Significant others

14th November 2014 at 00:00

I recently visited the National Museum of Scotland with my daughters. As we whizzed around, I wondered what things from their lives would end up in such institutions. Will our soon-to-be-obsolete phones be joined by some of our attitudes? Will racism, Islamophobia and homophobia be confined to the past?

We have a long way to go. In September, nine local authorities revealed that nearly 1,000 racist incidents involving primary school pupils had been recorded since 2011. The true figure is likely to be much, much higher.

One council was my own, Fife, which launched an award-winning anti-racism campaign named A Mixed Fife, A Richer Life in 2000. I was proud to support it.

At the same time, I was teaching pupils taking an S1 modern studies course that a same-sex partnership was just as valid as a heterosexual one. This, of course, breached the offensive Section 28 amendment.

Today, anti-racist legislation is clear and our Parliament has passed laws allowing my daughters to marry anyone, regardless of sexuality.

But are our schools safe places for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth? Would a pupil coming out face respect or ridicule - or worse? Would our institutional response be the same as the stance we take against racism?

Our curriculum aims to develop pupils' sense of compassion, wisdom, justice and integrity. Our teachers are committed to social justice through the General Teaching Council for Scotland's standards.

However, the success of certain political parties in England has challenged the values that we wish to demonstrate and promote. Moreover, recent research shows that British people make incorrect assumptions about key statistics (bit.lyPerceptionsPoll). These include a vast overestimation of the proportion of immigrants in the British population (24 per cent compared with an actual 13 per cent). Also marked are the overestimation of the number of Muslims (21 per cent as opposed to 5 per cent) and unemployed people (24 per cent versus 7 per cent). People are therefore much more likely to see these groups as problematic.

I have no doubt that such misconceptions are fed by tabloid frenzy and political pandering. And they are likely to be prevalent among young people, too. Many have grown up in a society where the media, politicians and pundits have demonised immigrants, asylum seekers, Muslims and the poor.

To change this, we must do more than point to our values. Our young people can only challenge inaccuracies in the media and inequalities in their communities if they have the tools to do so.

As LGBT Youth Scotland has stated, it also requires us to no longer be silent on such matters.

Robert Macmillan is a principal teacher of social studies and citizenship at Lochgelly High School in Fife, and vice-president of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association. Find him on Twitter @robfmac

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