Race is on to deny fascism a face in our classrooms

27th November 2009 at 00:00

A few weeks ago, a former headteacher from Merthyr Tydfil spotted something curious in the background of a photograph of Nick Griffin at a BNP press conference.

Lyn Perkins, aged 82, noticed that the far-right party's leader was standing in front of a black-and-white wartime picture of a party celebrating VE day in 1945. Looking closer, Mr Perkins realised that it was a picture of a place he knew - Cromwell Street in Merthyr Tydfil - and that there were familiar faces among the crowd.

The former head was appalled that the image of his old friends and neighbours, none of whom would have supported the BNP, had been used to promote the party.

I can understand his outrage.

During my teaching career I've had the privilege of teaching children whose ethnicities have originated from all over the world. Some have been recently arrived migrants, while others have been settled for generations. This was largely in east and north London, but also in Wales.

Teaching is often an activity of mutual exchange. Through the children I've taught I've been introduced to many cultures and religions, and as an individual I feel I've been enriched by the experience.

Migration obviously brings different cuisines and cultural events for us to enjoy. Life becomes far more varied. When we engage with other peoples, it becomes quite obvious that far more unites us than divides us. People are basically the same the whole world over - we share the same hopes and fears. Human kindness is not the preserve of those we were closest to as we grew up - it is universal.

Racism is something I've never tolerated in my classrooms. Back in the 1970s I did a project with a group of children to combat the lies and misconceptions perpetuated by some racists who seem to believe that Britain was once monocultural. Together, we looked at the different peoples who have been coming to these islands to settle for thousands of years, and learnt that being British meant being multicultural, multiracial, speaking different languages, and following different religions in differing sects.

Yet now, more than 30 years later, groups like the BNP are still trying to propagate the myth that Britain was monocultural. They ignore the genetic research that shows that some Welsh people, for example, are descended from the Ket people from around Lake Baikal in Siberia and are thereby related to Native Americans.

It is believed the Ket people started settling here around 30,000 years ago. The remains of the misnamed Red Lady of Paviland have been dated as being of around that period. Even when the Ket people arrived, in all probability there would have been others already living here.

There is plenty of evidence to show that different groups have not got on very well with each other at various times, but we've all learnt to live together - and, indeed, learnt from each other. The keys to succeeding are having a mutual respect for one another and keeping open minds.

Racism and fascist ideology rear their heads in schools as much as anywhere else in society. In his book The Mass Psychology of Fascism, Wilhelm Reich defined fascism as the politically organised expression of racial hatred. Such hateful ideas can exist among pupils and staff and across all cultural groups. Some children live in homes where racism is the norm. They may live in communities where fascist parties flourish, and can be easy prey to the lies and misinformation such parties spread. All schools have a moral obligation to combat these lies by consistently applying wide-ranging anti-racist policies.

Given that schools should exist to ensure that all its children achieve their full potential, the espousal of racist views is the antithesis of what good teaching practise should be about. It is unacceptable that any individual employed in a school should be allowed to continue to hold such views.

A fascist dictatorship is possible in all countries, and it is worrying that the economic climate in which fascism emerged in Germany in the 1920s is very similar to the one now.

Wilhelm Reich stated that fascism will only be defeated if it is countered objectively and practically, with a well grounded knowledge of life's processes. If we fail to stamp out racism in schools, it will only serve to give fascist groups credence and encouragement.

Rhydwyn Ifan, Teacher from Llanelli, who has taught for more than 30 years at a range of schools in Wales and England.

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