We can learn a lot from our students: my form’s response to the murder of a soldier yesterday.

I was so proud of my form yesterday. A year 9 bunch that I first took on in September, they are more demanding in terms of behaviour management than all but the first form I ever had back in 2005 (and they were a handful whose reputation spread throughout the school). They seem to have very low expectations of themselves in terms of learning and progress, and a very “interpretive” approach to school rules. This keeps me well and truly challenged in terms of support and behaviour management strategies each morning. But yesterday they excelled.

I was really quite worried when I woke up on Thursday morning and checked my Facebook account. Many of my friends, people who I considered rational and sensible people had posted statuses or shared pictures that were inciting racial hatred. This was after the killing of the soldier at a London Barracks by two fanatical sociopaths claiming to be acting in the name of Allah. Naturally every true Muslim condemned the attack, emphasising the Koran’s message of peace. That morning on Facebook, I saw calls for a “civil war”, for the EDL to take charge of things, and for all Muslims to be kicked out of the country or worse. The stuff people were posting was vile and despicable and quite frankly made me sick.

I got even more worried as I drove to work and thought more and more about it. If adults were posting such things, what would the kids be posting? Halfway in I passed a fast food van flying a Union Jack at half mast. I began imagining the conversations that were taking place around that van that morning. I decided I would run a discussion on the murder in form time and scrap the careers advice that’s usually delivered on a Thursday. I would give them all a piece of paper and ask them to watch a news clip on the event and then, without talking or discussing it, take three or four minutes to write down their response. I was expecting quite a lot of semi-racist, xenophobic stuff that I would then do my best to rationally argue against. I work in a school with a fairly homogenous, white working class intake and we have had murmurings from the EDL in the last few years. But I was completely wrong. I was bowled over by their responses. The most draconian was “it isn’t right, they should get the death penalty”. Which, to be fair is what a lot of adults still think. But on the whole they were measured, careful thoughtful responses that veered away from racial hatred and towards a careful interpretation of the event urging people not to affiliate the act to any sort of religious act. Here is what one of my students wrote:

“this annoys me because people are so small-minded about it, blaming all Muslims for the 2 mens (sic) acts. It’s not the religion’s fault, the religion teaches peace. The men who committed the murder were extremists, the minority that let their religion down. Not all Muslims are “terrorists”. If a Christian did this and started shouting religious words he would not be branded a terrorist”.

I don’t entirely agree with the last sentence, and I think the student in question needs a bit of input on some points of grammar and punctuation, but the fact that a 13 year old was articulating this mature and measured viewpoint in such a way completely put to rest much of the fear and panic I had been developing that morning. I think there are several quotes and proverbs about the wisdom of children that are apt here, but what it really shows is the level of stupidity and ignorance of many of the so-called adults in our community and that we really shouldn’t underestimate our young people.

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About Andrew Warner

Mostly English teacher, AHT (T&L/literacy/CPD) & bibliophile. Irregular examiner, MTBer, armchair anthropologist & bassist. Fascinated by language & behaviour.

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