How did a pair of socks show me that we should always be kind?

As a parent, you have so many worries about your children. You want them to be safe, happy, healthy and contented. But my main worry was that one of my children would feel the need to bully another child – I hate bullying.

When I was nine or ten there was a pop band from Scotland called ‘The Bay City Rollers’, and all the girls in my class loved them; they all started wearing socks with a design of the group printed on the side. Being Scottish, they were all about tartan and were one of the first merchandising successes I can remember. Tartan was everywhere: scarfs, jackets, trousers, but all my parents could afford would be a new pair of socks, so I started a campaign and soon enough I was presented with a brand new pair of the coveted socks. I was so happy that morning, walking to school with my new socks on; I could not wait for the girls in my class to see them.

As I proudly walked across the playground, I started to realise that something was wrong. Groups of children were starting to laugh at me and point at my socks and very soon there was a crowd of children loudly laughing and mocking me. In my excitement at putting on my new socks that morning, I had accidently placed the motif facing inwards instead of outwards. Time stood still and even now, at the age of 54, whenever I think about it, I instantly go back to that playground and can remember exactly how I felt. That moment defined how I aim to treat people. I had tried to do something to fit in and got it terribly wrong but all I needed was support to help me through my mistake. In our family everyone wears their socks with the motif facing inwards, it is a tradition my husband started, and it symbolises what we have taught our children – always be kind. 

In 2020 the world is changing, and people are demanding that their voices be heard.  Centuries of injustices have too long been kept hidden, or worse, the history rewritten by downplaying prejudices, bigotry and preconception. No-one should ignore the shift to right these wrongs, and it is vital that you empower your homeschool child so that they too can make a difference. 

Give your child their voice.
Do not tell your child what they should think and feel; they need to know where you stand and then they need you to listen to them. Let them have an opinion and hear it. Tell them it is ok for them to have a different opinion to yours. Let them lead the way forward: what do they want to do, what outcomes do they want to achieve, how can they help make those a reality?

Black lives matter.
Embed the teaching of black lives throughout the school year. This can be done across all subjects, maybe incorporate this into a different topic each week. History is a good place to start, and in other subjects you may just need to dig a little deeper. Music, for example, can simply be to teach about black singers and musicians throughout history, but you could also tell them about the origins of folk music (the slaves brought it over from Africa). Get them to write their own folk song and tell you how it links to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Science, mathematics, languages, art, cookery, etc., there will always be a person of colour to celebrate. In fact, did you know that the numerical system in which we count is thanks to the Indians who invented it.

Write a letter. 
Following the example of Meghan Markle, who wrote a letter at aged 11, complaining about an advert she had seen on TV – the adverts for Ivory dishwasher soap caught her eye because of its gender-specific language. The voiceover for this good said, “women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans”. The young activist-to-be found offence with use of the word ‘women’. With encouragement from her dad – who told her to write letters – she reached out to some people. Markle wrote letters to the soap’s manufacturer Procter & Gamble, as well as civil rights lawyer Gloria Allred, Hillary Clinton (who was the First Lady at the time) and Nick News anchor Linda Ellerbee. The young Markle said: “I don’t think it’s right for children to grow up thinking these things, that mum does everything”.  As a result of her letter, the adverts wording was changed to replace ‘women’ with ‘people’. If you go onto YouTube you can find Meghan, aged 11, talking about this on Nickelodeon which could be a nice lesson starter for you and way to help your child find their voice and teach them letter writing. Brainstorm who to write to; maybe a company or their favourite actor or pop star. In their letter they should explain their stance and ask what the [company, pop star] are doing to support a specific cause, such as climate change. They could ask what the [company, pop star] thinks other young people could be doing to support the cause.

Organise a ‘virtual’ protest. 
This activity will be different dependent upon your child’s age.  If they are of primary school age, they could organise their toys to hold a protest. If they are older, they could produce a plan to hold a protest in their local town. Teach them how an organiser would go about this, producing posters and placards and then even writing a newspaper account of what they think would happen at their protest. 

Interview a retired POC about their life experiences. 
They could email someone famous, a journalist or a local politician, to name just a few. Personally, I encourage trying to interview someone local to your area who is not famous but will none-the-less have a plethora of memories to share. You may think it will be hard to find such a person willing to talk to your child, but you may be pleasantly surprised. Many POC who lived through arriving to Britain in the 1950s and settling into areas and jobs that were not necessarily welcoming, are often more than happy to share their experiences; they understand the importance of educating in order prevent it happening again. Obviously, this needs to be handled with sensitivity and there a few different approaches you can take.  Your local library or museum may have a display focussing on the 1950s and I would recommend approaching them to ask advice.  In the meantime, your child can learn how to prepare for such an interview by coming up with suitable questions and doing background research. 

As a teacher, it is always interesting with a new class to see who the leaders are and who are the followers. In any pack situation the emergence of leaders is guaranteed, and it is amazingly easy if you are content to follow, to put your head down and ensure it does not raise above the parapet. That does not mean, however, that you are not a leader. Any teacher worth their salt will quickly put strategies in place to give all pupils a chance at being in charge. Using the strategies here you can empower you child to find their voice and use it!