World Cup challenges schools' racism policies
JACK McConnell must surely regret that he made public his support for any and all teams playing England. Are such remarks just harmless banter or are they hurtful and provocative? The difficulty is that the issue is subjective: one person's friendly rivalry is another's racism.
As schools and nurseries across the country (and probably the globe) use the World Cup as a project theme - which neatly accommodates everything from geography, social studies, German, art and design to international food - how many classes will look at the challenging issue of racism? The World Cup provides a rare and meaningful opportunity to promote international understanding and tolerance. But how many educators are using the tournament to examine the differences between racism, nationalism and healthy competition?
In the wake of McConnell's comments, the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) in Scotland warned that the tournament must not become an excuse for anti-English racism. In 2002, CRE Scotland saw an increase in complaints about anti-English sentiment before, during and after that year's World Cup. At least 5 per cent of its casework relates to anti-English racism.
Ali Jarvis, the interim director of CRE in Scotland, says: "Fans need to guard against sentiments that encourage - or act as a smokescreen for - other prejudices and intolerance. In fact, racism occurs when any person is stereotyped, harassed or discriminated against on the basis of their colour, race, ethnic or national identity. Using the World Cup as a pretext for hostility against any nation or race, including the English, is racism."
By supporting one team over another, there is already a form of tribalism at work. Tribalism turns ugly when people are - or feel - hurt, either by physical assault or verbal vilification, or by exclusion. In education, equalities and anti-racism policies are meant to tackle this. All schools must have such policies and are obliged to share them with parents as a means of challenging habitual prejudice.
But how many schools actually do so? They are required to go further and must actively challenge racist behaviour in pupils and parents.
Anti-racism, respect and the One Scotland campaigns have been high on the national political agenda, but the thorny question of relationships with England is conspicuous by its absence.
What strategies do schools and individual teachers have to tackle anti-English racism during the World Cup? Can headteachers be sure that staff members do not perpetrate anti-English sentiment? Are parents and children being challenged effectively by examining racism in the context of the World Cup?
McConnell has tried to brush off his comments by saying sport is nothing to do with politics, but unfortunately he is a national leader to whom others will refer to confirm or challenge their prejudices.
It may not have been the First Minister's intention to stir up racism, but some will have drawn endorsement from his statements.
McConnell's position on sectarianism is well known - it's strange he thinks religious tribalism is a matter for politics, but football tribalism is not. As an ex-teacher and as someone whose administration promotes anti-racism, he needs to lead by example.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 4 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 17 mph
Wind direction: North east