As a country the UK may pride itself on a belief in the rule of law, the right to freedom of expression but in the end, without visible support from society as a whole, from law-makers, the media, the educational system, people can still come under attack. Visibility is the only way to ensure that a subject is part of society’s debate – such as the mental health of children.
The US offers an object lesson in the importance of visibility. Within hours of taking office, the Trump Administration removed all mention of work on climate change and on the work being done with the LGBT community from the White House site. By removing information about topics and people, the administration seems to be moving down a path of controlling the flow of information – and without being able to find data and facts, the power of emotion and rhetoric comes to the forefront.
One thing that perhaps we should be grateful for about 2016 is that a new visibility was given to many groups in society that many of our children may not be exposed to regularly. The Women’s March following Trump’s ascension to the Presidency saw women and men around the world march together to defend a number of rights and freedoms that many see as under attack by the far right: reproductive rights, the rights of immigrants and the disabled, the list goes on. The march was about the importance of tolerance, inclusion and individual rights.
It’s critical our children learn the importance of difference and inclusion, rather than fearing that which they do not know or understand, that which their families consider alient or wrong. Being a productive member of society means working together to create a better world for us all to live in. Whether or not your own school has a diverse set of pupils is almost not the point – the wider world we live in is made up of a multiplicity of colours, genders, ability, politics and faith. This means that schools must equip their pupils with the attitudes and understanding that enables them to fulfil their potential in a complex and ever-changing world.
Children must learn that just because they’re told something, it doesn’t make it right or true. They must learn the difference between information and fact; between knowledge and opinion. To accept that others may be different from them and that doesn’t give them the right to judge.
In order for that to happen, we must keep all kinds of people visible – whether it’s in history, English, maths, RE or any other curriculum subject. It’s not something that should be kept in the silos of SMSC or PHSE, but be integral to teaching across the curriculum. If we can model talking about difference, and learn to celebrate diversity, we can help our children start learning to think about questions and make decisions for themselves.
Using maths to raise visibility of difference:
A highly practical step a school can take, whether they have high levels of cultural diversity or not, is to carry out a survey of the differences in either individual classes, the year group, or the whole school.
Lesson plans from The Learn2Think Foundation (available free on the Tolerance Day website www.toleranceday.org) follow the statistics requirement of the national curriculum.
This article first appeared in the February issue of Education Today