We are living in a frightening world. Donald Trump offers the world a role model that bullies, trivialises and boasts about the abuse of women. He sees groups of people as stereotypes- ‘as other’, not as individuals. He stops their freedom of movement. Then insults, belittles and seeks to discredit those who oppose him. His conduct could be seen as legitimising threatening and alienating behaviour. This presents a challenge for teachers; how do we promote tolerant, caring and respectful behaviour when the President of the United States models something so different?
These issues are exacerbated by the echo chamber of social media which constantly feeds back to us our own political views and beliefs. It could convince us that everyone agrees with us, deafening us to other views. Protesting and marching can raise awareness and show there is challenge to a single world view, but equally it can reinforce our own views and opposition to others. It can build barriers to hearing and understanding their views. It can reinforce polarisation. Further, it can give us a sense that we have done our bit, and that is enough.
It is not enough, particularly for us as teachers. We need to ensure that the attitudes of Trump do not become normalised, acceptable and universal. We need to continue to promote and model core values. Surprisingly, we already have a framework to do this, if we are wiiling to seize the opportunity.
From November 2014, schools were required to promote ‘British Values’. These are defined by the government and OFSTED as:
- The rule of law;
- Individual liberty;
- Mutual respect;
- Tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith.
To limit these principles as solely ‘British values’, does a disservice to them and to the citizens of most of the world. These are more than ‘British values’. They are universal values. They are essential for the creation of a better world. So how do we continue to promote them, while Trump embodies opposition to them?
In my view, key to this is the development of critical thinking, so that children learn to question and evaluate information. Schools can provide a crucial opportunity for children to mix and meet others, to extend their world view, beyond their immediate experience. By meeting a range of different people, schools provide opportunities to challenge stereotypes. This is one of the reasons that links between schools in different areas, different parts of the world and visits to faith communities and places of cultural interest are so important. They extend peoples’ world views and create tolerance, so allowing us to learn from each other. They can challenge and break down ‘us’ and ‘them’ language. Enabling us to understand, that in Jo Cox’s words:
‘Far more unites us than divides us.’
There are increasing comparisons between Trump and Hitler, a growing use of the words Nazi and fascist and an increase in isolationist policies in both the US and UK. It is key that we are able to challenge each other’s views without recourse to violence, aggression and insult. This is something that we need to be taught; both to do and to value.
Without it, it is easy to begin the path to radicalisation. The Channel Guidance (2015) identifies 22 factors that increase a person’s vulnerability to radicalisation including:
- clearly identifying another group as threatening what they stand for and blaming that group for all social or political ills;
- using insulting or derogatory names or labels for another group;
- speaking about the imminence of harm from the other group and the importance of action now;
- expressing attitudes that justify offending on behalf of the group, cause or ideology;
- condoning or supporting violence or harm towards others. (page 12)
I fear that Donald Trump is already on this path. His actions and language and how these are reflected and emulated by his followers will push those who oppose and/or fear his rhetoric and government into radicalisation. This is dangerous for us all. This means that another vital role for schools is to reassure children that they are valued, important; and whatever language is used about them we see them as individuals and not as ‘other’.
So many of us entered teaching ‘to make a difference’. This is now more important than ever. As Terry Pratchett said:
“There’s always a story. It’s all stories, really. The sun coming up every day is a story. Everything’s got a story in it. Change the story, change the world.”
We need to start changing the story in schools.