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Pupils' 'trial' airs race issues

Some think the singer Michael Jackson is ashamed of being black because he has attempted to change the way he looks. Others believe it doesn't matter because "we know he is still a black guy".

Pupils at a Leeds comprehensive school have put the pop star on trial in an attempt to explore and understand the reasons for racial harassment. They have created a classroom court complete with defence, prosecution, judge and jury to debate the way they feel about Mr Jackson's handling of his image.

The "trial" is one of several discussions featuring people from Lawnswood Comprehensive, Leeds, which have been put on video as part of a new teaching pack designed to help young people tackle racial harassment in and out of school. Face to Face, launched this week by Leeds Racial Harassment Project, is being circulated in the city's schools and will be available to LEAs nationwide.

Harvinder Saimbhi, project co-ordinator, said that debating Michael Jackson's attempts to change his appearance by lightening the colour of his skin proved to be an effective way of looking at racial prejudice.

"The subject came up accidentally. The children brought it up when we were discussing positive role models - positive from the point of view of his music and achievement. One child said it was insulting to black people that he tried to change the way he looked, another said it may have been because he grew up in a racist community."

The teaching pack was prepared in association with the production company Bikeshed, because there was little up-to-date material covering racial harrasment, said Ms Saimbhi. "We wanted to do something unique that can be used in any lesson. We move into the subject by beginning with other 'isms' such as sexism and prejudice against people with disabilities. We were surprised by the way the children seem to have no problems talking about racism. If they didn't want to take part they weren't made to feel out of it.

"The children supported each other. They discovered what each other thought about racism and were sometimes surprised by each other's reactions to situations. ."

The package cost Pounds 20,000 to develop and includes a video and resource book with recommended activities and samples of written work, including poetry from Lawnswood pupils.

For more details about Face to Face, write to Leeds Racial Harassment Project, Dysons Buildings, Bushingthorpe Lane, Leeds LS7 2DB.

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