Faiths must take on racism

9th May 2003 at 01:00
ON a recent Sunday programme on Radio 4, it was suggested that some parents might be sending children to Catholic schools to avoid having them educated with non-white children.

But faith schools need not contribute to racism. Heads and governors can take action. I understand many schools in Oldham already have.

First, a school should have a clear policy of respecting and celebrating the diversity of its pupils. This enables pupils to feel confident in the validity of their own religious traditions while learning about others.

Diversity exists within faiths: the Catholic world, for example, contains people from many cultures, such as Irish, Arab, African, and Latin-American.

Second, staff should be trained to recognise and challenge intolerance when it appears, and reinforce the message that diversity is an asset in a group of individuals. This is beyond race: it is about respecting and valuing the perspectives of others. The beginning of respectful listening to those of different faiths is to listen repeatedly to our immediate family member, neighbour, colleague, classmate or pupil.

Third, local faith schools, for example Catholic and Muslim schools, should hold common in-service training days. Such schools have a lot in common.

For example, how does a school fit in religious education and the national curriculum within the time constraints of a school day? Fourth, joint activities between pupils in different faith schools will help them understand each other. Joint staff days will generate ideas for such projects.

My children went to a Jewish primary and became confident and well-versed in their own tradition. It let them get on with growing up without having to wrestle with the disconcerting experience of teachers telling them some "truth" contrary to the belief of their parents.

It has enabled them to enjoy learning about other faiths after they gained maturity. They are now comfortable in their acceptance of difference within and between faith communities.

Leonora Samuel 32 Haslemere Avenue Hendon, London NW4

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