Should teachers challenge rising intolerance?

In the week of Donald Trump's UK visit, Sarah Simons wonders what happened to equality, and reflects that it's a teacher's role to take on the haters

Spreading intolerance has left one teacher feeling increasingly helpless

How will we look back at this time in history? It definitely feels like we’re going through something doesn't it? As though the earth has tilted ever so slightly off balance and without realising, we’ve slipped from light into shade.

I don't know if I feel it more this week because Trump’s been here, plodding round with his 1980s-Cast-of-Dynasty family, saluting anything that stands still, stinking the country up with his overpowering reek of fascist lunacy. Oh and he was glued to the Queen wasn't he?

Probably thought he’d catch dignity if he stood next to her long enough. The poor old bird’s 93 and they still made her get dragged up in her crown and going-out-frock for that arsewipe? I hope she had a brick in that handbag, just in case.


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The rise of intolerance

To me, Donald Trump is the poster boy for the rise of intolerance, inequality and the general feeling that the good guys have lost. This feeling of oppressed panic wasn't calmed by binge watching of When They See Us, a drama based on real-life events. It tells the story of five boys, between the ages of 14 and 16, who in 1989 were wrongly convicted of the monstrous rape of a woman jogging in New York’s Central Park.

The boys were interrogated by the police for hours on end, confused and coerced into confessions. Despite there being no physical evidence whatsoever and a solid case to demonstrate that the boys were being scapegoated for being young, male and black, they were convicted. They spent between seven and 13 years in prison, before being exonerated in 2002.

In the middle of this, real life footage is shown of Donald Trump, then a New York property tycoon, calling for the boys’ execution. He spent $85,000 to place full page adverts in the four biggest New York newspapers calling for the death penalty for the children, who were just at the wrong place, at the wrong time, with seemingly the wrong amount of melanin in their skin.

Equality is getting a kicking 

What I felt when I watched that TV programme was the sickening privilege that my white skin gives me. I know that white privilege exists, of course I do, but it’s rare to actually feel it. With a son the same age as those boys, I imagined how the mothers felt. How do you go about protecting your baby from the scariest things in the world when they are targeted just because they exist? How might those mothers feel now that the man who wanted their babies dead, is president? What does that fact say about humanity?

It’s an extraordinary piece of television that resonates with the upsurge in enthusiasm for inequality. I feel like equality is getting a kicking from all angles at the moment, not just demonstrated by America’s desperately frightening regression of human rights in their many forms, but closer to home too.

We saw it in the mobs of homophobes gathered outside primary schools in Birmingham getting all narked off about children learning that a range of families exist. Tory leadership candidate Esther McVey gave her validation of it saying, “Parents know best for their children.” Not sure they always do, Esther. Especially if they're just effin' wrong. Then Brexit Party MEP Ann Widdecombe jumped on the bandwagon, suggesting that science could "produce an answer" to being gay. The nerve of it after she got her brief PR renaissance off the sequinned back of Strictly Come Dancing.

'I feel helpless'

I'm worried. What’s going on that somehow, in this new normal, it’s OK for hordes of idiots to retch their homophobic hate in the street and be supported by elected officials?

The thing is, I don't know what to do about it. I feel helpless. I get cross on Twitter, I share news articles that unpick the problems, but what good does that do? It’s not enough. It’s not even really a start – it just states my position.

As a better man, a better president, said in the good old days of 2012: “The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression; it is more speech.” 

The only viable thing I can do is to challenge those who trip out any version of hate-filled discriminatory views. To have open conversations about what has led them to feel that way. To ask why. As a teacher, it’s surely my responsibility to so do.

Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands and is the director of UKFEchat. She tweets @MrsSarahSimons

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