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Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Stamping out Intolerance


I remember back in 2007 when it broke in the headlines that a young woman named Sophie Lancaster had been murdered. Kicked and Beaten to death by thugs because she looked different to them. 

It's something that I find particularly disgusting, more so now that I work as a teacher. Growing up this sort of casual bigotry was always tolerated, by schools, the press, largely everyone. It was thought that bullying was an accepted part of growing up and that nothing could be done about it. That is not the case however. 

When my sister was bullied at school by a group of ignorant thugs, my parents, after years of following the school's attempts to end the problem with no success, came up with a simple solution - if you can't make your playground and corridors safe, then my sister would be given access to the safety of the staffroom or a staffed classroom, or not come in at all. Sure enough suddenly the bullying was taken seriously and things began to get done. 

Of course not all bullying is done in the enclosed and controlled area of a school. Thugs and lowlifes who torment others in parks, shopping centres, even the streets - are hard to keep track of, hard to stop. Some areas have resorted to curfews, stopping young people from gathering in public places and loitering, stopping them from going out at night unaccompanied. I don't know the success of these programs, but something tells me we can still do better. The problem of course that accompanies such laws, is that the people they are meant to influence, think that they are above the law. Hence the saying "perhaps one day we will have a law against all crime!". 

That's not to say of course that all laws will fail when such resistance to social cohesion is met. On someone who would be ashamed of an ASBO, and ASBO is a great deterrent, but with press murmurings about ASBOs being viewed as trophies, even seen as a joke, it's clear that we can't rely on them to deter the type of people who need deterring. 

Logically then, if deterrents aren't working, perhaps another approach is required. Intolerance, thuggery and bigotry are things that need stamping out long term, not just from one target generation. A deterrent may put some off doing something, but far easier is to teach them early on the empathy and social skills required to understand that these actions are horrible things to do, not because you will be punished for doing them, but because they are de facto wrong

To ensure that future generations are safer from social failures like these murderers we need to start young and make sure that it is simply unacceptable to behave in such a manner, on any scale. From the earliest days of education it should be made clear that good people, do not do bad things, and this, this aggression, intolerance and indeed arrogance, is a bad thing. 

Of course the biggest hurdle to overcome in such a goal is the home life. A school can teach all the sound social skills in the world, but with parents who find the social failure of their children acceptable, and perhaps most disgustingly of all, funny, this is a considerable challenge. Perhaps an entire social rethink is required, and due. Perhaps we might have more success if these parents no longer thought of "their" children as property into which they can pour all the resentment and anger they feel from their own lives. Instead thinking of them as they really are, future citizens of a society they would do well to treat with care and kindness if they expect the protection that they are currently afforded. 

"the mother of one of the murderers laughed and joked all the way through initial interviews with her son" - ( 

On a brighter note - Illamasqua have come out in support of the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, offering wristbands where all proceeds go towards the charity, and with special eyeliner purchase a £3 contribution for each one sold will be given to the foundation. Illamasqua's bold dramatic look fits perfectly with the type of tolerance for creativity that it is frankly ridiculous that we have to ask for.

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