A lesson in tolerance

14th September 2001 at 01:00
The dreadful events in America this week touch all of us. Our hearts go out to those who lost loved ones, friends and colleagues. On a professional level, British teachers will empathise with the task their American colleagues face dealing with the questions and fears of millions of children, many of whom must be feeling deeply traumatised and confused. In New York and Washington, where thousands have been bereaved, the task will be harder still.

Much has already been written about the political consequences, for the United States and the rest of the world, of this act of terrorism. But for multi-cultural Britain, and for the schools which do so much to glue it together, there are important lessons.

In the search for the culprits we must not seek to demonise the Muslim world. There is a real danger of Islamophobia taking hold which could cause irreparable damage to race relations. Schools play an important role - through assemblies and in the classroom - in driving home the message that cultural diversity and mutual tolerance are essential to any civilised society.

If we are to achieve the inclusive Britain Tony Blair says he wants, we must also do more to encourage ethnic minorities to play a full part in the life of the country. This must include more to help black and Asian children, many of whom still underachieve at school and struggle to find good jobs.

We also need to help young black and Asian professionals, especially teachers many of whom, a new study suggests, are missing out on promotion (page 3). More needs to be done to attract the brightest and best from our minority communities into the profession. Once there they must be allowed to flourish. Positive strategies, such as the successful after-school "preparation for teaching" course run for Asian sixth formers at Belle Vue girls' school in Bradford, should be encouraged. In this tragic week, we should be doing all we can to demonstrate that everyone has a stake in our common society. A good place to start is in our common schools.

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