Battle of Ideas satellite event 2010
The Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 led to a requirement on schools to report ‘racist incidents’ to local education authorities, which has resulted in the reporting of an estimated 250,000 incidents. Many of these involved very young children, and included cases of name-calling in the playground and arguments between friends. A growing ‘race relations industry’ has moved into the daily life of schools and even nurseries, with the aim of combating prejudice in children as young as three. But can children so young really be racist in any meaningful sense?
Critics like Adrian Hart, author of The Myth of Racist Kids (Manifesto Club, 2009), argue that anti-racism campaigns in schools can actually create ethnic tensions. These policies bring officials into the playground: critics argue they stifle childrens relationships with their peers and undermine teachers’ ability to use their own judgement. Others warn against complacency, arguing that society is as racist as ever, and that education is the best means of nipping racist and sexist stereotypes in the bud. Rather than ignoring or minimising playground incidents, we should be vigilant and stamp racism out while individuals are still young and more likely to change their attitudes. Besides, adults have always taught children how to behave and what language is and isn’t acceptable. Isn’t that an important part of a child’s education?
So are our schools institutionally racist or confidently multicultural? Should playground name-calling be taken seriously and eliminated, or is it an inevitable and potentially formative part of childhood? Do anti-racist policies just benefit the so-called ‘anti-racism industry’ or do they protect ethnic minorities from prejudice? Should schools and teachers use their own judgment in discriminating between silly name-calling and actual racism, or should they follow official policy to the letter and report every incident, regardless of context?