Not too long ago, one of our lessons was based on creating our perfect world. I asked the children what their perfect world would be like, and we came up with strategies to help us make that happen. Their ideas were perfectly plausible, the product of innocent naivety. Common sense ideas to reduce the cons of this planet, the antidote to the daily headlines. They were kind, thoughtful and very considerate.
So I ask you the same question. What's your perfect world, and how would you make it happen?
This modern age is full of ignorance; gender stereotypes, lack of religious understanding, racism, homophobia, greed, abuse of all types; overarching labels, with no real relevance, attached to groups of people we're too ignorant to get to know personally. Ignorance is the main fuel of conflict; the internal combustion of our own kind. Yet here, in my school, I work with the most open minds available. So at what point does that change? At what point do we rely on labels as a get-out clause for laziness, unaware of the deeper messages this transmits?
Recently, I took myself off to some free Professional Development, provided by the University of Greenwich in conjunction with Shaun Dellenty, Founder of Inclusion for All and recent receiver of the 'Mayor's Highest Civic Honour' and 'Point of Light Status' award from the Prime Minister. His work is predominantly around tackling LGBT+ issues within education, but all of his strategies can be used to prevent all types of discrimination; a break-down of labels.
He has stories of horrific discrimination at all stages of life. My own misunderstanding appeared when he told a tale of the Crouch family, who lost their son to suicide; not because he identified himself as one of these labels and was being teased, but because others forced these labels on him and he couldn't take it anymore; being continuously taunted for something he never was, and the misplaced shame attached to belonging to that group. I'd not considered the impact of language on someone that wouldn't relate with it in the first place.
The power of the bully is overwhelming. But the power of society is stronger.
As establishments for education, we are legally obligated to care for the well-being of ALL learners. Furthermore, as a race of human beings, we are morally required to support the emotional and physical health of each other, if we are to ensure longevity; a prosperous existence, strengthening each generation in readiness for the next. To do anything else would be counterproductive. It's not necessarily accepting someone's differences, by way of agreement, but acknowledging their differences as a part of what makes them a unique human, like you; promoting their right to live and learn - just like you do - by giving no reason to break attendance or feel distracted by outside influences, taking away from the teaching of basic skills for life.
You might not understand this person's life, or how their culture operates, but that's not a reason to hate them. Let them be.
Show strength through your ability to allow others to be their authentic selves, rather than weakness by joining a band of desperate pessimists, intent on unravelling those brave enough to support people, struggling with their identity, based on the superficial use of stereotypes they feel like they need to fulfil.
Your gender, the colour of your skin, your orientation, your religion, country of origin...the list goes on. Even within those categories, there are tangents; family set-up, hair and eye colour, taste in music, types of clothes... We can keep going. It gets to a point where the venn diagram looks like an elegantly drawn Spirograph (remember those?); it's possible to break each category down so much, that we end up with groups of one.
So how about we use just one label; your name.
How about we refer to just one group, the only group we have in common; human beings.
Dear Bully; your misplaced dislike of these glorious people isn't their fault. It's your own arrogant refusal to be educated - an apparent preference for gruesome headlines that cause my young people great concern.
Walk into any classroom and you'll find this huge variety of backgrounds sat around a table; human beings, each with a name. They might be discussing some incredible music they've just heard, or debating a moral dilemma. They might be sharing the religious festival they attended, or a funny family story. They might be helping each other solve a problem, or laughing at their teacher's terrible drawing...
One day, in many years, that table might be replaced with a pub bar, or train carriage. Office desk or queue at the bank. They'll still be laughing.
Bully, you won't win. Our young people are smarter than you.
Let's continue to teach our children to celebrate difference, as a way to learn more about each other, to break down stereotypes and be more inclusive of everyone. If not for now, then for the future. Show compassion. It's the only way this population will survive; All Inc.