The more time passes, the more our continent changes. Change can be grand, it can be terrific, but we need to take action and engage with what surrounds us. What I see at times though, is Europe in a daze, staring at its neighbors with no clue what to do. _They_ take action, jump on boats and reach Europe full of hope, endangering their lives for a sound future. On the other side of the Mediterranean, the old continent observes thousands drowning in the sea as well as those who make it through, and remains uncertain how to deal with either one of the two groups.
While Europe seems to wait for a top-down change, it’s being reshaped from the bottom, the inside: its culture grows, its population transforms, its languages evolve and now include words that did not exist until recently. This happens informally, with no administration or direction from above. It occurs on a daily basis without us realizing it and brings about a change that we only notice when it’s too late – when people are killed in the name of “another God”, when teens are bullied at school for the clothes they wear, for their eating habits, or the supposed “smell of their skin”. We ultimately realize that something went wrong when young people join armies of hate to fight the very world their parents chose for the better future I’ve mentioned above. Is there someone or something to blame? Is Europe to blame? And what is Europe after all?
No place for racism
Well, Europe is us, the individuals who live here and call it home. The good news is: we all have the oil to grease its rusty gears, we don’t need to wait for someone to come and do the dirty job, we shall not even expect too much from those “up there”. They do have, indeed, means at their disposal to coordinate great projects and a bird’s eye-view on the challenges our continent is facing. On the other hand, though, no superstructure has the power to improve the lives we lead at a micro-level. That’s not something that comes from above.
And here’s a second piece of good news: people all over Europe are already working to improve the reality around them, connecting people of different countries, sharing a common view in order to reach a shared goal. Let me give you an example that I noticed some time ago, but only recently really understood: There’s a school near the place I live, where a chequerboard plaque at the entrance says: “School without racism – school with courage”. I’ve always thought the message was great and imagined the students in such an institution to be keen on cross-cultural matters, respect, identity-related issues, and human rights. Yet I couldn’t suspect this one place to be in fact part of a 27 year-old network of thousands of schools across several European countries (namely, Belgium, The Netherlands, Spain, Germany and more recently Italy, Ireland, England, Switzerland, Romania, Lithuania and Hungary). I dug a bit further into the topic to find out that Schools Without Racism is sustained and developed by youngsters themselves with a grassroots approach which reflects their sheer ideas, their passion and engagement.
When a school receives the title “School without Racism — School with Courage” it is not a reward for exemplary projects already performed; it is a commitment for the future. Furthermore, it means that at least 70 percent of the pupils, teachers and technical personnel are committed to the cause and actively oppose any appearance of violence or discriminatory remarks. This shows that on a practical level it’s all about taking up subjects of personal interest and work out proposals for appropriate activities. It couldn’t be more concrete or rewarding, don’t you agree?
Don’t let prejudices prevail
That’s an answer to the horrible episodes of violence and misanthropy against immigrants at all societal level, not just in schools. It’s even more than an answer – it’s prevention, it’s education.
It takes bravery to join such a network. In the first place, it means to give up “traditional programs” to a relevant extent and be open to new forms of learning and teaching. It’s a projection into the future, rather than a look at the past. Giving up on cultural roots to prioritize the harmonious development of an intercultural generation is surely wise, but not an easy task. It triggers a change in perspective, from top-down to bottom-up. “School without racism” gives students the chance to hold their future in their hands and shape it as they like, without letting prejudices prevail.
A multi-faceted continent – this is what Europe is becoming. It’s promising to know that thousands of schools in different countries are already working on cultural differences to turn them into Europe’s ace in the hole.