How does diversity work when you're 6?

(32 Posts)
WhotheWhat Sun 03-May-15 17:22:50

My daughter has just told me that someone in her class doesn't like her because she 'doesn't pray'. It's been going on a while, apparently. The boy is Muslim, whereas my family have no religious affiliations. DD1 doesn't seem too bothered (I think the kid is a general PITA and not someone she'd be great mates with anyway), but she did bring it up. This is troubling me, but I can't work out why.

I live in Tower Hamlets in London. DD1 is 6 (yr 1) and at the local state primary. The school is diverse - ethically, culturally and economically, as is the area (we're close to the City). Majority of pupils are from Bangladeshi families, which also reflects the area (although there is an 'outstanding' Catholic school in the same area and a lot of the non-Bangladeshi family kids are from Catholic European countries, so the ratios are a bit skewed).

Anyway.....DD1 always been happy. The school itself seems to operate as the antithesis of the denominational schools in the area (no uniform, mud kitchens, teachers by their first names) and it has a good and growing reputation. Everyone rubs along together and I love how DD1 has friends from so many different backgrounds.

Is it just inevitable that children start picking up on differences, whatever they are? Or is this something that I should discuss with the teacher? She was very upset a few weeks ago because she didn't know 'what she was' - meaning whether she was a Christian or not. I talked it through with her but put it down to it being Easter (they'd discussed the Easter story), but maybe not.

I'd be very grateful for any views on this. I have a feeling I'm projecting because, growing up, I was the only person who didn't have a Christening bracelet wasn't Christened and that felt a bit odd in 1980s CofE suburbia, but I also don't want DD1 to have to defend who she is at such a young age.

Aghhh - I usually take this sort of stuff in my stride, but this is niggling me.

What do you think?

TeenAndTween Sun 03-May-15 18:34:43

I'm not sure. I say to my younger one that 'Different people have different beliefs. That's OK, people are allowed to believe what they want. You should always be respectful even if you don't believe the same as them'.

OsmiumPhazer Sun 03-May-15 18:35:05

It is a tricky one WhotheWhat because we are essentially talking about children, and of course children will pick up on comments they hear from their elders.
We are living in a society where hostility towards Muslims is increasing, every day we get the drip drip of this ‘Muslim phobia’ in the popular press. Although UK teachers and others have more or less been told to help identify pupils at risk of extremism, it must be difficult to identify what that entails. I am very familiar with Tower Hamlets, and find it a shame to see more or less mono cultural schools there. I take my hat off to you for sticking with this school when other local families have taken the ‘ Christian white flight’ and ‘Christian black flight’ route

You need to talk to the teacher in confidence and fast

WorraLiberty Sun 03-May-15 18:39:22

Yes I think you should have a word with the teacher.

Hopefully they'll have a word with the little boy or the whole class about religious/non religious differences.

Jennifersrabbit Sun 03-May-15 18:52:20

Well, to put it the reverse way, my DS is quite a staunch atheist (as is DH, I attend Quaker meeting). When he was around that age he told me his observant Christian classmate was 'silly because God doesn't exist'.

Answer: you have every right to believe that and to state your views politely. But your classmate believes sometning different and is going to be very upset if you tell him he's silly or wrong because of it. So don't!

OsmiumPhazer Sun 03-May-15 19:42:03

I don't think the Quaker analogy is the same Jennifersrabbit.

Teachers are being offered training into tackling concerns into 'extremism'. As the poster has stated it has been going on for a while now, so surely she should have a word with the teacher?

Nowfeeltheneedtopost Sun 03-May-15 20:30:48

Where is the "extremism"? I'm with teenandtween, surely the response is simply different people believe different things. I'm a staunch atheist but my DD (age 7) has believed in God since she went to nursery school (no faith schools, just community nursery and state primary school). We talk every now and again about why she believes what she does and why I don't believe - typically she will raise when it is Easter or Christmas. She is interested in what the Muslim children in her school believe but only in the same way that she is interested in why I don't have any religion. I would have a word with the teacher because this seems unusual and I'm sure the teacher would like to address in class the fact that different people believe different things and that this is ok.

OsmiumPhazer Sun 03-May-15 20:49:15

Nowfeeltheneedtopost

Of course it is not 'extremism' thats is why I put the word in inverted commas, we are talking about a 6 year old. I am merely stating that the comments are reason enough to talk to the teacher

peltata Sun 03-May-15 20:50:40

I'm in Tower Hamlets too - remember a Muslim lifeguard trying to convert me whilst my ds was having a swimming lesson! The show stopper for him was that I had no religious faith which muted all the standard arguments he had lined up.
Maybe the boy in the class has heard similar a conversation? but is too young to make sense of it.

If it is causing you concern definitely mention it to the teacher.

WhotheWhat Sun 03-May-15 20:52:10

Thank you all very much for your input. And it's kind of reassuring to know that this is something to address. I realise that anything the kid says is just repeating what he hears outside of school and he probably hasn't given it much thought. But I find it sad sad sad that religion is now the subject of these playground exchanges, especially given the area I live in and the efforts many people go to to stop this polarising.

And yes Osmium - I didn't know there was a name for it, but that is exactly what happens when there are denominational schools around. I deliberately didn't 'find God' just in time to get my children into the faith schools (there's a good CofE one also), because that's not who I am, but also because that doesn't reflect where we live. Nor did I bust a (financial) gut to send her to a 'nice' independent - thinking that everyone can afford to opt out of a community for a grand a month is also not something we want her to learn.

And Jennifersrabbit, that's kind of how I handled the whole 'what am I' upset a few weeks ago. Explaining that people believe different things and that religions boil down to treating people well and doing the right thing and being kind, which is what we believe in etc etc. She seemed okay with it, but my worry is that this kid won't have the equivalent of you on the flip side. Still, I'm probably getting ahead of myself and maybe the parents would totally advocate tolerance.

Okay - I shall speak to the teacher! Any tips on attaching appropriate importance to the discussion? I'm sure she gets inundated every day with comments and concerns with parents. Should I discuss it with the Head? The Head is very hands on and is largely the reason this school is a success story, but she does seem to have been on a course to learn how to deflect every observation or concern that is brought to her attention. I understand that she needs this skill in order to get down to the business of running a school, but is this something I should ask for a meeting about?

Thanks again!

NotCitrus Sun 03-May-15 20:54:57

Ds is also 6 and in a very diverse London school. There's been the odd incident where a child has told him and best friend they will go to hell if they don't believe in god, but after bf just shrugged in incomprehension, they all seem to get on OK, with the odd query about "but what DO you believe in then?" and answers like "mummy and daddy and science!"

I think it helps that this school has no majority group, but also the staff have been hot on respect for each other in general. The various Muslim families tend to be happy for kids to go to the non-religious families' parties and vice versa, but there's a number of evangelical Christian and JW families who won't let their children go to other's houses - so ds and friends sometimes mention that X can't come "because he's black" as shorthand and dd was sad that 4 of her 6 nursery friends didn't come to a party and won't ever come to play. I told her their families are very busy, which is probably enough for a 3yo.

I'd mention it to the teacher just as part of letting them know what is going on. I've also started telling ds various bible stories just so he knows them, after it turned out he was getting scared of crosses and eventhe letter X as " they use them to kill people". I reassured him that the Jesus story was from 2000 years ago and that doesn't happen any more (close enough... And I do hide newspapers - he's still scared of U-rated films...)

Jennifersrabbit Sun 03-May-15 20:56:17

Sorry, probably a need to clarify there. The Quaker bit is a slight red herring.

I do think that it's worth talking to the teacher because it sounds as if the little boy could do with a chat about people believing different things and the importance of mutual respect and good manners. As could many other 6 year old boys of all faiths and cultures. He may or may not be having this lesson taught at home. My DS certainly was but at 6 it didn't stop him stating his opinions with the tact of a sledgehammer. At 9 he is beginning to get there smile

Jennifersrabbit Sun 03-May-15 21:02:12

Apologies, OP, cross post. I agree there is no way you can know what his parents' opinions are and how they are dealing with it (or even if they know?) Hence a very good idea to speak to the teacher.

Id maybe suggest a stepped approach? DD is this sort of age and I think if she had a problem of this sort I would first speak to the class teacher and treat the issue as firstly that your DD is being made unhappy, and/or that you think there is scope for more work with the children around mutual respect.

If the class teacher is unable to sort it then I would escalate to the Head at that point.

WhotheWhat Sun 03-May-15 21:07:07

Thank you for your post NotCitus There's been the odd incident where a child has told him and best friend they will go to hell if they don't believe in god coupled with they use them to kill people has certainly cheered me up! That's not totally what I mean, but I am laughing.

Your situation sounds like a minefield, although the lack of majority group does indeed sound like its saving grace.

NotCitrus Sun 03-May-15 21:19:12

Thing is, it isn't really a minefield in practice - seems to work. A pleasant bunch of 6yos on the whole. Though I did hear a kid had got into trouble at home for reporting that ds and bf "know everything" and "they say god is just a story", but more for the general tactlessness of being 6!
They did do a topic on what happens in your house at Christmastime and other festivals and who brings you presents, which led to some interesting justifications for wanting to visit Santa's Grotto so he could pass the letter on to Saint Lucia/Babushka/Auntie X at Eid. And get the present from Santa, of course. :-)

OsmiumPhazer Sun 03-May-15 21:44:10

WhotheWhat
Do discuss it gently with the teacher first. I (personally) think that it is an important matter as you mentioned that it has happened on a number of occasions. Yes teachers are inundated with other matters, but I think this is a priority matter which is why it is important it is tackled in a sensitive fashion.

tethersend Sun 03-May-15 22:18:43

Err... I think our children might be at the same school grin- does it start with a C by any chance?

DD went through this in reception, and still sometimes mentions it now she's in Y1- her closest friends are Muslim, and she often asks if she can be Muslim, although she doesn't have a grasp of what this means. She knows that we don't believe in God, but I have said to her that some people do, and that's ok, and that she can decide for herself. It seemed to work. By that, I mean she stopped asking grin

marytuda Mon 04-May-15 00:41:23

Our school is also an ethnically and socially diverse, inner London primary. I have picked up on a certain tribalism in my son's now Y3 class. At one point he was under pressure in the playground to pick an identity; Christian or Muslim. That one could be religion-free had not occurred to these 7-year-olds, and probably not to their parents either. I remember the mother of my son's best friend sitting on my sofa while the boys played, probing me for my religious affiliation after she'd revealed hers, and being baffled when I said I didn't have any. Hers was clearly important to her.
And she does have a point. I may consider myself atheist but culturally we are clearly more Judao-Christian influenced than Islamic or anything else! That's all this parent and the kids at school were asking.

Saracen Mon 04-May-15 10:45:21

From what I have read about racism, it appears that no matter how children are brought up, they do begin to notice and comment on differences and use them as a way to form an identity as a society: who "belongs" and who "doesn't belong" to "our group".

It isn't necessarily originating from the people around them. If you think about it, children of a certain age will also start making judgments based on such criteria as who has which lunchbox; they probably aren't learning that from their parents!

So, this behaviour is "natural". But so are lots of other behaviours and beliefs we find unacceptable. It isn't something we agree with, so it has to be tackled.

WhotheWhat Sat 09-May-15 09:04:05

I spoke to the teacher and and glad I did. She listened to my concerns then explained that any discussion on religion or beliefs always mentions that its equally okay to not have any 'official' beliefs (and seems to end with some complicated arm and body action and a solemn declaration of "respect"). She said she will reiterate the message to this child and we will see how it goes. Apparently they have a humanities teacher in the school who can focus on this for a while if needed.

I hadn't really thought about how alien the concept of no religion is to some people, but that does make sense. DD1's teacher is a Muslim, so hopefully the message coming from her will help to legitimise it for those pupils who haven't come across the concept before.

A big fat thank you to everyone on this thread. You have all been very helpful and I thank you for your time.

<goes of to ponder longstanding bias towards Fisher Price farm lunchbox>

PS: Tethersend - no, H. There must be a few out there!

Kampeki Sat 09-May-15 09:27:31

Is it just inevitable that children start picking up on differences, whatever they are? Or is this something that I should discuss with the teacher?

To some extent, I think it is inevitable that kids will pick up on differences, but it still needs to be managed, and I think it is worth raising it with the teacher, so I'm glad that you did.

DD is at a very diverse school. The diversity is celebrated and it's generally managed extremely well - there is very good integration between both children and parents.

One of dd's closest friends comes from an evangelical Christian family, while another comes from a Muslim family. DD's father and I are both agnostic, DD seems to lean more towards atheism. When they were all about 6, the Christian girl went through a phase of telling dd and the Muslim girl that they would both go to hell if they didn't accept that Jesus was Lord. DD was outraged, rather than upset, but I went and had a word with the teacher, because I was concerned that other children might find this kind of comment disturbing.

The teacher was really grateful that I'd flagged it up, and had a few talks with the whole class about people having different beliefs and the importance of respecting what other people think and not forcing your views on them. It seemed to work. The girls are still great friends, and they have learnt to respect each other's different views. Last year, the Christian girl even made a card for the Muslim girl at Eid. smile

So, what I think I'm trying to say is that it may be natural for some kids to go through a somewhat intolerant phase while they are working out what it means to be different from others, and this is largely due to their immaturity. If it is handled right at the time, and challenged sensitively by an open-minded adult, most kids will grow out of that intolerance and develop a healthy respect for those who don't share their views.

OsmiumPhazer Sat 09-May-15 09:48:03

WhotheWhat

Glad its worked out well with the teacher, as I was interested in the outcome. No doubt this issue will crop up in other schools in other 'diverse' areas too

Notenoughsleepmumof3 Thu 18-Jun-15 23:11:22

I was pleased to find this discussion. My DC's are in a very diverse inner city state school in London. It is diverse ethnically, religiously, educationally (meaning uni or not) and financially. I think that is great and want to believe in this kind of utopia in schools, but it is a hard balance and one I don't think our school has met very well. The kids are in tribes of their own kind by the time they are in year 3 and by the time they are in year 6 (my DD is at the end of her primary years this July) it is often hostile between the groups. I do find it upsetting, but I don't know what I can do about it other than continue to say the right things to my DC's regarding the subject. Talking tolerance and humanity. It's hard for an 11 year old to continue with humanity, when she is getting shoved all the time, kicked, and mocked by one of the top their groups. 'Stupid white girl'. Sometimes I worry that her experience at primary school is going to make her racist.

Biscuitsneeded Sat 20-Jun-15 22:03:29

DS came home from school very put out in Year 1 because a Catholic Portuguese boy had insisted that DP and I MUST be married because "you have to be married to have babies"! DS had valiantly insisted that he was certain we weren't, but other boy was having none of it. When I mentioned it to boy's mother she was very happy to explain to him that not everyone is catholic and that that was just their belief, and the teacher also arranged some circle time where they discussed the concept of difference. However, I did encounter one evangelist mother who was totally unashamed to tell me, in our children's hearing, that she worried for my soul and I was probably going to Hell. I think in her case it was too late for any circle time...

marytuda Sun 21-Jun-15 00:25:57

Two things on this thread 1) religious intolerance and b) ethnic tribalism. . I think the former is generally handled quite well by staff; it's a no-brainer really, schools like this can't even begin to function without explicit respect for different beliefs. The second is trickier and tends to get brushed under the carpet ("Oh, we're all colour-blind here!) which actually makes things worse. It needs challenging when kids (and parents) at schools like this only associate with others of their ethnicity. IMO the onus is on the more privileged of us, ie generally white-middle-class, articulate-in-English parents, to take the initiative . . . especially if, as is often the case, we are basically running the PSA and so effectively representing of the whole parent-body, if not actually parent governors, which some of us are . . . To be fair, those ones, the governors, do tend to be more aware of need for inclusiveness. What depresses me most in our school is seeing the WhiteMiddleClass mums cluster together in the playground in a way that excludes anyone else . . .How can they be surprised when their kids do the same thing? (The other tribes are not sufficiently confident to "cluster" in the same way . . ) Perhaps I'm the only one, with my mixed-race kid, who minds . . . but the teachers at least should make an effort to mix the kids up in the classroom, not let them sit in their "tribes" all the time. The best ones do.

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