Leave it to the kids

For large parts of each summer I moderate vocational qualification portfolios. These are all about personal development and much of the work has been completed by teenagers. The units of learning they study cover areas like preparation for work, parenting awareness, managing money and working towards goals, but there is one unit, Identity and Cultural Diversity, that I always look forward to assessing. In it, students are encouraged to look at issues of inclusion and diversity, and investigate ways of dealing with them. As well as providing definitions of ‘diversity’ and what it means for society, they have to describe its key features and identify bodies that work on its promotion. They look at inequality, discrimination and prejudice, as well as positive and negative stereotyping. And, of course, they look at how a diverse society benefits us.

It struck me the other day, whilst looking at one these portfolios, that there are lots of programmes and qualifications we can undertake in order to learn to teach or deliver diversity to young people, but this is the only area of learning I’ve come across where young people actually look at the issues themselves – and gain a qualification for doing so. As adults, we can look at inclusion in all kinds of scenarios to our hearts’ content, and we can even get a piece of paper confirming that we’ve done that and that we now understand what it means, but isn’t that a bit like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted? What about the kids?

I received no diversity education when I was at school, despite growing up in what has become the most multicultural city in the UK. I guess it would have been a step too far, back in the Seventies and Eighties, to reach a level of acceptance so soon after the cultural landscape of our city began to change. But diversity, of course, is not just about ethnicity. It’s about acceptance and respect, and in a school where the lower ability pupils in my year were housed in a tiny classroom with no windows, the idea that we should have been taught that each individual is unique and that our differences should be recognised in that spirit is slightly preposterous when I look back.

Some of the stuff I see in the young people’s work is astonishing. Their understanding of society and its richness and how to sustain and encourage that is comprehensive. The work speaks with an eloquence many adults lack – and it’s an eloquence of thinking, as well as a coherence on paper. Sadly, these programmes are not followed by young people whose learning is dominated by traditional GSCEs. They are generally considered too bright for vocational learning (not everywhere – we do have some enlightened educators in our midst!), so miss out on all that these personal development programmes could bring to them. However, there is hope for our world and for an assuredly diverse future, and if more emphasis were placed on encouraging ‘diversity learning’ than ‘diversity teaching’, and if we left it up to the kids, that future would indeed look brighter.

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