'Bringing a different kind of virus home from the playground'

Children at St. George's C of E Primary School in Stockport,play hop scotch during playtime.

Children are not just playing during recess - Credit: PA

My daughter brings home crafts, books, and math assignments from school. She also brings home comments and opinions from her peers. My daughter is six-years-old.

When she first started primary school, I had foolishly concluded that the time to wield a strong identity against fully ripened peer pressure would be somewhere between 11-years-old and an iPhone 23 – or whatever model hits the market, then. Though it has been a mental reprieve to shuttle the kids off to school again, we are now weathering a different type of endemic: Recess.

Between phonics and history, and before French club, there’s recess. A time where kids, often unknowingly, bring their home environment and inherited biases along with their veggie sticks to share at snack time. So, while we are screening for Covid-19 symptoms, other viruses get through. And at dinnertime our table is invaded with the aftermath of uninhibited tongues on impressionable minds.

On Monday, Jackson’s* classmate insists that he cannot be the Peter Parker Spider-Man because he’s brown; that he can only be the Miles Morales Spider-Man.

Tuesday: Maryam’s classmate expresses a strong distaste for her thick curls.

NewYork/Crouch End writer Carlene Fraser-Harris. Picture: Carlene Fraser-Harris

Carlene is concerned about the unconscious bias in the school playground - Credit: Carlene Fraser-Harris

I have found that the love and self-assurance I equip my children with is often a shoddy umbrella against the torrent of learned biases.

Wednesday: The principal de-escalates a situation by offering the victim [and their parents] advice on moving to a new school while the suspect returns to enjoy science class.

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On Thursday: School officials, still learning to be comfortable with the discomfort of their learned discrimination, are unable to smooth the prickles of recess time. Instead, their focus is education ratings and test scores, lamenting over UK school rankings and popularity.

Meanwhile, on Friday after school: a boy tells his mother he was chosen as the villain every day that week whenever they played at recess.

“They said I look like the baddie, and they hit me because they have to defeat the baddie,” says five-year-old Max. His purple bruises will clear much faster than the mental fog he’s now in.

Whether intentionally or unconsciously, we impart our personal comforts and societal preferences to our children who then relay those preferences at school. Children are doused in self-confidence and esteem at home – a great support for learning in the classroom. But that self-confidence is often given with harmful undertones of unconscious bias.

School comes home with my daughter every day; I hope the best of home goes to school with her sometimes, too. More times.

*not their real names.

Carlene Fraser Harris is a writer based in Crouch End