Children are never too young to learn about respect, tolerance and diversity

The England men’s football team booed by their own fans ahead of a major international tournament for ‘taking the knee’. A cricketer’s exceptional Test debut performance completely overshadowed by news of offensive tweets sent years ago. Two sports stories from this week. Both attracted banner headlines; both have provoked impassioned and often bad-tempered debate. Whatever our views on these particular stories, we can perhaps agree that they provide yet more evidence of what was described in a previous blog on this website, in relation to events following the murder of Sarah Everard, as “a nation ill at ease with itself”. Education on its own will not miraculously solve society’s deep-rooted problems, but schools can play their part. By teaching children from a young age about tolerance, dignity and respect, and by recognising and celebrating diversity and difference, we can help tackle racism and other scourges such as Islamophobia, sexism and homophobia.

That racism — and prejudice and bigotry more generally — is abhorrent and deeply corrosive in its impact on individuals and communities alike is undeniable. Many people would also argue that racist attitudes and practices remain an endemic feature of British society today. Even the recently published report by the government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities — widely ridiculed though it was — said that racism is “a real force in the UK”.

We know that racism blights the lives of many children and young people. BBC News reported in January 2020 that there were 496 temporary exclusions for racism from primary schools in the academic year 2017–18, a rise of 40% on 2006–07.

Meanwhile, a poll of 1,000 children in September 2020, commissioned by The Diana Award, a youth charity named after the former Princess of Wales, and the Nationwide building society, found that a third of children have heard someone being racist at school and that children are most likely to have experienced racism by the age of 13.

According to the Guardian, this research also showed that despite “widespread experiences of racism in schools — and the poll finding that three-quarters of parents said they believed racism was a problem online — many parents are still not speaking to their children about racism”.

What is the right age to start teaching children about race and diversity? This is the question posed by Wa’qaar A Mirza in his excellent online article Cultural diversity: Why primary schools need to be teaching diversity and tolerance as early as possible. The answer is, he says, as soon as possible.

As soon as children start to become aware of cultural differences (and before they are exposed to negative stereotypes) we should be appropriately educating them on the importance of cultural diversity.

This will give them a well-rounded and balanced view on ethnicities, cultures, skin colours and more, meaning they’ll have counter-arguments against racism from the get-go.

Wa’qaar A Mirza, from Cultural diversity: Why primary schools need to be teaching diversity and tolerance as early as possible

He points out that, for one reason or another, many children will simply not have the opportunity to learn about cultural diversity at home; some, sadly, we know will grow up in an environment poisoned by racist language, stereotypes and attitudes.

He also highlights the importance for effective learning of creating an inclusive classroom environment where everyone feels comfortable and equal. We have discussed on this Forum the importance for learning of a positive dynamic between teacher and pupils: “Progress in learning depends on children feeling safe, welcomed and valued by the teacher.” We have also blogged about the ‘brain-targeted teaching’ approach developed by Dr Mariale Hardiman at Johns Hopkins University. Its six targets include paying careful attention to the emotional climate for learning and the physical learning space.

Strong, vibrant and closely-knit communities benefit us all. In our blog People want to see a closer, more connected society, says report we cited a poll finding that 73% of people would like society to be closer and more connected in the future. One of the ten changes that the report says people want to see is “a new, country-wide moment [sic] that celebrates communities and what we have in common.”

Life-based learning is made up of nine learning themes grouped into three life areas. One of those life areas is Society. Its focus is on how we build healthy, lasting relationships and stable, inclusive communities.

More About Community, Society and Nation

The image at the head of this article is taken from The Guardian website here and is credited to Michael Regan – The FA/The FA/Getty Images

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