I grew up in a relatively white, and middle-class we could say, suburb of Brighton: a town called Lewes. The people of Lewes will hate me calling it a suburb of Brighton, but it is. And I could have lived my life as a child never really interacting with people of different faiths, and never really interacting with and learning about different kinds of family units. I grew up in a family of a mum and a dad who were married before I was born and who remain married now, but the reason why I understand that there are different family units and people of different religions is that from the very get-go at school we read books and were told stories about different families. When the school was going to introduce a book about a child who was perhaps Muslim, it did not call an all-parents meeting to consult and say, “We’re going to be introducing a book which will introduce a character this semester or term who might not quite look like the kind of characters that you see every day in Lewes.” No, the school got on with it, and parents accepted it because leadership was shown not just by schools but by many people in the community making it clear that that was the right thing to do.
These are often rather mundane books. Many of these stories and educational methods are pretty mundane and may be about a mermaid or two penguins, or whatever the particular story is about; they are not actually that exciting. When they are being introduced, do I expect the headteacher to have to call an all-parents assembly to consult on that particular fiction book that is going to be introduced, and which is at the right reading level and of course is generally appropriate for those children? No, I do not. Actually, I think it is rather dangerous to expect teachers to have to teach on that basis. It would be ridiculous if they had to call an all-school assembly every time they wanted to introduce something new in biology, for example, or if they were going to teach arithmetic this month rather than just equations.
The approach that we need to adopt in treating this issue is one of talking about all the different ways the world works through storytelling and narrative telling. This is not about telling individuals what goes in and what goes out; it is about talking about what love means. That is also important for keeping our children safe. If we do not teach children the basic facts about what appropriate relationships are, what friendships mean by comparison with loving relationships, or how relationships between adults differ from relationships between children, we allow them to be vulnerable to predators, either at that young age or later on in life.