Wearing my school governor hat I have been involved in discussions about a new government directive “the duty to promote community cohesion”, a new section added to the Education Act. The ‘Diversity and Citizenship Curriculum Review’ published in February 2007 states that
“we passionately believe that it is the duty of all schools to address issues of ‘how we live together’ and ‘dealing with difference’, however controversial and difficult they may sometimes seem.”
“A crucial aspect of education for diversity training is learning how to tackle controversial issues with confidence and trust, using them to enhance critical learning skills.... Teachers must be able to help pupils make sense of the world around them. We were struck for example by the evidence that following the bombings on 7/7 there were many schools that chose silence as the best way of dealing with the complexity of the situation. They simply did not know how to cope with the questions pupils were asking....”
“Textbooks tend to concentrate on [religious] ceremonies rather than what it is like to live as a Catholic, a Muslim or a Hindu in the community... it is an area that needs considerable work if we are to meet our objectives of developing active, articulate critical learners who understand the value of difference and unity and have the ability to participate and engage in current debates.”
In recent weeks I have twice been the guest of the British Muslim Association of Merton, representing WDC/CND at two bridge-building seminars in connection with their ‘Preventing Violent Extremism’ project, and it has all given me much food for thought. ‘Citizenship’ now has the potential to be a very valuable part of the secondary school curriculum. There is official recognition that the concept of community extends from each individual school to its surrounding neighbourhood, and then beyond — to national and international level. OFSTED will now be looking for evidence of measures to promote ‘community cohesion’ during their inspections of schools, so schools have every incentive to take their responsibilities seriously. Of course it could all become a tokenistic box-ticking exercise, but there are real opportunities here and any parent, teacher or governor should find out more about what plans are in their particular school.
WDC/CND member George Marsh joined about a dozen other people on June 4th outside Victoria Station for the start of a Cook’s Tour of some of the arms manufacturers and dealers, and private security (militia) companies based in central London. As they tramped from office block to office block the extent of this thriving but hidden commercial exploitation of human misery became ever more apparent, and in the end George had to drop out from sheer exhaustion. But as he says “there were thousands of people about so it may have been all worth while” and he was carrying two of his hand-drawn posters which are on regular display at the Wimbledon vigil — about banning Trident replacement (with pictures of children: “It’s their future”) and about landmines and cluster bombs. “The making and the use of these weapons must be made a crime against humanity and those who profit by their use should be charged for their crimes” writes George.
WDC/CND is affiliated to CAAT (the Campaign Against the Arms Trade) and we receive six copies of their bi-monthly newsletter: if you would like to have one of these, please let us know.
For the second year running we were invited to bring a stall to the environmental festival at Christchurch, Copse Hill. It was a well-run event in very pleasant surroundings, deserving a rather greater response from the general public, but perhaps these things take more than a few years to become established.
It was good to be able to make the link between the very real environmental threats faced by humanity and the utter irrelevance of weapons of mass destruction. Real security requires international cooperation to tackle environmental crises at global level and a willingness to confront inequality and injustice. There are no military solutions to climate change and the money poured into the next generation of weaponry is an inexcusable waste of resources that could be put to so much better use.
We raised £85 from the sale of plants and thanks go to the team for the day: Julie, Joanna, Maureen and Brian W.
Fourteen members attended the WDC/CND AGM which was held on a glorious sunny afternoon in the garden of 43 Wilton Grove, providing an opportunity for both a review of the past year and useful discussion of the future of the group. All officers were elected unopposed:
Finances remain healthy as the result of a very successful Fête, and a donation of £200 was voted to National CND.
The decision was taken to discontinue the formal meetings which have been held for many years on the second Tuesday of every month at the Community Centre. This was partly on the grounds of cost (£30 in rent is charged on each occasion and we have been unable to find a more affordable venue) but also because of declining numbers attending. From now on, steering group meetings will be held at the home of Chair Maisie Carter, monthly or as necessary. Dates will be arranged to suit the officers’ convenience, but will be advertised in advance in the Newsletter, and meetings will be open to all members. We remain affiliated to the Community Association and shall hold at least two public meetings a year, one in the spring and one in the autumn, with invited speakers. (Suggestions welcome!) The Peace Table, Fête of the Earth, Hiroshima candle floating ceremony and winter film showings in members’ houses will all continue as before and we shall be in a position to support campaigning initiatives more generously with the money saved on room rental.
The formal proceedings were followed by a garden party much enjoyed by all, and it was agreed that this should become an annual fixture.
Maisie has offered to launch a theatre club if there is sufficient interest. Please contact 8286 8503 for further information.
This is an urgent appeal! Edwin, who has been the mainstay of our Friday peace vigil, is taking a much-deserved holiday in August, and Joanna, who is another regular, will also be away for two weeks. Together with Merton UNA and local Quakers we have maintained a presence at St Mark’s Place every Friday evening since October 2001, anticipating that the violence of 9/11 would breed further violence and determined to show that there are alternatives for civilised humanity. Our vigil leaflet advocates
We have become recognised, admired and occasionally challenged, and we want to maintain our unbroken tradition. So please can we have some volunteers to fill those August gaps?
Weekly Vigil for Peace, St Mark’s Place, Wimbledon (near Wimbledon Library), 6–7pm every Friday.
Alison Williams, Branch Secretary to Merton United Nations Association, has invited WDC/CND members to view a 40-minute DVD of Lord Malloch Brown’s address to the annual UNA conference (“both informational and stimulating, especially perhaps his replies to the questions that were raised”). As Mark Malloch Brown, he held various positions in the United Nations Secretariat from 1999, culminating in his appointment by Kofi Annan as Deputy Secretary General in 2006: “a man who knows his UN and the challenges of the world in which it operates”. There will be five repeat showings of the DVD on Tuesdays in July at 8pm. Please let Alison know which of these evenings you plan to attend as both the screen and venue are very small and she has to plan accordingly: RSVP to 020 8944 0574 or email@example.com, 11 Wilberforce House, 119 Worple Rd, SW20 8ET.
Wednesday August 6th marks the 63rd anniversary of the atomic bomb which destroyed the Japanese city of Hiroshima. At 8·30pm we shall gather on the shores of Rushmere on Wimbledon Common and launch a flotilla of floating candles in commemoration of the 200,000 ordinary people who perished that day or died subsequently of radiation sickness.
This is always a very beautiful and moving ceremony which reminds us of fundamental things about our campaign. Please try to be there.
A recent letter from Bob Ainsworth (Armed Forces Minister) provides a revealing insight into the thought-process of our decision makers.
“Present political realities mean that negotiations toward a NWC [Nuclear Weapons Convention] are unlikely to make headway.... It is difficult to see how a NWC could not undermine the credibility of nuclear deterrence, which has been a major part of the security calculus of the Nuclear Weapons States for over half a century. Attempts at negotiation would therefore prove fruitless in the current security climate where nuclear deterrence plays such a key rôle and, significantly, focus diplomatic effort away from the international architecture already in place” [i.e. the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which is under threat of collapse because of the failure of the nuclear weapons states to take seriously their absolute duty to negotiate “in good faith” towards nuclear disarmament! Ed.]
“We should stop and think for a moment not only of the perils of a world awash with nuclear weapons, but also of the more hopeful alternatives — a world in which there are far fewer such weapons.... This is the world which it is our responsibility to build. We will only address the terrible prospect of the worldwide spread of nuclear arms if we transcend our partisan differences... learn from our past mistakes and seek practical and effective solutions”: Senator John McCain, Republican Presidential Candidate, 27th May 2008.
(For the full text of this remarkable speech contact Joanna.)