I find myself writing this article on Holocaust Memorial Day, which this year is particularly poignant given that it is 75 years to the day that the concentration camp known as Auschwitz was liberated. The few remaining survivors of the Nazi persecution were only children on Liberation Day and have consequently lived their lives under the shadows of discrimination and persecution. Many lost their families in the gas chambers and survived through luck and the courage of others. The press coverage this year has been excellent and the personal stories shared are highly emotive and give us many lessons for today. The resilience and courage shown, the strength to re build lives in new countries, asking the question, ’Where is Home.?’ The love that pervades through all adversity and above all the determination and resolve that such horrors should never happen again.
In the lead up to the Holocaust and subsequent genocides policies were developed that deliberately separated people, causing certain groups to be treated as ‘The Other'. This does not take place on it’s own, it’s a steady progress which can begin if discrimination, racism and hatred are not checked and prevented.
However and frighteningly, despite every school in the country having robust policies in place to ensure history does not repeat itself, despite every child receiving PSHE, relationship, democracy and British Values lessons, we sadly don’t have to look too far to see how social media can be misused today, to isolate, humiliate and to hurt. We know we have a child and teenage mental health crisis. Whilst understanding the inbuilt need to feel accepted, the young need to be given the confidence to challenge comments that are glossed over by calling them ‘banter' or ‘only a joke’ but how revealing these phrases can be of a hidden prejudice, scapegoating too, an invidious feeding on uncertainty and fear.
The Personal Development of each child is taken very seriously within our schools. Indeed the provision and effect on individuals is inspected and reported on by Ofsted and ISI. Schools devote considerable time and expertise on the Pastoral Care they provide for pupils, the communication between school and home is very different to fifty years ago where home and school were concentric bubbles, now they work together. Initiatives in school are creative, valued and effective and yet the young, particularly teenagers feel under huge social and emotional pressure.
We must learn the lessons of the past and pass them onto the children of today. Seventy five years ago , six million died because they were deemed different, Today we face new threats, children fear being different, they fear being an outsider, they fear looking ‘stupid', they fear being teased, taunted, shown up. They often suffer in silence. Discrimination has not ended, nor has the use of language or exclusion. It is simply appearing in different guises. There is still much to do to create a safer future. Across the boundaries of age, culture and faith we must stand together, encourage and strengthen our resolve in the belief that all people deserve respect and are of value and are loved by God himself.
Within the Independent School's Framework, one of the inspected criteria is ‘Respecting diversity and cultural understanding ‘ To respect and value diversity within society, show respect for and appreciation of own and other cultures, and demonstrate sensitivity and tolerance to those from different backgrounds and traditions. This has to be an extremely positive directive and one by which we should all live.
Angela Culley - Vice President ISA - Consultant to LPS.