Teaching the Holocaust in Kindergarten Classrooms

Author: Krista Spera

School/Organization:

Shawmont Elementary School

Year: 2014

Seminar: Teaching the Holocaust: Bearing Witness

Grade Level: Kindergarten

Keywords: 20th century, discrimination, Holocaust, Holocaust education, kindergarten

School Subject(s): English, Literature, Social Studies

The Holocaust was a time period within the 20th century when discrimination and prejudice were the reason the Jewish people in Europe were treated unfairly, denied of their rights as humans, and persecuted. By the end of the Holocaust in 1945 approximately six million Jewish men, women, and children lost their lives due to horrific acts of hate. Today, we still remember the Holocaust not only within the United States, but all over the world. Schools throughout many different countries teach students not only about the events that occurred during the Holocaust, but also to teach children moral lessons as well. While children of all ages can be shown or taught moral lessons, the same cannot be said about teaching the historical events of the Holocaust specifically. Though there have not been many studies conducted that prove the appropriate age that children should be introduced to the Holocaust, it has been suggested that during the primary grades it is not included within the curriculum. In fact, Schweber (2012) claims “many high school students at the junior and senior levels have great difficulty understanding of that torturous history, so how can anyone expect a child at the K-4 level to do so?”

The focus of this paper is to examine the research conducted on teaching the Holocaust to young students in the early years of schooling, as well as the positive and negative outcomes that come with introducing the topic early on in school. The difficulties that early childhood educators may face is also examined. Finally, an alternative to exposing young students to the Holocaust is presented. Rather than presenting the complex subject matter to students that may not understand, teachers should teach about the themes related to the Holocaust, such as prejudice, discrimination, tolerance and equality. This paper argues in favor of Simone Schweber’s proposal (2012) where these themes are introduced to younger students in an age appropriate matter “which ought not to be called “Holocaust education”, but rather “pre-holocaust education”.”

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Full Unit Text
Content Objectives

Overview
Throughout history, many traumatic events have taken place surrounding the topics of inequality,
prejudice, racism, and tolerance of others. The holocaust is considered one of these events. According to
the Holocaust center (2014), when Adolf Hitler became chancellor in 1933, the German government
began to pass laws that took away the rights of Jewish citizens. They were stripped from their rights,
taken to concentration camps, and many lost their lives due to the horrific actions of the Nazi regime. It
was not until 1945 that American troops liberated the concentration camps. By the time the Nazi regime
was put to an end, more the six million Jewish people throughout Europe lost their lives. Because of its
significance in history, the holocaust has been widely researched, discussed, as well as introduced to
students in an educational setting.
Schools throughout the world teach students about the holocaust as they do many other events in
history. However, there has been much debate as to what information should be presented in the
classroom, as well as the age in which it becomes appropriate to begin instruction on topics such as the
holocaust. By introducing the holocaust in school, students gain an understanding of events in history,
while also gaining insight regarding the prevalence of prejudice and discrimination throughout time.
Steven Penn (2013) claims that we are now entering a time period where there are very few survivors of
the Holocaust remaining. Penn (2013) reasons that our generation needs to learn about the holocaust in
order for the information to be transmitted into future generations. While many researchers agree that
teaching the Holocaust in school is important, the debate as to when education on the topic begins
remains. Of the current studies regarding the Holocaust in early childhood education many concluded that
“the Holocaust is often considered too complex, too appalling, or too emotionally disturbing a subject to
be taught to young children, even if taught only in its most preparatory version”(Schweber, 2008). In
addition it is argued that “its representation in classrooms is too sophisticated for young children to
process intellectually, and that the subject matter is too frightening for young children to handle
psychologically” (Schweber, 2008).
Regardless of when students are introduced to the Holocaust, there are many other obstacles that
educators face when teaching thee subject. One major challenge is that teachers are not prepared or
trained to teach the subject in many cases. “Holocaust education is not a required field of study for
prospective teachers, nor can teachers rely on a set of curriculum or textbooks” (Bunch, Canfield &
Scholer, n.d). It is crucial that teachers are properly educated not only on the events of the Holocaust, but
how to relay the information in an age appropriate matter. With such a complex subject that pertains todiscrimination of a specific group of people, educators must be careful when teaching the history of the
Holocaust “in order to not alienate the descendants of its victims and perpetrators” (Bunch, Canfield &
Scholer, n.d).
Despite the warnings about introducing the Holocaust in early childhood education, some
educational institutions throughout the world have implemented instruction to all elementary school
children, including kindergarten students. After surveying kindergarten students throughout Israel, it was
discovered that many children knew about the Holocaust, just “unaware of how to put it into context”
(Grave-Lazi, 2014). While many people have disagreed with the implementation in younger grades, the
education ministry believes that many children will benefit from the new educational program. In the
primary grades, teachers have been instructed to introduce the Holocaust without showing “any content
with threatening physical visualizations, such as photographs, simulations, or plays about the Holocaust.
In addition, teachers and other professionals will receive training on implementing the subject in the
classroom effectively, and be given age appropriate tools and assistance fostered to meet the needs of
their students.
In regards to the tools that educators need to appropriately teach students about the Holocaust,
more literature directed towards a younger audience are being published than ever before in history. After
careful consideration of the Holocaust represented in children’s literature, “one could come to the
conclusion that children these days are seemingly prepared to absorb much of the horrors of the 20th
century history at a tender age” (Silverman, n.d). With the abundance of literature geared towards a younger
audience, and educators throughout Israel introducing the Holocaust to younger students, some
have suggested that children throughout America may already know information about the Holocaust
from outside sources and can benefit from proper instruction in younger grades as opposed to waiting
until later in school.
In today’s society, children seem to be exposed to more aspects of the world with the continuous
technological advancement. Most households throughout the country own a computer or television, and
children are learning how to use these devices early on. According to Emmons (2013), children under the
age of 8 are spending an average of 1 hour and 40 minutes per day watching television, and many
children are playing some form of a video game by the age of 4 years old. In addition, Caroline Knorr, the
parenting editor for Common Sense Media (2013) claims, “Ninety percent of movies, 68 percent of video
games, and 60 percent of television shows show some depictions of violence”. While the digital era does
show benefits to young children and their development, early exposure to violence, aggression and other
negative images may later correspond with aggression and behavior problems for a young child. Yet
despite these findings, early media exposure continues to exist. Perhaps discussion in the classroom about
more sensitive subjects such as the Holocaust may help children gain a better understanding in regards to
things they are already being exposed to.
A study conducted at the University of Toronto (2012) has argued that previous research has
shown that children between the ages of 3 and 6 begin to learn about stereotypes as well as being able to
recognize discrimination. However this study conducted by Sonia Kang (2012) showed that “young
children’s expectations about experiencing prejudice will be shaped by the beliefs that are communicated
to them by adults”. These findings further suggest that young children can be introduced to topics related
to the Holocaust. Furthermore, if taught in an appropriate and meaningful way, effectively teach students
about discrimination, prejudice, and equality, which are the building blocks needed to introduce the
Holocaust.
Though an end was put to the Holocaust in 1945, some aspects remain within societies and
cultures today. There is still racism, religious intolerance, as well as biased opinions and prejudice. Just as
in any other environment, they exist in classrooms, schools and local communities as well. Rather than
begin with the complex topic of the Holocaust and exposing young students to information that they may
not yet be ready to handle, teachers in early childhood education can integrate these terms into their
curriculum and promote an appreciation for diversity within their students. Cecilia Oyler (2011) argues
the importance of a “social justice” oriented education for all students, particularly students in early
childhood classrooms.“The phrase social justice has proliferated in teacher education in recent years and is an umbrella
term encompassing a large range of practices and perspectives including critical multi-cultural and antibias education, culturally prevalent pedagogy, culturally responsive and competent teachers, critical
literary practices, equity pedagogy, and access to academics for students with disabilities” (Oyler, 2011).
In order for this type of education to be successful in any academic setting, it is the teacher that must be
equipped with the proper skills, knowledge, and commitment to equality and diversity appreciation within
the classroom. In addition, teachers must take the time needed to learn about each individual within the
classroom, and implement lessons based on their findings. According to Oyler (2011), “to engage in such
sophisticated multilevel, critical multicultural curriculum planning requires that teachers draw upon
multiple sources, ranging from mandated curriculum guides and standards, to published teacher resource
materials, to the collection of alternative sources for multicultural rich artifacts”.
Research conducted by Lynn Cohen (2009), agrees that early childhood educators need to provide
programs that promote an appreciation for diversity as well as meets the needs for a diverse population.
Diversity within the United States has grown in recent years with continued growth predicted in the near
future. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2009), in 2005 minority groups made
up almost half of the population within the United States. With the increasing diversity, the need for
multicultural approaches to learning within an educational setting becomes more pertinent as well. Cohen
(2009) suggests that young children can learn to appreciate multicultural differences through play. It is
well researched that many aspects of play are beneficial to the development of children. Through play
“children assume roles, act out pretend scenarios, and use conversation to plan and negotiate their play
with others” (Cohen, 2009). When there are many opportunities for play and social interaction within a
classroom, children are given the ability to learn about culture and heritage.
While there are a variety of ways that professionals can promote diversity within a classroom, and
research proves the importance of implementing a multicultural and diverse curriculum, many educators
find the task complicated and complex. Moreover, it is believed that many professionals in early
childhood education are uncomfortable in teaching or discussing diversity issues with their students. In
order for teachers to confidently discuss and promote diversity with their students, professional
development may be beneficial in supporting interculturalism. To date, teacher’s report that they feel
unprepared and have not been trained enough to work with diverse populations. According to a study
conducted by Leslie Ponciano and Ani Shabazian (2012), “as many as eighty percent of teachers did not
feel prepared for the various challenges that diversity presented within their classrooms”. Professional
development that adheres to these concerns may be beneficial for teachers throughout the nation.
Teachers are more likely to teach subjects effectively when they feel confident with their knowledge and
learning materials. “With support from program directors, teachers can effectively reflect on, model, and
positively influence how future generations of children and families appreciate diversity in their lives”
(Ponciano & Shabazian, 2012).
While there may never be a clear answer as to when to begin education on the Holocaust, it is
believed that children should be developmentally able to comprehend the material presented. While some
educators have begun teaching the Holocaust to children in younger grades, many believe that Children in
the early years of formal schooling should not be introduced to the topic. Though the Holocaust may be
inappropriate for children at this age, the themes surrounding the Holocaust can be introduced in ways
that children can comprehend. By introducing different cultures, anti-biased opinions, and the negative impact
of prejudice and racism, students are more likely to be prepared for the introduction of the
Holocaust and other events in history as they advance in their schooling career

Works Cited
Bunch, K., Canfield, M., & Scholer, B. (2005). Humanity in Action. Retrieved May 23, 2014,
from The Responsibility of Knowledge: Developing Holocaust Education for the Third
Generation: http://www.humanityinaction.org
Cohen, L. (2009). Exploring Cultural Heritage in a Kindergarten Classroom. Young Children ,
72-77.
Emmons, S. (2013, February 21). CNN. Retrieved June 2, 2014, from Is Media Violence
Damaging to Kids?: http://www.cnn.com
Jewish Libraries. (n.d.). Retrieved May 18, 2014, from Teaching the Holocaust through Picture
Books: http://www.jewishlibraries.org
Kang, S. (2012, March 19). Society for Personality and Social Psychology. Retrieved June 8,
2014, from Young Children Learn about Prejudice by Instruction, Older Children by
Experience: http://www.spsp.org
Oyler, C. (2011). Preparing Teachers of young children to be social justice-oriented educators.
Promoting Social Justice for Young Children .
Quale, M. (2012, April 25). The Huffington Post. Retrieved June 3, 2014, from Does the
Holocaust Matter to Today’s Kids?: http://www.huffingtonpost.com
Penn, S. (2013, June 27). The Jewish Link. Retrieved May 30, 2014, from When Should Kids
Learn about the Holocaust?: http://www.jewishlinkbc.com
Ponciano, L., & Shabazian, A. (2012). Interculturalism: Addressing Diversity in Early Childhood
Education. Dimensions of Early Childhood , 23-29.
Schweber, S. (2008). “What happened to their pets?”: Third Graders Encounter the Holocaust.
Teachers College Record , 2073-2115.
Rosner, S. (2014, April 28). Jewish Journal. Retrieved May 30, 2014, from Teaching Holocaust
in Kindergarten: Are we Ready to Normalize the Educational Process?:
http://www.jewishjournal.co

Teaching Strategies

Works Cited
Bunch, K., Canfield, M., & Scholer, B. (2005). Humanity in Action. Retrieved May 23, 2014,
from The Responsibility of Knowledge: Developing Holocaust Education for the Third
Generation: http://www.humanityinaction.org
Cohen, L. (2009). Exploring Cultural Heritage in a Kindergarten Classroom. Young Children ,
72-77.
Emmons, S. (2013, February 21). CNN. Retrieved June 2, 2014, from Is Media Violence
Damaging to Kids?: http://www.cnn.com
Jewish Libraries. (n.d.). Retrieved May 18, 2014, from Teaching the Holocaust through Picture
Books: http://www.jewishlibraries.org
Kang, S. (2012, March 19). Society for Personality and Social Psychology. Retrieved June 8,
2014, from Young Children Learn about Prejudice by Instruction, Older Children by
Experience: http://www.spsp.org
Oyler, C. (2011). Preparing Teachers of young children to be social justice-oriented educators.
Promoting Social Justice for Young Children .
Quale, M. (2012, April 25). The Huffington Post. Retrieved June 3, 2014, from Does the
Holocaust Matter to Today’s Kids?: http://www.huffingtonpost.com
Penn, S. (2013, June 27). The Jewish Link. Retrieved May 30, 2014, from When Should Kids
Learn about the Holocaust?: http://www.jewishlinkbc.com
Ponciano, L., & Shabazian, A. (2012). Interculturalism: Addressing Diversity in Early Childhood
Education. Dimensions of Early Childhood , 23-29.
Schweber, S. (2008). “What happened to their pets?”: Third Graders Encounter the Holocaust.
Teachers College Record , 2073-2115.
Rosner, S. (2014, April 28). Jewish Journal. Retrieved May 30, 2014, from Teaching Holocaust
in Kindergarten: Are we Ready to Normalize the Educational Process?:
http://www.jewishjournal.co

Classroom Activities

Classroom Unit Lessons
Lesson Day One
Lesson Plan: “What makes a good community?”
Lesson one serves as an introduction to communities and people living together for a common purpose
or goal. This is a lead into a later unit on diversity, differences, and the holocaust.
Objective: Students will listen to “On the Town” written by Judith Casely. After reading, students will
identify what a community are, different examples of a community, and how communities can be made
into a different or better place.
Materials:
Chalkboard/whiteboard/ large paper to write on
Markers
Poster board with “Our community” written in the middle
Tape
Exit Slip
Pencil
Crayons
Scissors
Plain white paper
Procedure:
1. Students will go to the carpet2. Teacher will explain that today we will be learning about communities and how we can make our
communities’ positive ones, or how to make them better
3. Teacher will then ask “who knows what a community is?” Allow a few students to answer.
4. If students have a hard time coming up with a definition, let students know that a community is a
group of people coming together for a common purpose. Explain to the students that they can be part
of more than one community.
5. Teacher will write community on the board and ask students what comes to your mind when you hear
the word community?
6. Record student’s responses on the board
7. Read “On the town” to the students
8. After reading the book ask and guide students to think about different kinds of communities
9. Upon wrapping up on the carpet ask students to give a thumbs up or thumbs down if they agree or
not as to what is a community and provide them examples (is this classroom a community? The school?
The 76ers?)
10. Allow students to return back to their seats
11. Have students trace their hand and cut out the hand.
12. In their hand ask students to draw what makes their community a special place or how they help to
keep their community a special place.
Lesson Day 2
“Identifying Differences”
Objective: Students will be able to categorize and sort different objects. Students will complete a graphic
organizer in which they classify animals based on their characteristics.
After completing the graphic organizer students will be asked to complete a worksheet where they will
be asked to consider their findings.
Materials:
Sorting worksheet (2)
Glue
Scissors
Index cards
Boxes (3) filled with assorted items
Procedure:
1. The teacher will show the students the box of objects that needs to be sorted. Each student should
have the chance to observe the objects in the box.
2. Students will be asked to return to their seats.
3. As students return to their seats teacher will hand each student an index card.
4. Students will be asked to write their name on their index card, and to make a prediction on how the
objects in the box will be categorized.
5. After allowing the students ample time, allow students to share their predictions.
6. The teacher will let students know the correct categories for sorting these objects.
7. The box of objects will then be dumped on the floor.
8. Each table will be called to the carpet one at a time for a chance to help sort the larger box of objects
into three smaller boxes.
9. After the objects are sorted, students will be given an organizer to complete at their seat. The
organizer has a section labeled “pets” “circus animals” and “wild animals”.
10. Students will also be given pictures of a variety of different animals. His or her job is to place each
animal in the appropriate category.
11. Students will hand in their finished organizer to the teacher for grading and for the teacher to ensure
that all students have gained an understanding of categorizing like items into different smaller
categories.
Lesson Day 3
Reading “Irena’s jar of secrets”
Objective: Students will be able to identify the main idea of “Irena’s Jar of secrets” by creating a classweb chart. Students will then illustrate the main idea and write 2 supporting details to describe their
illustration.
Materials:
“Irena’s Jar of secrets”
White paper (1) per student
Crayons
Pencils
Large piece of paper/chalkboard for main idea web
This book is an introduction to the holocaust geared towards younger children. The book talks about a
young girl who smuggled food and medicine into the concentration camps in an attempt to try and save
the lives of children. She also tried to take children into safety in hopes to later reunite them with their
family later in life. She put her own life at risk to help people under the rule of the Nazi’s and is today
considered a hero. This book is perfect for younger grades. Kindergarten students will have the ability to
gain a sense of what was going on during the days of the holocaust, yet still read and learn about good
people in the world that were willing to put themselves at risk to help someone else.
Procedure:
1. Start by an introduction discussion where the teacher explains that at this time some people were
held against their will based on the way they looked or what they believed in.
2. Allow students to ask questions, or tell a story about a time when they remember their differences
getting in the way of doing something that they wanted to do.
3. Are there any other examples of being treated unfairly that they remember in their own lives?
4. Teacher should be sensitive to questions and comments of the students and take the time to respond
to what they are saying, or writing down their responses to go back to later.
5. At the carpet, read “Irena’s jar of secrets” to the class.
6. Throughout the story, the teacher should stop and go over any words the young students may not
comprehend, or to allow them to make comments and connections.
7. After reading, make a class web chart with the students about details of the story.
8. Students should return to their seats and create an illustration of one key detail in the book and write
two supporting details about their illustration.
9. After finishing the students should return to the carpet and share their illustrations and details with
the rest of the class in order to get a better understanding of the text read earlier.
Lesson Day 4
“The crayon box that talked”
Objective: Students will be able to identify the importance of being unique and how differences make
the classroom, the school, and the community a better place.
Materials:
“The crayon box that talked” by Shane Rerolf”
White blank paper (2 sheets per student)
Crayons
Pencils
Procedure:
1. Students will begin the lesson at their desks. Each student will be given two blank pieces of white
paper.
2. Students will be asked to pick one crayon out of their box. The rest of the crayons will be put away for
now.
3. The teacher will allow the students approximately 5 minutes to draw a picture on the first piece of
paper. They are allowed to draw whatever they want, but may only use one crayon on their picture.
4. After 5 minutes, the students will be asked to take their crayons back out.
5. Students will be asked to take approximately five minutes on their second sheet of blank paper. This
time they may use as many colors as they would like.
6. After the 5 minutes is up, the teacher will ask all students to come to the carpet for a class discussion.
7. Teacher will guide a discussion about student drawings. Take time to ask student’s questions like
“Which drawing do you like better?” “Why?” “If you could only put one on a wall which would it be?”8. Encourage the students to see that the picture that is more colorful represents the classroom or any
other community. If we were all the same (like the first drawing), life would not be as beautiful as it is.
9. After the discussion, the teacher will read “The crayon box that talked” aloud to the students.
10. After reading, allow students to ask questions and make comments on the story.
11. Before concluding the lesson, as a class, the teacher will create a web chart displaying the main idea
of the story with student participation to ensure comprehension of the lesson.
Lesson Day 5
“Willie and Max and the Holocaust”
Objective: Students will be able to identify the main idea and supporting details of the text by making a
class chart. Students will then illustrate the main idea and use complete sentences to describe the main
idea and details that support the main idea.
Materials:
“Willie and Max and the Holocaust”
Plain paper (1 per student)
Pencil
Chalkboard or large paper to create class web chart
Crayons, markers, colored pencils
Because the Holocaust is suggested too difficult for young children to understand it is important
to give them a background history that is simple and easy to understand and to not terrify them with
details until they have a clear understanding of what the holocaust was, why it took place, and the
events that happened before, during, and after. Younger children tend to be more sensitive and do not
have the capacity to understand some of the more complex details and therefore books that talk about
the lives of children may make the transition into learning this topic a little easier to understand and
relate too. After reading this book about children during this time in history. Students will gain a better
understanding of this time in history and the events that occurred as well. In this children’s book, the
main character does not understand why his friend “disappeared”. She was actually taken to a
concentration camp, which the main character is not aware of.
Procedure:
1. Teacher will read the story to her students
2. Throughout the story teacher will stop and allow students to make connections, comments, and ask
questions as needed.
3. After completing the story, teacher will guide the students into making a class chart about the main
ideas and supporting details of the story.
4. Students will return to their seats and illustrate a supporting detail of the story.
5. Students will be asked to write three details to support their illustration.
6. The teacher will be available to help with writing and help students create their illustration as needed.
7. After students have completed their illustrations they will be asked to return to the carpet
8. Teacher will allow students to share their illustrations and their supporting details.
9. Teacher will encourage students to ask questions, make comments and continue conversation as it
pertains to the discussion of the holocaust in order to ensure that students have a proper understanding
of the topic.

Resources

Works Cited
Bunch, K., Canfield, M., & Scholer, B. (2005). Humanity in Action. Retrieved May 23, 2014,
from The Responsibility of Knowledge: Developing Holocaust Education for the Third
Generation: http://www.humanityinaction.org
Cohen, L. (2009). Exploring Cultural Heritage in a Kindergarten Classroom. Young Children ,
72-77.
Emmons, S. (2013, February 21). CNN. Retrieved June 2, 2014, from Is Media Violence
Damaging to Kids?: http://www.cnn.com
Jewish Libraries. (n.d.). Retrieved May 18, 2014, from Teaching the Holocaust through Picture
Books: http://www.jewishlibraries.org
Kang, S. (2012, March 19). Society for Personality and Social Psychology. Retrieved June 8,
2014, from Young Children Learn about Prejudice by Instruction, Older Children by
Experience: http://www.spsp.org
Oyler, C. (2011). Preparing Teachers of young children to be social justice-oriented educators.
Promoting Social Justice for Young Children .
Quale, M. (2012, April 25). The Huffington Post. Retrieved June 3, 2014, from Does the
Holocaust Matter to Today’s Kids?: http://www.huffingtonpost.com
Penn, S. (2013, June 27). The Jewish Link. Retrieved May 30, 2014, from When Should Kids
Learn about the Holocaust?: http://www.jewishlinkbc.com
Ponciano, L., & Shabazian, A. (2012). Interculturalism: Addressing Diversity in Early Childhood
Education. Dimensions of Early Childhood , 23-29.
Schweber, S. (2008). “What happened to their pets?”: Third Graders Encounter the Holocaust.
Teachers College Record , 2073-2115.
Rosner, S. (2014, April 28). Jewish Journal. Retrieved May 30, 2014, from Teaching Holocaust
in Kindergarten: Are we Ready to Normalize the Educational Process?:

Homepage

Teacher Resources
http://www.teacherplanet.com/resource/tolerance.php
http://www.kidpointz.com/parenting-articles/preschool-kindergarten/social/view/teaching-toleranceearly
http://www.scholastic.com/parents/resources/article/social-emotional-skills/teaching-tolerance
http://www.goodcharacter.com/TeacherResources.html
Student Resources
http://www.uen.org/Lessonplan/preview?LPid=10572
http://www.theleaderinme.org/resources/student-activity-guides
http://www.abcya.com/take_a_trip.htm

Appendix

Standards
7.3.1: Describe how individuals are unique and special
7.3.1: Compare and contrast customs of families in communities around the world
1.1.3: Describe pictures in detail using sentences
1.1.4: Restate main ideas and important details from a story
1.1.4: Draw connections between story events, personal experiences, and other books
1.3.3: Respond to questions and/or initiate conversations about main characters, setting, events or plot
of a story
1.6.1: Initiate and respond appropriately to conversations and discussions
25.2.1: Understand the consequences of own behavior and its impact on others
25.4.1: Participate in cooperative large group activities with adult guidance
25.4.2: Respect and understand others’ differences in comparison to self