One of our team of practitioner columnists gives her take on the examples set by parents and teachers
We teach children to be tolerant and respectful, but adults so often fail to lead by example, writes Helen Bonnick
From time to time an issue comes up where opinions are apparently irreconcilably divided. The Danish cartoons spring to mind. In these situations, when flailing around for a personal opinion, I find it helpful to consider what I am promoting in my home and what we are teaching children in schools. Granted, this itself is premised on a certain philosophical and political view, but we’ll assume for now that I agree with it.
Though they may sometimes struggle to carry through things as stringently as we would wish, state schools operate clear policies on behaviour, bullying, the teaching of citizenship, diversity and social education.
Some schools have chosen to place this within a “rights” framework – a topic much misunderstood by some more tendentious sections of the press. But in each establishment it should be a thread running through all aspects of the curriculum and the school day, addressed through themes of identity and respect and in the practice of dealing with conflict. We do not allow the deliberate provocation of others by words or actions, the use of offensive words or gestures, nor violence as the preferred means of settling an argument. Children are taught to understand and respect other religious groups, why they should not touch a particular child’s hair or another’s scarf; what to do if they feel bullied or offended, whom to tell. We no longer cane or slap those who step out of line. Rather we go down the talking route. If all else fails, we exclude.
Presumably we believe that we are doing more than simply containing and controlling a situation during school hours. Or perhaps we have different (higher?) expectations of behaviour from children. Perhaps we are saying that there are different standards for those who wield the power. Presumably there is some sense here of setting a moral framework for all of life, of inculcating standards of behaviour and principles by which we can live as a society in harmony together. Children are quick to spot and tell us if we are being hypocritical – one rule for them…
It seems we need to decide, as adults, whether this is the route we want to go down, or whether we’ve been teaching children the wrong things all these years.
Helen Bonnick is a supervisor of school-home support workers and a social worker