Tackling Extremism in England's Schools

Tackling Extremism in England's Schools

Actors from the Saltmine Theatre Company have been touring schools in Walsall to encourage students to grapple with extremism and what it really means.

Using money from a Near Neighbours grant given to the Muslim charity, Innovate Walsall, this troupe of actors performed the ‘Stand for It?’ play in five schools across Walsall. I joined them at the Joseph Leckie Academy to see them perform before a group of year 7 students.

Before the play started I had a chat with Anna, playwright and actor in the show who told me that she wrote the play because she was keen to see peace in communities,

“I wrote this play because I want to see peaceful communities that are free from racism and violence. I’ve loved the opportunity to take that message in to schools and it has been great to see students’ hearts and minds change because of it.”

With this in mind, I made my way to the back of the hall and watched as a group of chatty young students made their way in. Thinking back to my own experience of school, I wasn’t exactly sure we’d make it through the show without far too many students being pulled out for misbehaving, but I was wrong. The show was captivating for students, teachers, and myself alike.

The play tells the story of two young men. The first is a white British young man who has found himself being taken in by his father’s far right narrative of xenophobia and the second is a young British Asian man who becomes radicalised by extremists that he has met in an online chatroom.

As the story progresses, tensions begin to rise until they tip over the edge into a violent clash at a factory strike. The play ends with both characters waiting near each other in hospital as their loved ones are being treated. The mood is that of sheer remorse.

           

Already the play had been captivating, but then some of the actors stepped out of character as the two young men stayed in character. During this time the actors out of character facilitated a discussion between the students and the two young men. They asked, ‘how could this have been avoided?’

Every student in the room seemed to be grappling with this question and the conversation that ensued was very interesting and the two young men showed no lack of nuance and internal conflict in their responses.

                              

As the students filed out afterwards they were reaching to fist bump and high five the actors. Clearly the play had made an impression on them. Speaking to the Academy’s Head of Personal Development, Ben, it became clear that the play had indeed made a real impact,

“We’ve very much enjoyed having the ‘Stand For It’ play being performed within the Academy. It tackled a very sensitive and pressing issue in an engaging and relevant way. The students got a lot out of the play, and by taking part in the workshops they were able to ask questions and share their ideas."

The Saltmine Theatre Company have got a brilliant play that is challenging young hearts and minds. Using the Near Neighbours grant they have performed in front of 2,400 people and the statistics they’ve gathered show that, prior to seeing the play, only 28% of students claimed to know a fair amount or a lot about extremism, whilst after seeing the play that figure rose to 82%.

This is great work and we wish the actors all the best as they continue to take this play to schools across the country! 

Author: Mr Tim Burton-Jones

Date: 14 December 2015

@nearneighbours