SHAFAQNA – I started talking about the US election at school in September, particularly in assemblies, because children were asking about it. They were worried about the things they were hearing. My primary school is in the Saltley area of Birmingham and 98% of our children follow the Islamic faith.
The children are very confident in our ethos, which states that there are No Outsiders here – we are all insiders. It doesn’t matter if you are black or white, Hindu, Christian, Muslim or Jewish, whether you are gay or lesbian or transgender or have a disability, whatever gender you are or identify as, you are welcome in our school. The No Outsiders scheme uses picture books to promote the idea that we are all different but we all get on and, crucially, we all belong.
I lead year group assemblies every week where we use images from around the world to explore humanitarian deeds. We remark on how fantastic it is that the people in these stories don’t care about faith or race or where you come from; they care about helping and working with people. Which works very well until you have a potential world leader promoting the opposite ethos and getting lots of attention for it.
In September, children started asking me about Donald Trump. “He hates Muslims,” one child said. “He’s going to stop Muslims going to America.”
I couldn’t leave these worries hanging in the air, so I decided to address them. I looked for specific images that showed the US in a positive, multi-cultural light and started my assemblies by discussing them.
One image showed a man walking up and down an aircraft, holding and comforting a baby. The man was white and the baby was black. The man had seen the mother with an unsettled baby and offered to help.
“Why did he offer to help?” I asked the children. “Do you think he cares that the baby has different skin to his own? What does this show us about people in America?”
Another image showed a black man helping an elderly white woman cross the street. Someone had tweeted “This is the real America.” I asked the children to talk about what they could learn from the man in the picture.
A white man on the subway giving his shirt to a black homeless man; a Muslim woman inviting an anti-Muslim protestor into a mosque; a waiter in a restaurant helping a man with no hands to eat his dinner and chatting for half an hour; the US 2016 Olympic team including the first US Olympian to wear a hijab.
We had some great discussions and repeatedly concluded that we are not alone, that many Americans do agree with us and that we have to keep spreading our message.
The morning after
Then Donald Trump won. This confused the children because it suggested that the US did not share our ethos. It suggested that its citizens did not want to live with people who are different. I struggled to find an appropriate response on the morning of the result; I had a year 5 assembly at 10am and wanted to find a positive angle to focus on.
I found an image of Fabio Alvarado, a 91-year-old from El Salvador who was granted US citizenship on the day of the election. In the photo he is elated, outside a courthouse in California, as he goes to vote. We talked about how Fabio felt about having been accepted as a citizen of the US. I asked them to imagine a world where nobody travelled or met new people.
I asked the children about what had happened in the US overnight. They knew Trump had won. I had to reinforce their hope. I told them: “We are not naive, we know that not everyone agrees with us. There are some people in the world who think that people who have a different skin colour or follow a different faith cannot get along.
“But we know from our own experience that that is not the case; look at us here with different skin, different families, different faiths. Lots of people in America do agree with us and they didn’t vote for Trump. So our job now is to make sure our message gets out there. We can talk to people. If they are scared of difference, we can show them our school and we can change their minds.”
We are preparing our children for life in modern Britain – they will meet people who hold different views and they will need to find ways to work with those people.
After the assembly, one child told me that they would like to talk to Donald Trump to tell him about No Outsiders and try to change his mind about Muslims. I feel a literacy letter-writing lesson coming on…
By Andrew Moffat – Assistant head of pastoral care at Parkfield Community School in Birmingham