Last week, I was invited to my old school, Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School in Sutton Coldfield to give a talk on the a Sikh view on justice and human rights. In touring the school, I found this concern for human rights reflected in the very ethos of the school. It was very different from the one I knew in the late 40’s and early 50s, when the four Singh brothers were the only ones in the school who looked different.
Today in a very different world, about a third of the pupils are of minority ethnic origin. Respect for different cultures and concern for justice was seen in the many posters on the school walls, including the work of human rights organisations, and moving comments on a visit to Auschwitz. At the founder’s day service at which I spoke, as well as Christian hymns, there was also readings from the Guru Granth Sahib and the Koran. There is much to be proud about in the way we have adjusted to new cultures and different ways of life and I believe that that in this we lead much of the rest of the world.
One thing that has not changed however over the years, is the tendency of children to form their own groups or little gangs which sometimes gain added cohesion by looking down on or excluding others. Sadly religions and cultures all too often behave in the same way, exaggerating difference and emphasising exclusivity
The Sikh Gurus were very concerned about such claims and taught the importance of focussing on commonalities. Guru Nanak taught that the one God of us all was not interested in what we call ourselves but in what we do for our fellow beings. Guru Arjan gave practical utterance to the Sikh belief that no one religion has a monopoly of truth by including Hindu and Muslim verses in our holy scriptures: the Guru Granth Sahib.
Good academic results are important in schools, but due emphasis should also be placed on ensuring that pupils go out to the world with a sense of responsibility and care and compassion for people of all backgrounds and beliefs. It was encouraging to find my old school weaving this wider view of education into all they do.