There is no doubt that over the last number of years our country has becoming more and more diverse and is indeed all the richer for that. Today as a society we celebrate diversity in a whole host of ways. We celebrate diversity of culture, race and ethnicity in almost every part of Ireland, we celebrate diversity of language, diversity in terms of food, diversity in our religious and political beliefs and our ideologies, diversity in sexual orientation, in physical ability. And yet is celebrate the right word? We may have acceptance that our society is changing, we may have tolerance of difference (and still to some degree we don’t!) but do we actually celebrate difference, individuality, uniqueness to the extent that we believe that human diversity in all its many forms is enriching for us as a society and as individuals.
In my view this is the approach to diversity we need to embrace as Educate Together schools. Our schools need to be places where the uniqueness of each individual is understood and welcomed, where equity and mutual respect are intrinsic to our school community, where the richness and variety in our society and within each one of us is embraced without prejudice.
In any school community there will be differences in age, family types, gender, sexual orientation, belief systems, race; differences in knowledge and skills, differences in life experiences, to name but a few. Some of the adult diversity will be reflected among the student population, who will also come with their own additional dimensions of diversity. The real aim for us in an Educate Together school is to ensure that these diverse elements are so valued and embraced that they are not perceived as ‘differences’ but are thought of simply as part of the rich diversity of human existence, intrinsically valued without question.
Difficulties among children, and indeed incidences of bullying, are very often a result of fear or intolerance of difference. Many children fear what they don’t understand. If they perceive someone as being different or ‘other’, and there is an absence of a culture that celebrates individuality and rejects prejudice, the way is left open for intolerance and ridicule to dominate. In Educate Together schools we confidently claim that ‘no child is an outsider’ and certainly no child is refused admission based on their beliefs, family background, social standing or for any other reason. But are we able to meet all the diverse needs of children inside our schools? Can we insure that diversity is embraced and cherished among all our children? Are we able to be models for the children of a society where all are cherished equally for being the unique individuals that they are, without intolerance, prejudice or discrimination?
In our schools we need to be strong advocates for diversity, champions of uniqueness. We need to model this in all our dealings with children and promote this way of being throughout our school communities. If children live and learn and grow in an atmosphere that is not just open to diversity, but actively welcoming of diversity, then they themselves have every chance of becoming genuinely embracing of diversity in all its forms.
This month schools are being urged to take part in the INTO sponsored Different Families, Same Love competition, which is a call to teachers to take action in their classrooms to celebrate the diversity of people and families In Ireland. A good range of teaching resources has been provided to aid lessons on the topic and it is emphasized that ‘it is vitally important for all children to see their families represented in the course of these lessons’. Teachers are urged to facilitate discussion and activities that celebrate and respect similarities and differences among students and their families.
Competition entries, like our families, can take many forms, so after completing the lessons students can represent their learning individually, in groups or as a class project, and can submit their entries in a variety of forms for the competition, which is open to all primary schools and special schools in Ireland.
In RETNS classes are already starting work on the lessons, and we look forward to seeing the competition entries from our pupils and to acknowledging and celebrating the rich diversity of family life that exists in our school.
“Diversity is the one thing we all have in common. Celebrate it every day”.
- Author Unknown