Throughout the ages, there has been a long history of segregation of the people we share a planet with.  In most instances there is an accompanying ”plausible” explanation, where we are told that certain people, of differing cultures, sex, ethnicity, race or religion need to be kept apart.  We are all aware of the effects of apartheid in South Africa and racial segregation in some parts of the USA.  These are viewed, quite rightly, as very prominent examples of mankind being outrageously stupid, and justifying itself with spurious supporting evidence for the efficacy of segregation.

My story is tiny by comparison, but nonetheless has had an enduring effect on my outlook.  I grew up in Airdrie, a smallish mining town, halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh.  We lived in a brand new council estate, and at the age of 5 (in 1971), I duly attended St Dominic’s Primary School.  This school was also brand new, as was the almost identical primary school next door.  Armed with my new uniform, satchel and packed lunch, my first experience of the playground threw up many questions.

Why is there such a big fence with spikes on top?

Why is there another school on the other side of the fence?

Why are my friends on the other side of the fence?

Why are children on the other side of the fence throwing stones at us?

Why are those people different from us?

Why are we better than them?

Why do they eat frogs? (from a song we used to sing about “them”)

After school, and at weekends, I would still play with my non-Catholic friends, but it was frowned upon.  I could never understand why the authorities saw fit to separate children, and make sure we knew that we weren’t the same as each other. Inevitably each side determines that they are “better” than the other, and focuses on the things that make them different, rather than what makes them the same.  This is unnatural. All kids want to belong.  They want to be the same as everyone else; to fit in.  The other school, Petersburn Primary, was non-denominational, so it was the Catholic Church which had determined that its children would be kept apart, and educated separately from others.  A voluntary apartheid, if you like.

In the West of Scotland, and in Northern Ireland, there are hundreds of pairs of schools which have been built side by side in this fashion.  This is clearly a much more costly option, and could not be any more demonstrably divisive.  Sadly, I know full well that this is unlikely to change anytime soon.  However, there are now brilliant examples of “Joint-Campuses” in new schools being built, where the kids may be educated separately, in different wings of the same building, but share the same playground.  Along these same lines, I would like to see paired schools tear down the fence which separates them.  I suggested this to my sister this week, who also attended the same school.  “There would be mayhem” she replied, ” all the kids would be fighting each other!”  I believe this proves my point.

Essentially she was saying that, by sending kids to separate schools, we have taught them to hate each other.  I say we are teaching children all the wrong lessons, if we don’t allow them to play together.

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Stephen O'Donnell is a lifelong recruiter, internet enthusiast, fadgadget and peripatetic writer.

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