Monday, 9 January 2012

Fighting Intolerance Through The Power of CBeebies

When I was a child, the world was a very different place.  Many people fawn over the freedom and innocence that being a child in the seventies proffered.  But no-one really talks about the shocking intolerance that existed.  We would think nothing of taunting others for being 'different'.  Even teachers used to single out other children for name calling.  TV shows mocked minorities, stereotyping ethnicity and sexuality and providing school children with more ammunition in the playground.  It was normal then.  We didn't consider ourselves racist for calling someone a nickname based on the colour of their skin. Nor did we consider it wrong to make fun of our peers by calling them names derived from medical conditions and handicaps, without even thinking about the implications of what we were saying.  It was completely acceptable by adults and children alike.

There was a boy in my class at Primary School who was a bit effeminate.  At least two teachers called this boy Peggy Sue instead of using his own name, much to the hilarity of us, his classmates.  He became the target of taunting by everyone, especially the other boys, without us even realising that it was an incredibly cruel thing to do.  I recall some of the less popular lads doing cruel things to him to earn respect from the popular boys.  His school life must have been horrific.  But to us it was just a bit of fun.  If it was OK for the teachers to do it, then it was OK for us.  No one would dare speak out against it in case we then became a target for such behaviour.  This is how intolerance grows. Although I directly never did anything to him, I feel ashamed to have been a part of this ethos.

Joey Deacon was an old man who had Cerebral Palsy and was institutionalised as a child.  Everyone thought he had no mental capabilities but he defied all odds by writing his life story and later on went on to appear on  Blue Peter as a part of an appeal they were doing.  Next day at school all the children were laughing about it.  They did impressions.  They called each other 'Joey' as a form of insult.  By now I was finding this uncomfortable.  This was a real person, an amazing, inspirational individual who was being directly attacked for being different.  I think this was my turning point where I saw that using someone's handicap to insult someone else for laughs was incredibly wrong.  Joey Deacon became one of my childhood first born son is named Joseph in his honour.

Today, things have changed.  In some ways, with the emergence of the Nanny State and political correctness gone mad, the movement has gone too far the other way.  Many of the ideas about what can and can't be said I find quite ridiculous.  But in general, the attitude of most people today is much healthier.  I don't see the same glib use of insults bandied around the playground and much of the terminology of my childhood has been eradicated.  There are still and always will be intolerant people, but on a whole children seem much kinder and more accepting of others.  The media is in part responsible for this change in attitude.  Take for example CBeebies.  Children are exposed to different cultures, religions and races through a diverse range of programming and presenters.  The inclusion of children with special and additional needs is a breath of fresh air.  Mr Tumble has made signing fun for all children, and opened toddlers eyes to the beauty of all children.  Anyone formally considered 'different' is now quite rightly accepted.  There is nothing to fear anymore.  In fact, if Freddy sees a child in a wheelchair he gets quite excited and shouts for Mr Tumble!  This generation gives me hope that things can get better for this country.

I may have previously been sceptical about the use of children's media in changing perceptions of young people until I witnessed something very special!    While tidying up the children's toys I found a doll with only one arm.  I resigned her to the rubbish pile, only to be met with cries of "Nooo!" coming from the kids.
"Why are you throwing her away?" they asked.
"Because she's only got one arm!" I replied.
"Yes, but so does Cerrie from CBeebies!" they explained.
The one armed doll has been returned to the toybox alongside her two armed counterparts.  Freddy has a particular soft spot for her.  Mummy has learned a valuable lesson.

The One-Armed Doll


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