Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bigotry: The Greatest Evil?

The low hum of conversation in the industriously busy classroom is a lovely sound: children thinking for themselves, collaborating with each other and developing some independence. There are moments, however, when a teacher might regret allowing children to chat, quietly, whilst they work.

Remember at school discos? When the song would come to an abrupt and startling close, just in time to expose the shouted "Fuck!" at the end of your previously private conversation?


"I hate chinkies!"

I'm somewhat taken by surprise by this comment, which soars like a lone, racist bird out over the buzz of chat which fills the classroom, leaving children, silent and awed in its wake. It's not difficult to find the source of the comment: I know the voice, and I know the location of its owner. I'm not keen to make a big fuss at the time because I don't want to give comments like that more attention than they deserve, and they don't deserve any. I settle for my standard recourse in a situation which I consider serious but where I want time to think about how best to deal with it in the long term:

"Language like that is totally inappropriate, and I wont stand for it in the classroom. That's 15 minutes of your Golden Time, and you can stay back after class to discuss the seriousness of what you have said."

Having made my point and cowed the accused, class continues and the end of the day rolls around.

We sit together, at the child's desk, rather than mine, so they feel comfortable and not like they're being interviewed, but I don't beat around the bush:

Me: So, what was that all about?

Child: Sorry.

Me: No, seriously, what was that about - where did that come from? For starters, explain to me what you meant with that comment.

Child: Well, I do! I hate Chinkies!

Me: Please, stop saying "Chinkies", it's not a nice word - do you mean Chinese food, or Chinese people? Either way, please say "Chinese".

Child: Chinese people.

Me: Why?! You can't just say things like that - where has this come from?

Child: Well, have you seen the state of the pollution in the rivers in China?

Me: [ ... ]

Me: Sorry?

Child: China's rivers and waterways are some of the most polluted in the world - it's appalling!


What can you say to that, really? I explained the difference between not liking pollution in China, and not liking all Chinese people, and how one really has nothing to do with the other.

I likened it to my own distaste for American foreign politics, which has nothing to do with the majority of American people, and the child seemed to get it.

But, seriously?

Inside I was laughing my ass off.

Bigotry... the greatest evil?

No, seemingly it's pollution in the rivers and waterways of Beijing.

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