No more fretting about sectarianism

17th July 2009 at 01:00
Stirling primaries have been using Guitar Hero to ease religious tensions

An 11-year-old girl pounds the drums with gusto, while classmates sing and strum in unison. On a big screen, their alter egos - spindly, leather-clad figures, the lead singer sporting a towering, fluorescent Mohican - are in action.

It's a scene familiar to anyone who has played Guitar Hero, but few will have used it to combat sectarianism.

That's the aim of a project in the former mining village of Cowie, near Stirling, which has both a Catholic and a non-denominational school.

P6 pupils from St Margaret's and Cowie primaries have been coming together to form four-piece bands. They practise performing famous rock songs, then change the lyrics to create their own anthems of tolerance and togetherness.

The project culminated last month with a "battle of the bands", which was attended by parents from both schools.

Catherine Devlin, head of St Margaret's, explained that it's not so much sectarianism, but football that's a "huge, huge issue" in the village. On the last day of the Scottish Premier League, when both Celtic and Rangers had a chance of becoming champions, there was a brouhaha after Rangers regalia was tied to Cowie's Catholic church.

Children at the two schools have been exploring the antipathy that fuels such actions in their lyrics. For example, Flames of Fire sang Stop It! to Survivor's Eye of the Tiger, with the opening lines: "Football and religion went madRangers and Celtic were rivalsThey became the main part of it allThey don't care about others' beliefs."

Meanwhile, the Cowie Stars turned Wham's Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go into a plea for adults to grow up, and Queen's We Will Rock You became a defiant riposte to intolerance in the hands of the Funky Monkeys: "We will, we will, stop it!"

Some bands even came up with original compositions, such as the Fire Falcons' Sectarianism Rap.

Mrs Devlin said bringing the two sets of children together to make music was not enough in itself, but the "huge fun element" of Guitar Hero had acted as a spark.

In their own classes, the pupils have been involved in inter-disciplinary literacy work covering sectarianism and racism. Tabloid front pages are stuck on classroom walls as a stimulus to discussion.

Should Celtic goalkeeper Artur Boruc have crossed himself during a game against Rangers? Was Donald Findlay QC, the former Rangers vice-chair, right to argue that free speech laws allow the singing of the so-called Famine Song ("The famine's over, why don't you go home?")?

As well as newspaper cuttings, the walls are packed with evidence that the project spills over into many areas of learning. There are entertaining back stories about the bands, and drawings of band members looking like David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust era.

The Theresa Breslin book Divided City, about friendship across religious divides in Glasgow, has prompted research at St Margaret's into the city's accents and dialects. A large map on the wall shows important Glasgow landmarks, including Parkhead and Ibrox.

Pupils have also written powerful diary entries from the point of view of an asylum-seeker falling victim to a racist attack. "My head is spinning with confusion," writes one. Another describes taunts of "asylum scum".

Alison Cassidy, a teacher at St Margaret's, initially feared Guitar Hero practice would distract her pupils. In fact, they have worked diligently on other parts of the project and paid little heed to classmates rehearsing elsewhere.

The project has built on previous games-based learning and joint work between the schools: Nintendo Wii's Endless Ocean was used to introduce pupils to underwater wildlife, while a successful football tournament involved mixed teams.

Audrey Ross, head of Cowie, plays down the schools' innovation, saying she read about Aberdeenshire games-based learning in The TESS, and that anti- sectarianism work in Glasgow was also an influence. But she admits it is unusual to combine the two.

"I didn't know sectarianism was bad words," said Hayley Horne (or "DJ Horne", as she is known to her band, Cowie Stars), 11, of St Margaret's.

"I didn't really know racism was the colour of your skin," she added, although her fears that asylum-seekers might be terrorists have not yet been fully assuaged.

Ross Allan (or "Doc Rock"), 10, of Cowie Primary, said: "Sectarianism means Catholics and Protestants making a fool of parts of the other religion. It's teaching you not to do it, because a lot of folk in Cowie probably do it."

Robbie Forshew (or "Junior"), 10, of St Margaret's, who co-composed the Sectarianism Rap, enthused that the best bit of the project was seeing inside Cowie Primary.

"I didn't know what sectarianism meant at first," he said. "If I heard it, I would probably think it was a type of food or something."

WELCOME TO THE HOTEL COWIE-FORNIA

The winning song, by Ring of Fire (left), was Streets of Cowie, Stirling, sung to the tune of Hotel California by The Eagles:

"On a dark night in Cowie,

Cool wind in my hair

Warm smells of sectarianism Rising through the air.

Up ahead in the distance,

I saw a terrible sight

Two groups of hooligans,

Having a fight.

There they stood in the alleyway

I heard the alarm bell

And I was thinking to myself

"This is not heaven, this must be hell"

Then I ran up to see them

They shoved me away

There were voices in the street

I thought I heard them say .

"Welcome to the streets of Cowie, Stirling

Could be a peaceful place (such a peaceful place)

Such a peaceful place

Plenty of ways to be friends in Cowie, Stirling

Any team you like (any team you like)

You can support it here".

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