What’s the easiest way to stamp out prejudice? Against homosexuals? Against other cultures/heritages? Against transexuals? To introduce children to anything unfamiliar while they are still young.
Nearly all children, due to the nature of a family, grow up experiencing a very narrow vision of what life is. Nobody (no one I know anyway) experiences a close relationship with someone of all races, all sexual orientations, all genders (including transexual for example). Very few children (even in early secondary school) are deeply (if at all) aware of feminism, the basics of the political system or racial oppression. ‘Gay’ is STILL a widely used insult in the playground.
It strikes me that the easiest way to prevent the type of attitude lots of children have towards homosexuality, is to teach them all about it. If children were taught about homosexual sex at the same time they are taught about heterosexual sex, not only would the subject become less of a joke (and frankly more boring) but the children who one day realise they are gay would feel far less alienated and confused. And they would have received the same vital sex education (how it works/STIs/etc) to be on the same knowledge platform as their straight peers. This is essential; many teens have no idea what diseases can even affect the LGBTQ+ community. From experience, online sources are pretty shitty. The same goes, obviously, for learning about the rest of the LGBTQ+ community – perhaps particularly important is educating children about what it means to be transgender.***
Another essential topic is sexism. And here, I don’t really mean historical sexism (not that this isn’t important). It’s crucial that children understand that sexism is a very real and current issue. The perils of cat-calling, the wage gap, page 3 and under-representation of women are just some of the many discussions children should be having in the school environment.
Likewise; racism. As with sexism, if you are a member of the more privileged group, it’s vital to listen to the experiences of those in varying groups who still suffer prejudice in 2015. Racism is far too serious a subject NOT to be introduced to young children. Awareness is the first step towards equality and the younger awareness of a need for equality/care/respect is introduced, the less arbitrary, dangerous prejudice is likely to continue. Discussions about the causes of racism, the history of racism and the current climate could really benefit the next generation.
Mental health problems have been on the rise for the last 10 years in Britain, often among younger people. Today, Jeremy Corbyn has created a shadow Minister for Mental Health position. In May’s general election, the Liberal Democrats pledged a £3.5 billion investment in mental health services. This is discussed, but often not early on enough. And the focus should be on learning how to support peers who become ill, what steps to take if you do become ill. Depression, anxiety and self harm are very prevalent issues in schools across the country – spreading awareness will surely help decrease the stigma that surrounds mental health. (read more here and here)
TBH, I’m shocked that this sort of thing isn’t already on the national curriculum and surprised the Liberal Democrats didn’t try to push for a change during their coalition period in government.
What would also be nice would be more political conversation, especially an introduction to Labour and Conservative policies, as well as the FPTP system (and possible alternatives), the House of Commons (and Lords), and political events of the day. It’s not enough to suddenly pressurise voting at an election or signing up to vote when 16. A basic understanding of where one is on the political scale ought to be enabled earlier on. An easy way to reduce political apathy amongst the young (which the govt claim to care about).
Varying family structures is something else that’s been totally ignored (unless you’ve had a visit from a single mum aggressively warning against being a single mum). It’s important to recognise and respect that everyone makes different choices for different reasons, despite intimidating cereal-box-family advertising everywhere.
If one has never encountered something, it’s natural to react less than positively. That part is not a choice (though obviously showing hostility is). For the most part, wariness is simply genetic (just think about all that one tribe crap from when we lived in trees – or Two Tribes the TV show tbf). The OBVIOUS solution therefore is education, knowledge being tolerance.
It seems this might be the perfect time to really push for a progressive PSHE curriculum. To me, it’s such a huge chance to ensure Britain’s liberal values keep up with the modern world once more. And although the Conservatives may not always be associated with liberalness or tolerance; researching Nicky Morgan (Minister for Education i.e. the new Gove) has left me relatively hopeful. With her new scheme, with the slightly nauseating title ‘Curriculum for Life’, she claims to believe, “PSHE should be much broader [than simply sex education]. I want more schools to put high-quality PSHE at the heart of their curriculum. It is an essential part of their responsibility to prepare young people for life in modern Britain…”
And if you are reluctant to believe that (Morgan seems to be over-focusing on the internet, in my opinion), whoever is elected Labour leader is going to want to make vote-winning promises. Let’s make sure decent, wide-coverage and ultimately tolerant PSHE is at the top of that list.
*** Another relevant question, WHY isn’t there more representation of the LGBT+ community in children’s TV?? So easy to implement and could overhaul societal attitudes