Saturday in Britain is traditionally a big sports day.
A recent programme on TV documented the continuing occurence of sexism in football in Britain and elsewhere. No big surprises there.
Racism, in spite of the successes of the “Let’s Kick Racism out of Football” is still prevalent on the terraces and indeed on the pitch too. The former captain of England is due to stand trial for abusive and racist language, obviously innocent until proven guilty, but there are other cases too. Liverpool’s Louis Suarez received an eight match ban for using racist language against Patrice Evra of Manchester United; something that Liverpool FC took far too long to apologise for.
As for homophobia, it is clearly an issue in football. The one footballer who ‘came out’ ended up dead after he took his own life. No other footballer within the league has declared his homosexuality, despite the law of probability stacked very much against the possibility of there not being at least a few gay footballers.
In 2012, is it still so impossible to be openly and honestly oneself with friends, colleagues and fans? Is someone’s sexual preferences so damaging to their ability to kick a ball around for ninety minutes? Apparently so – since aggressive and thoughtless opposing fans see this openness as an invitation to abuse.
Some might argue that the ‘isms’ in football are merely jocular banter, targeting any difference in any player – be it their skin colour, their accent, their class, their hair colour or who they’re in a relationship with. Recently, certain fans abused the Bolton goalkeeper for wearing a fluorescent pink jersey which clashed with his “ginger” hair.
Harmless mockery or hurtful victimisation?
What makes people victims?
What makes people abusive?
How much is initiated by one person?
How much is collective irresponsibility?
How can people idly stand by week in week out witnessing and listening to classism, sexism, racism, genderism, homophobia and all other forms of abuse, and either do nothing, or worse, going along with the crowd and participate in the abuse or ‘banter’?
When does the learned behaviour of the terraces filter into local communities, where smaller gangs of youths think it perfectly normal to verbally abuse those who look different to themselves?
When does the verbal abuse turn to physical violence – to the point where it becomes life-threatening?
Sadly, it isn’t just on the football terraces that the learned behaviour of racism and sexism is found. Individually, collectively and as a society, we have not tackled these ‘isms’ effectively or responsibly. We have done very little as a nation to address the underlying causes of such abuse.
Some schools have tried to do exemplary work in this area but there is always the danger of tokenism if proactive and preventative measures are not taken regularly and by all to “kick racism” and all other ‘isms’ into touch.
3Di understands instinctual intelligence, and we’ve tried to highlight its importance through these blogs.
Riding a bicycle is learned, as is driving a car, but with daily practice it becomes instinctive. Patterns and repetition create learned forms of behaviour. In time, those behaviours become as instinctive as ‘flight or fight’.
If negative or abusive behaviour is not challenged it’s highly likely to become ingrained and instinctive in individuals, and may even become embedded in the behaviour of crowds.
This is what the MecPherson Report of 1999 alluded to in its final recommendation that said, “Consideration should be given to amendment of the National Curriculum aimed at valuing cultural diversity and preventing racism, in order better to reflect the needs of a diverse society.”
McPherson was very clear about his views on the presence of institutional racism in our society and offered a suggestion that may help prevent similar murders like that of Stephen Lawrence.
At the Guardian Open Weekend, we had the pleasure of listening to Duwayne Brooks, the friend of Stephen’s who was with him as he was attacked. It was a painful pleasure, as one listened to the rawness of this young man reliving, as he probably does daily, the horrendous racist attack that took the life of his friend.
The abuse that Duwayne suffered was substantial, and he was frequently treated as a suspect rather than a victim. He was eighteen years old when this appalling murder took place, robbing him of his youth, forcing him to hide away for fear of the repercussions of being known as the only witness to the murder.
And all because nobody had thought intelligently about how to tackle the isms in life.
Recently Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for Schools, addressed the Association of Teachers and Lecturers’ annual conference, where he said that schools cannot be responsible for all the ills of society.
“It seems that the first answer of many to almost any problem in society is to give a duty to schools to tackle it, be it obesity, teenage pregnancy or knife crime,” he said. “It feels like every other week I am presented with proposals from one well-meaning group or another to add something ‘socially desirable’ to the curriculum.”
“We could easily fill up the school curriculum with all the social issues that many pressure groups want us to put in the curriculum. Then there would be no time left for the academic subjects that need to be taught,” he said. “My view is that the best way for schools to tackle social problems … is to make sure children leave school well-educated. That is the best way out of poverty.”
Like that of Baroness Morris of Yardley before him, this is a simplistic response. Of course being literate and numerate will help our young people. Of course being literate and numerate will increase their chances of long-term employment and might thus remove them from the cycle of poverty. But our children and young people need more than that to survive in a world that is unjust and full of ‘isms’.
They need to learn and to think for themselves about what it means to be racist, how it might feel to be the subject of overt sexism, to understand how to prevent this behaviour perpetuating itself for another generation.
Our children and young people need to develop empathy to the point that they would not wish to harm another human being through their verbal abuse or their vicious remarks. They need to develop self-worth and resilience – through non-aggressive assertiveness, and not aggression.
This has to be learned in the first instance. It has to be experienced, discussed, felt.
In many cases, this requires a completely different pedagogy in our schools and learning institutions.
We could indeed “fill up the curriculum with all the social issues” because until we start doing something about them now, the same problems are going to beset society and institutions and football grounds for generations to come.
Stephen Lawrence was murdered because he was black. He was murdered by thugs who had learned to be racist and intolerant and aggressive. Schools may not have been able to eradicate all their violent and abusive tendencies, but peer pressure is exceptionally strong, and if the behaviour of their more enlightened peers strongly emphasised compassion, empathy and lovingkindness, then it might just have made them think.
Gabby Logan’s football documentary was quite right to point out that sexism is still very apparent in football, just as Duwayne Brooks pointed out that there is still institutional racism in certain sectors of society. Stating this is important, but it is stating the sadly obvious.
What we need now is action, and action, Mr. Gibb, should start where children and young people gather together by law to learn a behaviour that is more acceptable to the longer term benefit of society.
And where do children and young people legally gather for 190 days of the year, more than half a year each year? That’s right – at school.
Schools do not need to respond to every lobby group as far as curriculum content is concerned. There are attitudes, values and virtues that can be learned and shared, and in doing so many issues can be tackled simultaneously. After all, ‘isms’ have common negatives of abuse, threat and maltreatment. The best schools create a culture and an ethos, both informally and formally, which is intolerant of prejudice and demonstrates the benefit of high levels of our social, emotional, personal and spiritual intelligences.
Effective schools do this through how they teach rather than the actual content of the lessons.
Tackling attitudes to these issues rather than individual ‘isms’ is the obvious and healthy way forward.
It’s absurd for our schools minister to insist that high grades in academic subjects are all that matter in education and in schools. It’s absurd for him to believe that success in exams and in tests is the only way out of poverty and into more enlightened patterns of behaviour. It’s absurd for him to believe that poverty is the sole cause of prejudice and all the other ills of our society. He talks about pupils leaving school “well-educated”, but his simplistic definition of someone who’s well-educated centres solely on academic success. This is a bizarre and irrational view of what education is for and what it’s meant to achieve. It’s ridiculous for him to talk about tackling “social problems” as if they can be cured by success in examinations, and as if they have nothing to do with the psychology, attitudes, behaviour and beliefs of individuals and groups.
It’s time for the Minister to wise up and understand that all the ‘isms’, and all the “social problems” we see all around us, including obesity, teenage pregnancy and knife crime, will never, ever, be tackled – let alone eradicated – through exam success alone. Especially in those young people who are not interested in exam success, or even interested in school.