Kicking it out

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Jane Lane asks what lessons should be learned from the recent incidents of racism from football supporters

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How could Chelsea football supporters have behaved in such a racist way by refusing a black man entry to the Paris Metro and shouting abuse? After all they grew up in our supposedly 'tolerant' society. So why and how could they have done what they did?

We can only guess the answer to such a question. Lord Herman Ouseley, chair of Kick It Out, suggested on Wednesday's BBC2 Newsnight that such situations were under-pinned by prejudice and hatred and that we are not doing enough in formal education and in the early stages of development of young children's lives to counter this.

I agree. We know that young children are not born racially prejudiced. Nevertheless, research evidence over 50 years shows that by the age of three they can distinguish different skin colours and can begin to assign values to them. Their racial attitudes are beginning to be formed. Unless there are countervailing positive and constructive influences on them they may be learning attitudes and behaviour that lead to the racist attitudes and discriminatory behaviour identified by Lord Ouseley and seen so clearly on the film in Paris.

In the early years it is therefore seriously incumbent on us to recognise and accept this and to provide opportunities for all young children to learn positive attitudes to those who are different from them before any negative attitudes become entrenched.

But, critically, it is perhaps even more important to enable all children to unlearn any negative attitudes that they may have already learnt, perhaps using Persona Dolls as part of the process.

This is the urgent task facing all of us who work with and care for young children, if we seriously want to work towards eliminating the sort of racist behaviour displayed by the football fans in Paris and well documented in many aspects of our society.

Children learn their racial attitudes from everything that is around them – their families, their friends, the media (including TV) and what they see, hear and do as they go about their lives. They reflect this reality.

As adults responsible for young children, we all come to such situations with our own 'baggage' – our  social, educational, economic and historical experiences. So this is not about blaming anyone or punishing them for what they may have said or done.

But it is about understanding and considering our work in the light of the realities of racism, talking together about it and its implications for young children and ourselves. It is about giving children the skills and confidence to challenge unfairness and to become advocates for justice.

Young children know what hurt feelings feel like and can learn to empathise with the feelings of others - they can learn to recognise and share their common humanity. This is what should be understood by the EYFS seeking to provide 'equality of opportunity and anti-discriminatory practice'. It is more, much more, than bland admonishments and it cannot be left to chance.

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