Ignoring racism will never work;Letter

19th March 1999 at 00:00
Your front-page story on racism and schools (TES, February 26) reported Peter Smith, of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, as saying: "It is too easy to be politically correct without facing teachers' pressures. As important as racism is, if teachers had to put every social concern first, eight days a week, 25 hours a day wouldn't be enough."

To reduce the problem of racism in institutions like schools to a matter of political correctness and teacher workload is bordering on the ludicrous. It is a view that only someone who has not experienced racism could hold.

Although children spend significant amounts of their time at school it is true that the job of tackling racism is not just for teachers. However, it is just as true that schools have a crucial role to play. The problem is that a number of headteachers and teachers consider racism to be merely a form of bullying. Being called a "wog" or "Paki", therefore, is similar to being called "fatty" or "four-eyes". Again only a person who has not experienced racism would not see the difference.

The Macpherson report has held a mirror up to our society, which includes schools. Education is probably the key mechanism by which inappropriate attitudes may be challenged and ultimately changed.

Obviously, altering attitudes is a long-term endeavour and everyone has to play their part. Merely to make excuses, or worse still, ignoring the problem will get us nowhere.

Not for the first time I had a graphic reminder of people ignoring the problem. On the day after the Macpherson report was published, I was travelling back from London on the train. Two young men were discussing the Lawrence case and talking about "wogs". They did not appreciate my intervention when I objected to their language. And what did everyone else in the carriage do? They buried their faces deeper into their newspapers which they had been reading avidly - about the Macpherson Report, of course.

Sohail Faruqi

Director of education City of Plymouth Devon

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