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A LITERACY EXERCISE WITH A DIFFERENCE

 

By Marcia Hutchinson

Friday, June 25, 2010.

How can schools really address cultural diversity and community cohesion in an already packed curriculum? Well it’s difficult but the honest answer is that there is no quick fix. Gone are the days when you could just have a quick Caribbean Day in Black History month and still keep your ‘outstanding’ Ofsted status. My children’s school meant well but after I was asked to come and cook the Caribbean food along with the other black parents (for the third year running) I realised that this was my main value to the school.

The cross-curricular teaching pack that I edited, specifically dealing with post war migration which was just perfect for ‘Britain Since 1948’ was still gathering dust in the head’s office since I gave the school a complimentary copy. A token day (or week even) is not enough, embedding diversity is what it’s all about.

An exercise I carried out at a primary school yesterday illustrates what I mean. We passed around Caribbean food in a ‘pass the parcel’ type game. When the music stopped the child holding a piece of food had to come up with as many ‘describing’ words as they could. The children loved the game and came up with adjectives galore.

“Being British is about listening to Jamaican music while driving a German car containing African metals to an Irish Pub for a Belgian beer, then grabbing a Bengali curry or a Turkish Kebab on the way home, to sit on Swedish furniture and watch and American show on a Japanese TV. And the most British thing of all? Suspicion of anything foreign.” Source unknown, but I added the Jamaican music bit myself.

This love hate relationship with foreign stuff is very much what defines the British and the English in particular. But it’s also the clue to how to include cultural diversity in to the school curriculum.

In my INSET training I am often asked how teachers can incorporate diversity in to their teaching when their children in the school mix so rarely with children from other cultures. Part of my answer is that the children are already steeped in other cultures you just need to know where to look for it and a few ideas on how to incorporate the melting pot that is British Culture in the 21st Century, into your curriculum.

Take music – Bob Marley’s Buffalo soldier is a song many children know but this could also be used to introduce them to trans-atlantic slavery as the eponymous hero was “Stolen from Africa” and enslaved in the Caribbean – yes the very same one that they have watched Johnny Depp et al cavorting in for the last five years. Oh and a good one third of pirates were black by the way…

A quick trawl around the house would demonstrate that a lot of their white goods made their way here from China (and will make their way back to be recycled at the end of their useful life). Food is just brilliant for diversity – how many of your children have had a curry do they know where it comes from what is their favourite dish. Maths, lets create graph and see which take-away dish comes out top, my money is on the curry with fish and chips a close second. What are their favourite TV shows – where are they made? – Doh!

Will they be watching the World Cup – which countries do their favourite players play for, can they point to that country on a map? What else do they know about the country? Which country does the England Teams’ manager come from?

See it wasn’t that hard was it! 

Marcia Hutchinson studied law at Oxford University before practising as a solicitor for ten years. She changed direction in 1997 establishing Primary Colours to meet a need for high quality culturally diverse educational resources. She has written for a range of publications, including the Guardian, The Yorkshire Post and the Caribbean Times. She was recently the subject of ITV's My Yorkshire. She speaks regularly at conferences and other events on education for diversity.

 Marcia is available to comment on all aspects of education for diversity and issues around multiculturalism in schools. For further information please contact  marketing@primarycolours.net

 

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