Everyone accepts that there is a generation of school children whose lives have been affected by the pandemic. Whether it is a lack of socialisation, negative impact on their learning progression, mental health issues arising from the uncertainty and insecurity driven by the pandemic, there are a lot of challenges to overcome. In wider society, we see increasing inequality, political and philosophical polarisation and a refusal to engage across the divide. Given these it is becoming increasingly important that we teach them to engage with empathy.
Radical empathy encourages people to actively consider another person’s point of view, even in the fact of strong disagreement, in order to connect with them on a deeper level. That connection is a fundamental element of building a strong social fabric. The recent controversy in Batley regarding the use of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed shows how badly things can escalate when there isn’t proper engagement and understanding between parties about meaning, intent and process.
While the school has apologised for the use of offensive cartoons in a religious studies lesson, a deeper understanding of the context – both the offence taken by the community and the intentions of the teacher, need to be considered. While the Department of Education issued a statement condemning the protests, doing so without addressing the concerns of the community only serves to build greater rifts between groups. People should be allowed to protest, but other people should also be allowed free speech. That is a hard line to walk in a country that is becoming increasingly divided. The scars of Windrush, Islamophobia, Brexit and the rise of anti-immigrant rhetoric are damaging within schools but also within the fabric of our society.
The recent publication of the UK’s recent report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities has only complicated matters, with a report that suggested that Britain is not structurally and institutionally racist, despite much empirical evidence to the contrary. The report caused an uproar but the findings were not that Britons could not be racist, but that the structural problems society faces are not necessarily racist. What the report does say however is that there are impediments and disparities but that ‘ironically very few of them are directly to do with racism’.
For some this is proof of a post-racist Britain, for others proof that the status quo always wins out. What’s interesting though is the idea that it might be issues of education, health, language, religion, culture, that are both helping and hindering in how they play out. These may be interwoven with race in a number of ways but taking a new approach may provide new opportunities to change outcomes. The report says, “The evidence shows that geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion have more significant impact on life chances than the existence of racism.” That means that we need to find new ways of talking to each other across a number of different divides.
In order to effectively drive systemic cultural change we need to find new ways of opening debate about debate about the challenges faced within the system. That means engagement with opinions across the spectrum and the use of radical empathy to inform that engagement. One of the ways in which we can encourage this is the use of tools that provide an opening for discussion and the beginning of a more significant debate about how we embed fairness, empathy and understanding within our society.
As part of that process, Learn2Think is donating free copies of a book which helps to promote understanding across religious differences, by getting the conversation going within the curriculum. ‘Journey to the Beginning of the World’ is aimed at children aged 6-10 and explains a range of beliefs that people have about how the world was made, and that that is ok. For younger children there is another book available called ‘the IKADOOS and the Making of Planet IK’ which provides the same message in a highly colourful and fun way. If you’re interested in receiving free copies you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org" email@example.com.
This article first appeared in the April 2021 edition of Education Today www.education-today.co.uk