Don't link a religion to an act of terrorism

16th March 2007 at 00:00
Cultivating tolerance in school is more important than addressing the events of September 11, 2001 directly, British teachers believe.

Dame Yasmin Bevan, head of Denbigh high in Luton, did discuss the attacks with her pupils, of whom more than 50 per centare Muslim. "It would have been quite easy to pretend it hadn't happened because it's so potentially controversial," she said. "But giving students the chance to discuss it in lessons meant they were doing it as part of a planned programme."

Such discussions are vital, she said, to foster tolerance: "It's about making sure you've got a good programme of citizenship, where students can explore issues in a safe environment," she said.

Tony Rickwood, head of Parkside school in Bradford, believes citizenship discussions should be relevant to pupils. He uses the longstanding antipathy between Yorkshire and Lancashire residents to discuss intolerance.

"Not all people from a particular faith or background are the same," he said. "We're trying to enhance people's awareness of the variety of behaviours and attitudes. We don't want to link acts of terrorism with a particular religion."

Tolerance is just as vital in schools with few minority pupils. John Maltby, head of citizenship at Darton high in Barnsley, where most pupils are white, said: "A lot of our pupils are prejudiced in many ways. They're very insular. They believe what their parents tell them or what they read in The Sun. We try to make them think critically."

Dame Yasmin insists that schools should not forget that pupils often have more pressing concerns. "Too often we just see our pupils as Muslim youngsters," she said. "But they're just young people. Most of their concerns are about being an adolescent."

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