why the state has a legitimate concern with what its citizens believe.

Should children be taught to not disapprove of LGBTQ relationships? Or should this be taught as a matter that is up for debate?

A Pride Parade in 2019 espousing the importance of LGBTQ tolerance in schools.

Implications for education policy

At least in relation to some topics, teachers ought to aim for children to develop attitudes of non-disapproval. But how do we decide on the topics?

For example, should children be taught to not disapprove of LGBTQ relationships? Or should this be taught as a matter that is up for debate?

Achieving clarity on this issue is especially important now. In January 2019, some of the largest education protests in UK history took place in Birmingham in response to schools teaching children about LGBTQ relationships.

In September 2020, Relationships Education, with some LGBTQ content, became compulsory for all English schools. But the curriculum documents are unclear as to whether schools should aim to teach positive attitudes towards LGBTQ relationships.

In consultation with experienced teachers, Dr Easton will use her theoretical insights to generate policy recommendations on how LGBTQ education ought to be approached, and what ‘teaching tolerance’ ought to involve.

Find out more about Dr Easton's research