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'There is political, socio-economic and cultural division in our country. Schools must play a part in healing the divides'

Inspiration can be taken from all over the school sector where extraordinary work is being done to counter those who want to spread the hate

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Inspiration can be taken from all over the school sector where extraordinary work is being done to counter those who want to spread the hate

There is division in our country. Political, socio-economic and, most glaringly, cultural. The rise of narratives that declare immigrants as an enemy – despite the obvious irony that many of us are immigrants ourselves – are becoming too ubiquitous, tabloid newspapers using the word "swarm" to describe an inflow of migrants, not to mention cities on edge, as imagined terror threats see the streets evacuated for no reason.

Young people, in big cities or rural towns across the country, form political and cultural opinions based on what they see on Twitter and other social media, polemics from parents and other role models, and the thoughts of their peers. Too often what is being preached on both sides is hate.

It is their school environment, and its values, and those of their teachers, that present the best environment in which to mitigate these pressures and to help them develop the kind of moral judgements we want to see held by young people.

Coalition of faith schools

This past weekend I went home to Glasgow and took a stroll down memory lane, by visiting the primary and secondary schools I attended. I happily discovered that my primary school – the only Jewish one in Scotland and where I discovered my love of talent shows and hatred of PE – has merged with a Catholic school, a world-first. The £17m faith schools’ joint campus in East Renfrewshire brings together St Clare’s Primary School and Calderwood Lodge.

This coalition of faith should provide a clarion call to a divided Scotland, a divided Britain and to educators thinking about developing their students’ appreciation of shared cultures, values, and individualities. Calderwood Lodge’s mission is for pupils to lead good lives built upon personal integrity and moral courage. It has the ambition to become a UN Rights Respecting School. If we imagine the environment in which we would ideally want our children to grow up, it must surely be close to this.

Too often do we see opinions and behaviours fuelled by the narrow-mindedness or a lack of exposure to absolute truths. A video that went viral last week saw a British father take to Twitter to complain that his son was learning to read the “korma” at school, and he didn’t want him speaking “hijabi.” Sadly, I no longer think this kind of thing is rare and nor must you – just scroll through the vitriol online.

Kindness not hate

Instead of finding the cornucopia of digital hate which seems to be more prevalent than voices of kindness, young people should be guided to find the latter. They should seek inspiration from the likes of Kid President or Malala and their quests to be ambassadors of courage and positive impact. They should seek to be involved in programmes such as the National Citizen Service, or DebateMate and stand up for their beliefs.

Schools across the country preparing for the Christmas break will be talking in assemblies about bringing family and communities together, celebrating 2017 and planning resolutions for the next. Those resolutions should be centred on embracing diversity and inclusion and appreciating identities.

Oliver Beach is a former inner-city teacher and Teach First ambassador. He tweets @olivermbeach

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