One of the great and worthy challenges for schools is to tackle the continuing prejudice that exists in society. This battle is not one of encouraging children to look beyond differences that can be in religion, skin colour, ethnicity or gender. The real fight is to ensure that children do not notice the differences in the first instance. To children, the recognisable differences between people should be in their personalities, behaviours and outlooks, and this diversity is to be celebrated. Schools spend huge amounts of time and effort in instilling principles of acceptance and harmony in their children. We deliver assemblies on such issues, build ideas and resources into our schemes of work and we tackle incidents when they occur – and sadly, they do in every school from time to time.
Children are not born with these prejudices. I remember my eldest daughter coming home from her first week of reception school and saying that her friend, Bursey, was different to her. I asked why. My daughter replied, “because she has curly hair and I have straight hair.” I was relieved and delighted that she had not mentioned her skin colour and they soon became best friends. The only reason that prejudice continues to exist in society is because adults promote it, and it is their influence that can be embedded in children who are sponges for the environment around them. As parents and schools, we work hard to protect our children from these negative influences and it is this that makes the news this week so demoralising.
Prejudice in the UK has taken on a new form. The organisation Britain First could barely raise one hundred members to a racist rally; gone are the days of street violence and marching. However, this week their prejudice has gained world-wide attention due to the power of the internet. Their video, which they claim depicts a migrant Muslim attacking a white young Dutchman on crutches, was factually incorrect and designed to spread racial hatred. In fact, while the crime was evident and grievous, it was committed by a native Dutchman, rather than a migrant. It was a succession of extreme right-wing groups who retitled and re-posted the images to create this fake news. What is most disturbing, is that the American President retweeted this video to his 40 million followers which only endorses these stereotypes and racist views. Our children have been increasingly exposed to these ideas because of the tweets and publicity raised, and this makes our job as parents and educators all the more difficult because any air time gives credence to such views and becomes a part of our children’s environment. Trump showed a callous disregard for real news and scant regard for what real leadership is. We should expect far more of our leaders than to pedal such nonsense when there are real issues in the world that require thought, cooperation and unity.
Despite the setback of this week, the world that our children will live in as adults has more freedom, acceptance and tolerance than any previous generation will have had, and this is little more than a blip on the march of progress. We just need to be aware of the challenges we face and good people must not stay quiet for the sake of our children.