Fat lot of fun

13th December 1996 at 00:00
The Essex traveller education service recently ordered a set of Spelling Made Easy books, published by Egon, but returned them as unsuitable when we realised that one of the characters, Fat Sam, had attributed to him a string of negative statements. This was in contrast to Thin Jim, who was eternally successful.

We felt that the negative messages about being fat would be harmful and upsetting to some pupils who are overweight and give rise to confirming negative stereotyping by other pupils.

When returning the books, we included a note to explain our reasons. To my surprise and professional concern a reply from the publishers, Egon Publishers Ltd, informed us that 10,000 primary schools use the books and in 12 years only "four remarks about so-called negative stereotyping" had been received. The managing director, John Street, also states "it is regrettable that your extreme 'political correctness' is allowed to stifle a very successful and fun learning process for children".

I don't think this can be much "fun" for children, pupils, students or teachers who are overweight and I do not believe concern for people's feelings can be dismissed as "extreme political correctness".

I would be interested to hear from any colleagues who share our views about the statements of Fat Sam in this series, and the negative stereotyping that they encourage towards "fat" people, leading to the sort of learned attitudes that result in name-calling and bullying.

JACKIE NESBITT Head of Essex traveller education, Alec Hunter High School, Stubbs Lane, Braintree, Essex

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