The political word in 2016 fascinating, if somewhat frightening, place. Extremism and intolerance seem to be taking front and centre stage. Talking to young people recently about the US elections, I was impressed at how aware they were of the candidates and the issues at stake. However, I was also surprised at the words they used to describe the candidate they did not support. Many were anti-Trump and the the language some of them used to describe him mirrored the intolerant language that Trump himself used in his campaigns. It saddened me to think that young people who were rejecting a candidate based on his lack of respect were echoing that lack of respect in the way they voiced their opinions.
Teaching tolerance in a world were intolerance appears to be rewarded, or were figures of power are themselves intolerant, is difficult yet imperative, as is teaching young people how to argue and defend their views. So how do you do this when social media is full of soundbites that undermine the values society should be built on? How do you teach young people to stand up to intolerance without being intolerant themselves?
Education is the key and books are ideal for creating opportunities for discussion – not only about intolerance itself but also the best way to stand up to it. Dystopian books are a good place to start as they generally depict intolerant societies. A few favourites are Animal Farm by George Orwell, Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman and Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner.
However, if a dose of realism is needed there are many books based around real historical events. I think that A Beautiful Lie by Irfan Master is interesting because, through a small village and friendship group, it demonstrates the destructive effect of ignorance and intolerance. Other books in a similar vein are Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys and North Face by Matt Dickinson. The same is true for Looking at the Stars by Jo Cotterill, although this is based around a fictional society.
Don’t forget to use publications on current affairs to help understand the reality of the political situation around us (The Week or The Week Junior ) or history magazines to explain and to make links to the past (History Today, History of War, All About History).