Fat people are lazy. Old people are past it. Travelling people are messy. These stereotype statements, so casually spoken by some in our society, seem all the more shocking when seen in black and white. So should they have a place in the primary school classroom?
Yes, says Wilma Gillanders, author of Grampian Police's pioneering Learning for Life and Police Box teaching resources, but only within the context of a structured learning situation that challenges prejudice and reveals how it thrives in unquestioning minds.
Children aged 10-13 encounter such statements as part of an interactive lesson on the latest Learning for Life CD-Rom and they are asked to agree or disagree. Selecting "Agree" prompts an immediate cry of "Stereotype! Stereotype!", which reinforces our susceptibility to stereotyping others without really thinking about it.
Diversity and harmony, subdivided to cover anti-social behaviour and cultural acceptance, are the subjects of the third volume in the CD-Rom programme and the accompanying Police Box cards, launched this month.
Learning for Life developed from, and is complemented by, the Police Box of colour-coded, double sided cards introduced by Grampian Police in the late 1990s to foster personal and social development of children aged 5-13 and encourage good citizenship. The first CD-Rom covers bullying, drugs and vandalism; the second safety, citizenship and law and order. The discs are designed for the age groups 5 to 8, 8 to 10 and 10 to 13 years.
"Feedback from teachers using volumes 1 and 2 revealed an additional need for educational support in anti-racism and anti-violence, so volume 3 specifically addresses this with a range of teaching and learning opportunities focusing on diversity and harmony," says Nicola Robertson, of Grampian Police's education liaison unit.
The new CD-Rom gives printable lesson overviews, printable worksheets for each lesson, an updated printable version of Police Box, curricular links, suggestions for assessment, parental involvement and extension activities, staff development materials, and links to a range of agencies associated with the topic areas. It also allows children's on-screen responses to be printed out for a teacher's assessment.
Mrs Gillanders, a former depute headteacher who has spent the past eight years working with Grampian Police, says the lessons are designed to be fun, engaging and challenging.
"Under Diversity, we're finding out what the children think, challenging prejudice by asking them to justify their responses and presenting them with the facts, which in many cases may come as a complete surprise," she explains.
"Harmony includes lessons dealing with conflict resolution, hate crime and positive relationships. One lesson, looking at what makes you angry and why, has the children playing a rigged game, which they can never win. When it's revealed to them that we cheated them, we get them to examine their feelings of having been treated unfairly and broaden this out to look at injustice and anger management."
For the 5 to 8 years age group, a new character joins the cartoon cast led by the cheery community policeman Big Bernie. Squeaky the clown, who comes from a travelling community and leads a different life from the other children, provides plenty of opportunities to look at diversity and harmony in an age-appropriate context.
Real-life scenarios, including conflicts within relationships, agony aunt letters and experiences of asylum-seekers form the basis of lessons for 10-13-year-olds.
Saltersgate special school in Dalkeith, Midlothian, has previewed the new disc. Kate Clague, a principal teacher, says: "Like its predecessors, this is an excellent resource. In my experience there is nothing comparable in the market. It's up to date and covers many areas of the personal and social education curriculum that are particularly controversial, enabling children to problem solve, role play and develop social skills.
"It can be used individually, by pupils in pairs or as a whole class activity and is particularly valuable for children who find the abstract concepts of PSE difficult to relate to. It puts them in the place of other children and asks them what they would do and how they would feel in various situations. The pupils are keen to offer their advice and opinions."