20 Years of Change

Teaching Tolerance director Maureen Costello looks back on our 20th birthday.

Maureen Costello
Maureen Costello

A look at our cover will tell you that this is Issue 40 of Teaching Tolerance magazine. It’s published twice yearly, so that round number neatly marks the end of our first 20 years. The first issue, in January 1992, helped teachers and students fight stereotypes and learn to appreciate diversity.

That first magazine set the standard, introducing “Activity Exchange,” “Teaching Tools” and “One World” and presented them with lush art and elegant design. It also included this message from founding editor Sara Bullard: “Teaching Tolerance is not a new endeavor—every teacher with more than one student strives for harmony in the classroom. Certainly this task becomes more complicated as the nation and the classroom grow more diverse.”

When Ms. Bullard wrote those words, the impact of immigration reform was being seen across America. A law passed in 1965 removed preferences for western Europeans and welcomed in more people from the Western Hemisphere. As a result, immigration doubled between 1965 and 1970, doubled again between 1970 and 1990, and continued to surge through 2008. Consider: in 1970, less than 5 percent of the population was foreign-born; in 1990, it was 8 percent. By 2010, the percentage had grown to 12 percent—still lower than in any of the 60 years from 1860 to 1920, but higher than most Americans had ever seen. The diversity is most evident today in schools, where 1 in every 4 school children has an immigrant parent.

"They always say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself."

Andy Warhol, artist

“But the basic goal,” Sara continued, “remains the same: to care about all of our children and to help them care about each other.”

And that’s still true. Yet the world in which our children grow up and go to school has changed—immensely. In 1992, personal computers were expensive, slow and rare. Today, those clunky desktops are nearly obsolete. There were no web browsers in 1992— Netscape and Internet Explorer came later, as did social media, Google, Facebook and smart phones. We’ve hardly had time to figure out how this explosion of technology affects the way children think and relate to each other. So, 20 years on, although we continue to publish this magazine, teachers no longer have to wait for its arrival to be a part of the Teaching Tolerance community. Instead, by the thousands, they visit us online, where a lively blog, fresh weekly lessons and a suite of professional development tools await.

Meanwhile, schools have changed, too. Multiculturalism was gaining steam in the early ’90s. But before it could be seriously embedded into curriculum, other forces—standards, highstakes testing, data and the thousand flowers of school reform—crashed into education like a tidal wave. No reader of that first issue had ever heard of AYP , RTI or NCLB.

Demographics, technology and reforms have altered the educational landscape. We’ve made changes along the way, too, by putting more in this magazine. You’ll see more connections between what we have in print and what’s online. For almost every article, readers can find an online portfolio with links and ways to apply the article in school. You’ll also notice that we’ve given up those order cards—you can now order kits or subscribe to the magazine and our e-newsletter online at

Despite all these changes, the importance of teaching tolerance remains. As Ms. Bullard wrote about teachers, “What they share is a belief that tolerance is at the core of good citizenship.”

Today, we remain committed to the founding ideas enunciated 20 years ago:

Tolerance can be taught.

It belongs everywhere in the curriculum.

It is the responsibility of educators themselves to learn tolerance.

Maureen Costello


PS—Issue No. 1 included a piece by Luke Lambert, historian of the National Parks Service. He wrote about the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery March, then being studied for possible historic designation. We invited readers to send their ideas about the March to the NPS and provided a blank letter. We also ran an ad for our first film kit, “America’s Civil Rights Movement,” complete with a videocassette of A Time for Justice. Issue No. 40 has an ad for the same film, now digitally restored on DVD.

And the route of the Selma-to-Montgomery March, from the Edmund Pettus Bridge to the steps of the Alabama Capitol, is now a National Historic Trail.