The character has a number of lesson plans associated with her. For KS1, an exploration of different types of families - each one unique and special - teaches that all families are groups of people who care for each other.
For KS2 there are two options: an exploration of how laws change over time to reflect changes in society, with particular reference to the criminalisation of gay men until the law was changed in 1967; another addresses the issue of homophobic bullying, and explores different kinds of families.
The lessons are clearly set within such contexts to assist teachers, who can be anxious about the reactions of parents. The ‘school gate’ community can be a powerful lobby, and head/teachers (who are rightly, in many respects, mindful of parents’ views) are often risk averse.
Marguerite Heath, Programmes Director - Go-Givers & Primary at the Citizenship Foundation says, “When I first started teaching, teachers tended to avoid tackling race issues for similar reasons. I think teachers need a lot of help and support when challenging issues on the edge of the cultural comfort zone. They are tested in so many ways these days! However, we cannot let prejudices get in the way of children’s wellbeing or learning.”
Yet the challenges our children face, and the world they will experience when they leave school, are very different from even ten years ago. Educators are responsible for ensuring that the boundaries of comfort are being pushed in order to ensure that children are equipped with the knowledge and tools to help them face the changing world we live in. That means that we need not just resources but also role models, ones that promote the visibility of people, of careers, and of opportunities that individual children may not have considered.
Role models don’t just matter because they provide children with real world reflections of who they are, but they can also open up their perspectives to a world of possibilities. Searching for role models from different backgrounds can prove powerful images encouraging children to explore new avenues for learning.
It is widely accepted within the UK that there are a lack of engineers and technology experts, and there is a lack of STEM students. This is a challenge that must be tackled, and one approach might be to explore different role models and how they can play into developing children’s expectations.
The Guardian, for example, marked LGBT History Month with an internal poster campaign run by the Digital Department. Susie Colman, Anne Byrne and Frank Hulley-Jones put together series of images which featured LGBT role models from the world of tech in order to encourage a wide range of people to explore the possibilities of the tech world.
Susie says, “We need to be proactive if we’re going to change the tech industry and for many within the LGBT community, we don’t have role models outside entertainment.” One of the posters celebrates Lynn Conway, an American computer scientist, electrical engineer, inventor, and transgender activist. She is also a famed pioneer of microelectronics chip design who once said, “If you want to change the future, start living as if you’re already there.” While the Guardian campaign was aimed at educating adults, like most topics we need to start the conversation with our children when they are young enough to be open and flexibly minded.
If we are to support children’s understanding of changes already taking place within civil society, as educators we need to look beyond what makes us comfortable and address uncomfortable new frontiers.
This article first appeared in the April issue of Education Today