Gove and his Islamophobia has angered us all, as has his desperation for schools to teach ‘Britishness’. He uses one to attack the other. In my opinion faith schools must go if we are to return to any kind of cohesive, tolerant society. I’m sure loads of faith schools, whatever their faith, teach their students that their way is the only way and everyone else is doomed to die a miserable death if they don’t follow the path. I quite liked the path that was yellow and had Judy Garland and her three friends dancing along it. That path worked for me. But if faith schools and their beliefs are anything to go by, I am doomed.

But I consider myself one of the lucky ones. A friend’s post on Facebook about keeping schools secular confirmed what I have been saying FOR YEARS. No faith schools. If parents want their children to learn about their religion or culture they must do it at home. Leave the schoolroom for learning about things that will carry them through life, the really important lessons like tolerance and respect and accepting people for who they are. Which, of course, many faith schools teach too. But if they’re also teaching that their faith is the ‘right way’ – which they must do surely, or what’s the point of being a FAITH-school, then what they’re also saying is that someone else’s faith (or no-faith) is wrong.

I’ve thanked my parents a great deal in my almost fifty-five years. When my dad was alive, I thanked him every time I was with him. On his death-bed I thanked him one last time, for giving me a great childhood, for loving me, for being difficult, for passing on his impatience and speedy way of living, and, despite being a Tory, for getting on and taking time to get to know those in his neighbourhood – the religious Jews, the Muslims, the Catholic who he’d known for fifty years, the secular and gay and wealthy and not-so-wealthy and non-white and just about everyone one else on his block. For contributing to making me the person I am. For making our school uniforms because we couldn’t afford the shop-bought ones (there were only a few shops that sold school uniforms then), and for not sending me to a private or religious school. I will always thank them for the best education I received, and I don’t mean the text book kind; I was rubbish at history, maths and all sciences, I was pretty bad at English, but excelled at PE, and was quite good in my Money Management class. One time, during that class, I had a disagreement with a boy and was chased out of the room by him. I remember running out of the ground floor room, around the school and re-entering through the classroom window. I can’t actually remember what we had argued about. I do remember that the boy, Ado, was found dead in the Thames near the southbank one day and I was upset. The best education I am talking about was from my secondary modern – Whitefield’s Comprehensive. (Maybe there were once white fields, it is now opposite Brent Cross shopping centre). I was a Jew, not like the other Jews at the school. They were all Eastern European, I was far more exotic and rare. Few knew about my lot. I felt different to them and made friends with all the non-Jews and only a couple of Jews. I was a terrible student, I left school with three O levels, so on paper I was rubbish, but I met the most eclectic set of people. People I would never have met had I been sent to a faith or private school. Had I gone to one of those establishments I would have mixed with one section of society only, and that to me, would have set me up for life in the worst way possible. And apart from one or two private school out of London, as far as I’m aware no one contemplated moving in order to send their children to a better school. Or has the post code lottery always existed and I’ve just not known about it?

When I look at my school photos, I see the too-tight shirt I am wearing and my ridiculous hair. But it’s the other faces I am proud of sitting alongside. The faces that stare out at me are black and white and brown and mixed, from India, China, Japan, Pakistan, England, all religions and cultures and background and different classes in the same class. I might have been a bad student, but some of my contemporaries went on to do very well. Simon Lewis (secondary school then Oxford educated), PR man to Tony Blair, the late Pat Zia was a well-respected artist, Jane Suffling has been high up at the National Theatre for many years. We were all in the same year at our secondary modern. We were from difficult classes, religions, cultures, and we got on. We didn’t glare if someone who was ‘other’ to us walked into the room, whether student or teacher. We learned how to be with others who were different. We learned that people are people, no matter what colour, race, religion, sexuality, class. We were educated to accept, tolerate and respect others. Religion never came into my school life, that was left to my parents, who did a pretty good job of allowing me to chose, taking part in my family’s faith as much as I wanted to – or not. There were no ghettos in my life, there were no walls to break down. Sadly those walls have gone up in my lifetime.

Returning to my childhood home since my father has died, being there for longer periods of time, has magnified the changes that have taken place around this neighbourhood. I am aware of my naked legs or short-sleeved shirts that show my flesh, when orthodox men and women approach me and I feel I must cover up. When I ask the young boy who lives next door to my parents if he’s watching the football and he shakes his head, I ask him, ‘not allowed to watch it?’ He nods. And yet I can’t help think that while I am expected to know all about his religion and way of life and accept it and question it, he knows nothing about mine and he is never expected to know. I understand religion, I don’t have a problem with it per se, I get the structure some people value in faith, it’s important to them. But I believe in the need for a broad education, where people-politics comes first and not religious-politics. Where the non-religious can talk to the religious, it works both ways, it educates everyone.

And yes, I know lots of parents have friends from different backgrounds, and that feeds their children with a wider perspective of life choices. But many don’t. Many have guarded lives, and their guarded children grow up with one view and one perception of life only – add that to education within a faith school and you get narrow-minded, intolerant, disrespectful young people who grow into narrow-minded, intolerant, disrespectful adults.

What we need is a gigantic ghetto blaster, to rip down the partitions, so that people can meet people like them and not like them, so that we can talk and have a dialogue about our differences, accepting or not accepting or liking, but knowing what choices exist and how other people live, so that we can talk – and see what else and who else is out there.

And let’s get rid of private schools, for many of the same reasons. Think of how it could be – all those private school teachers working in state schools, alongside the rich and poor, the middle class and working class and upper class. All those private school funds channelled into state schools for the good of all. The Jews and Muslims and Catholics and Sikhs and atheist and gay and bi sexual and transgender kids, studying together. It could provide a microcosm of the bigger picture and peace. All we’re doing is creating divisions, creating war. It starts in schools. Let’s stop it now.

One thought on “GHETTO BLASTER

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