We are some of the most important people in the world.

So I reckon everybody has their ‘thing’, a quality that they really value and in turn it helps to make them who they are. For some it will be honesty, telling the truth even when it’s most difficult to do so. For others it could be loyalty, compassion or maybe some combination of virtues. These are the characteristics we seek in potential friends and partners, praise in colleagues, what we aspire to perfect for ourselves and things that we can’t stand to see abused or violated. What are yours?
I value two things above all others, these aren’t necessarily the qualities I think are the most important or the only things needed to make you a good person, but for some reason they resonate with me. The first is fairness and the second is open-mindedness. 
You’d be forgiven for wondering how I conclude that this makes us some of the most important people in the world.
Well, firstly we have Twitter, many of you will have Facebook, undoubtedly you will associate with people who aren’t RE teachers (or teachers at all), which means you are exposed to a multitude of world views all day long.
Secondly, watch the news. The world is full of truly saddening scenes at the moment. The needless loss of life in Tunisia is devastating, as is any act of violence. These are special though, these acts have the power to change the world.
Now ask yourself, how many times are you faced with ignorance about Islam, holy war and terrorism? I am so tired of reading the same statuses criticising the entirety of a religion based on acts of some (who many Muslims don’t even recognise as part of their faith)
I am immersed in a world of virtual opinions or at times a bystander to conversations on public transport between people declaring that immigration is an act of religious colonisation and must be stopped (interestingly often coming from those of us whose ancestors colonised most of the world, using their resources and erasing their culture as we went)
This isn’t just a worry about ‘Islamaphobia’ a word which the very existence of is upsetting. In turn, I get frustrated at the attitude towards Judaism demonstrated by some of my students who blame the conflict of Israel and Palestine on a the whole religion. I recently dealt with a child who showed severe disrespect during a lesson on the holocaust and used ‘well they’re killing Muslims’ as his justification for a total lack of humanity when faced with the suffering of others.
We are the people who can help to open minds, to shape the perspectives of the young people we have the privilege of working with. If this particular young man continues in his views I will question myself, whether I did enough to educate him in the value of compassion. Our students are so impressionable that without dispelling the myths from the facts and encouraging them to remain good-hearted we may lose some of them. This is increasingly relevant in our role of safeguarding students against extremist and the recent cases of students fleeing their homes to join up with groups abroad.
My main two concerns are the lack of knowledge about Islam and the recklessness with which ignorant people share their views. I woke to an article last week stating that ISIS had ‘crucified’ two boys for not fasting during Ramadan, now I’m not a Christian or a qualified historian but it doesn’t take a genius to have read the article and realise that nobody was crucified at all.
 
What had taken place was bad enough in itself and did not need dressing up. My immediate concern is that if that if this article was on my news feed then how many people will have also seen it, more worrying still, how many will have bothered to read it and find the inaccuracies? How many people can distinguish between radical groups and the truth of a religion? How many people spent their day under the impression that Muslims are now crucifying anybody who doesn’t fast?!
In my school we spent several days following the events surrounding the Je Suis Charlie publication, working out our school approach. Searching for the appropriate way to condemn the actions, support freedom of speech but preserve the right to protest against offensive material and ensuring that we were well backed up with political and religious legislation. It brought about some of the most beneficial debate, textual analysis and evaluation of the year whilst ticking all of the SMSC boxes. HMI would have been proud. But more importantly, it enabled students to engage with topics often swept under the rug, to ask questions without fear of judgement and to gain what we hope was a balanced perspective.
  • How do you approach these issues?
  • Do you have a policy for addressing potential radicalisation?
  • Does your school encourage or discourage discussion?
  • How do you ensure the true message of a religion is understood by students and not media distortions? or the lasting negative impression made by a minority of believers?

This is more of a vent and a beseechment. Have the difficult conversations and talk about the controversial issues. We have the power to cultivate open-mindedness and equality. To promote tolerance and respect. You can be the person who enables a child to grow into an adult who demonstrates all of the virtues we value in ourselves.

“The future is in the hands of those who belong to the 21st century with the opportunity to build a better humanity by training the mind.” Dalai Lama
We are some of the most important people in the world.
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