THE BLOG

What Our Leaders Could Learn From Children

17/06/2014 15:48 BST | Updated 17/08/2014 10:59 BST

I have run after school activities for primary school children in a large town near to London for some years. There is a fairly mixed population in the part of the Town where I work. The children come from many different cultures, from white British families - Pakistani families to East European families to Nepalese and Chinese and a few others besides. I do art and games and martial arts with them and they all seem to get on well together.

They have many things in common: they know the same friends - go to the same schools - they like the same music: sadly this means listening to One Direction music more often than I would otherwise choose. The also like the music from the film Frozen and some even like Abba because they did an Abba musical in school.

Despite coming from different cultures and different religions - from Christiananity to Islam and Buddhism they have learnt to concentrate on what they have in common not their differences.

But what messages will they hear about themselves from politicians and parts of the media as they grow up?

Some will be told that they are terrorist sympathisers - or if not that then they have failed to report terrorists or if not that they have failed to publically condemn acts of terrorism carried out by a very few people who share the same religion as them. Some will be attacked or abused on the streets because of their ethnicity.

Others will be told that they came here to take our jobs or to bring down our wages or to scrounge off our benefits system - no matter how hard they work or try.

Others will be told that they probably come from long lines of out of workless families and want nothing more than a large TV and benefits - that they don't want to work and have at least ten children.

Thinking about these children it occurred to me that almost every child fits one of these deeply unfair stereo-types because of their ethnicity or religion - because of the accident of birth.

At the moment these children work and play together, oblivious to the messages emanating from our political leaders and the main stream media and they get on just fine.

Mr Cameron and Mr Gove have talked about 'draining the swamp' that causes Islamic extremism - a phrase which if uttered in connection with an ethnic minority by a police officer or a school teacher would leave both men calling for their dismissal no doubt.

Some years ago research highlighted that 91% of stories about Muslims were negative - that's 2.7 million people in our Country being portrayed negatively just to sell newspapers. Little has changed since then.

Mr Cameron has - in the past threatened benefits cuts to the long term unemployed and the under 25s - riding on the back of negative newspaper stories about people on welfare.

Recent research has shown that much media cover of welfare and benefits tended to demonise people as having large families and as being scroungers.

There are many issues in society that need addressing and religious ideology in schools is one - wherever the threat comes from. We need to debate immigration without the fear of being called racist (accept when it is actually racist). We need to talk about the welfare state because it matters.

But it seems that our countries leaders and opinion formers cannot address these topics without demonising someone - without dividing people up into groups and pointing them out as the problem and encouraging others to condemn them.

Sometimes they will complain that we are a divided society - or a 'broken' one (even though they might also want a' bigger society'). Often they will claim to want a better society.

Wouldn't it be a better society if we trusted each other more and did not fear each other?

Wouldn't it be nice if our leaders tried to be the leaders for everyone and stop trying to find reasons for us to hate each other? The children I see after school already know how to get on with each other and to enjoy what they have in common even though they come from very different places - perhaps our leaders and opinion makes could learn something from them.

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