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Schools are undoubtedly the place where young people can seek reassurance and strengthen bonds across communities. Yet tackling religious discrimination and racial prejudice is the number one issue of concern amongst young people. A charity, the Three Faiths Forum has spent the past ten years helping schools teach a more thoughtful approach when it comes to standing up to religious discrimination.
Three Faiths Forum (3FF) takes the view that there is no such thing as an awkward question when it comes to religious and non-religious beliefs. The charity is all about providing ways where people can question others and most importantly question their own views.
In schools, Three Faiths Forum does this by running workshops that are not about right or wrong, but which give children from the age of nine right up to sixth formers, the chance to ask the types of questions that may well offend or be considered controversial in real life. The use of a moderator creates a safe space where the children can receive and explore a properly considered answer.
For example, ‘ouch’ and ‘oops’ moments are used when participants are encouraged to explore hurtful comments that come up, and others have chance to openly acknowledge when they have slipped up by using the wrong phrase or language. This gives children the necessary insight to understand where hurtful language – often regarded as ‘banter’ - has come from, and why it is upsetting and often offensive. Taught this way, workshops provide food for thought for children to play over in their minds, long after they have left the classroom.
Three important ingredients necessary to helping schools tackle religious discrimination are to challenge the labels that divide; to support teachers to set, manage and maintain a safe space, and to develop inter-faith skills for life.
Just as 2017 has seen religiously motivated hate crime rise, the charity has seen more schools request workshops that will help them dispel stereotypes. Difficult or controversial questions around faith and belief are frequently asked in school settings. Equipping teachers to enable a more sophisticated discussion around these questions is one way to take religious discrimination seriously.
Devoting resources to grass roots schools work is an essential part of the recipe for change. In a diverse society, all young people need to be able to engage with questions of race and religion so they can communicate effectively, considerately and sensitively with anyone, regardless what they believe in.
3FF has found that 10,000 children a year attend one of its workshops and its research shows these school children reflect a diverse range of beliefs including atheists, Jews, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus as well as those who ‘don’t know yet’. All are curious and keen to have a greater understanding. More schools are predicted to sign up to longer commitments, including faith school linking schemes, which help children engage with people in the same communities they might otherwise not meet.
While schools can’t be expected to tackle the root of religious discrimination in our society, faith and belief led workshops are becoming an accepted way to help young people build the necessary religious literacy, empathy, and communication skills. We all want to stop prejudices passing from generation to generation, and dedicating a few hours in the term to planting the seed of thoughtful dialogue in young minds, is a great place to start.
Phil Champain is director of Three Faiths Forum. For further information please visit www.3ff.org.uk/schools
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