Doing nothing is not an option

The issue of diversity in education, and wider society, is something I’ve been aware of for a very long time. I remember watching with interest a storyline on homophobia on Grange Hill in the 1980s. I also have a strong memory of my father (a teacher) calling out racists at a non-league football game when I was around 10 years old. This was a formative moment in my life. What I didn’t realise then was that I was extremely privileged. As a white, middle-class, heterosexual, male I hold all the aces. I was blissfully unaware I would never need to battle the bigotry that many other people face in their lives. Even with my comprehension school background I am extremely privileged.

And the more I think about this, the more this really annoys me. People with privilege, trying to convince you how bad they had it, is undermining those who battle inequality every day. Look back, I just did it in the last paragraph, I couldn’t help but mention my old comprehension school. I’ve also seen academics earning salaries of well over £50k+ a year claiming they are working class (because their parents were) and how they struggle. This devalues genuine discrimination, and real lack of privilege. Now before I go on I know this is complex area, and there are serious challenges for white, male, low income students in parts of the UK. So what I am saying is if you have privilege, of any sort, acknowledge it. Then think about how you can change this.

One of the reasons I’ve not written on this topic earlier is because I wasn’t sure what to say. Yesterday I watched the DiverseEd discussion online and now regret that approach. I realised that with my inherent privilege that by saying or doing nothing I was contributing to this situation. People doing nothing for decades, or centuries, has allowed this situation to perpetuate. Staying silent is not acceptable. It is far better to engage and listen, and if you get it wrong then acknowledge this, and learn and engage some more. This might not be comfortable but we have to do it.

So from the DiverseEd discussions I took some key messages, and more importantly actions. First we can make sure BAME, LGBT, and disability are meaningfully represented in teaching, whether this is in school or HE. Don’t add tokenistic activities like anti-racism weeks, then return to what we do normally. Don’t stick up a poster about modern slavery, then teach colonialist interpretations of history. Don’t buy books for your class with strong female leads, put them on the shelf, and teach a topic entirely based around Harry Potter, or one of the David Walliams books which has stereotyped characters. Changing this might take time, and effort, but that’s what is needed. Then discuss this with your learners, and point out the issues with these texts, let them pupils discuss and debate this. Don’t hide the learners from it.

I work in higher education, so what can we do? Well in the university senior leaders are heavily over-represented by the male, stale, pale brigade. One such individual recently told a meeting that they didn’t like the phrase ‘decolonising the curriculum’. I was shocked, but I said nothing. On reflection I struggle to think of one single old, white man in these senior roles who has been any more impressive than most of my colleagues, students or pupils I taught in primary. This is not good enough. But no one ever challenges this. If there is diversity lower down the hierarchy it is likely they are the people doing the real work. This is particularly insidious. This is the Emperor’s new clothes being played out everyday in the Ivory Towers of Academia. So we should call it out.

I am now embarrassed how little I have done over the years to challenge the issues. For those of us who have privilege, of any sort, these problems in society is our responsibility. As a white, middle-class, male I have a chance to make the other white, middle-class male listen. Passivity is not an option. It is time to be an ally. And if you think this isn’t your responsibility, or worse that a statue is more important than real people then you should take a good look at yourself.

My first action is to learn more about being an ally. I am also I’ll start by diversifying my Twitter feed, and be proactive with my Professional Learning Network. I am going to read posts on these issues and educate myself, starting with this one on being an Upstander, not a Bystander. Now if you have privilege please stop procrastinating and go do something. We have a responsibility to live these principles. Every. Single. Day.

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