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Early Years: Anti-Sectarian Television by Paul Connolly

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The following extract has been contributed by the author Paul Connolly, with the permission of Community Relations Council. The views expressed in this extract do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.
front cover Extract from:
Early Years
Anti-Sectarian Television
by Paul Connolly (1998)
ISBN 1 898276 19 6 Paperback 107pp

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This publication is copyright Paul Connolly (© 1998) and is included on the CAIN site by permission of the author and the publishers. You may not edit, adapt, or redistribute changed versions of this for other than your personal use without the express written permission of the author or the publisher, Community Relations Council. Redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.

Guidelines for the development of a series of television programmes
directed at anti-sectarian work with children in their early years

Paul Connolly








Sectarianism, prejudice and young children






Research on children and sectarianism in Northern Ireland



Critique of research on children and sectarianism



Research on children and ethnic prejudice



Applicability of research on children and ethnic prejudice to the study of sectarianism and children in Northern Ireland



Challenging sectarianism among young children






Prosocial behaviour and young children






Re-assessing popular conceptions of child development



Moral development and prosocial behaviour among young children



Encouraging prosocial behaviour among young children







Young children and television






Young children’s comprehension of television programmes



Television programmes and young children’s prosocial behaviour






Challenging ethnic prejudice among young children






Current guidelines for anti-sectarian work with preschoolers



Existing television material directed at sectarianism among children



The Children’s Television Workshop’s Race Relations Curriculum



Rechov Sumsum/Shara’a Sumsum

























This final chapter offers a detailed set of guidelines for the development of a series of television programmes directed at anti-sectarian work with children in their early years. The guidelines have been developed within the context set by the discussion and analysis contained in the previous four chapters. For the sake of continuity, each guideline is followed by a brief commentary on how it relates to particular aspects of the analysis contained in the previous chapters.



The guidelines are organised into five main themes: General portrayal of characters; Format of the programmes; Encouraging prosocial behaviour; Valuing similarities and differences; and Responding positively to sectarianism and conflict.




General portrayal of characters



Characters should be clearly identified as Catholic and Protestant.


This relates to the discussion contained in Chapter One which stressed the need to provide counter-biases to help challenge and undermine the existing prejudices and sectarian beliefs that the young children may have about one another. As such prejudices and beliefs often construct the other side as different and ascribe negative characteristics to them, then the provision of counter-biases need to not only stress the similarities that exist but also to offer positive portrayals of both groups. This can only be done if it is made clear that the characters that are being portrayed positively are Catholic or Protestant (see section 1.6.4).



Only positive portrayals of Protestants and Catholics should be included


This also arises from the discussion in Chapter One concerning the provision of counter-biases. It was explained that a child’s existing biases about the ‘good’ qualities of its own group and the ‘bad’ qualities of the other group can be countered by either: offering positive portrayals of the other group (thus contradicting the ‘bad’ qualities that have been ascribed to them) or offering negative portrayals of the child’s own group (i.e. showing the child that some of their own group can be selfish and nasty, thus demonstrating that some of their own group actually hold the ‘bad’ qualities that they have exclusively assigned to the other group). It was suggested, however, that negative portrayals of one group may only help to reinforce the negative biases that the other hold about them. The safest way to try and challenge children’s biases is therefore to focus solely on positive portrayals of both groups (see section 1.6.3).


This is not to say, however, that in a scene attempting to model inclusive behaviour, that one group should not be shown initially to exclude another child because of their religion. While this may well initially be seen as a negative portrayal of that group, this would be counteracted by then showing how someone in that group reached out to the excluded child and encouraged them to play. Similarly, an initial conflict situation may need to be portrayed before it is shown how it can be resolved. Again, the initial negative portrayal of one or both parties will be over-shadowed by the positive way in which they are shown to resolve the conflict. The important point to stress is that focus on the negative behaviour should be kept to a minimum and the principle focus should always be on the acts of resolution.


Format of the programmes



A ‘mosaic, format should be used as the basis for each programme but with the inclusion of a small number of regular characters


As discussed in Chapter Three, the rapid pace of a mosaic format and the differing changes of scene, characters and tempo make it more likely to attract and retain the attention of young children. Moreover, the limited time given to each segment within the format ensures that storylines are kept simple and thus are easier to comprehend. In addition, the use of many different segments allows particular appropriate forms of behaviour to be modelled in many different ways. However, one of the limitations of this approach is that it is difficult to develop characters which is an important factor if it is the aim to encourage children to identify with and empathise with them. To overcome this problem, it is recommended that a small number of characters are developed throughout the series who are involved in particular segments (see sections 3.2.16-19).



Storylines should be clear and simple, involving only afew events and avoiding the inclusion of any event which is not central to the story


It was explained in Chapter Three that the most effective way of securing a child’s attention is to ensure that the programme is comprehensible. While young children are capable of rational, logical thought, this ability is still relatively undeveloped and therefore storylines need to be kept clear and simple (see sections 2.2.12 and 3.2.9- 13).



Sequences should, as far as possible, involve settings that are familiar to young children


This derives from Chapter Three where it was explained that children are more likely to be attracted to, and thus consequently understand and remember, storylines that are familiar and resonate with their own experiences. Particularly when attempting to model appropriate behaviour in response to sectarian incidents, the scenes need to be explicit and directly relevant to the children’s own experiences (see section 3.2.14).


Encouraging prosocial behaviour



The main emotions experienced by the principle characters should be identified and labelled


As highlighted in Chapter Two, one of the key elements in encouraging children how to empathise with others is to teach them how to correctly identify and label other people’s emotions. The principle emotions that should be focused on could be: Happiness, Sadness, Fear, Anger, Surprise and Love (see section 2.4.5).



Clear explanations should be given as to why a character is emotional


In addition, it was also explained in Chapter Three that to encourage prosocial behaviour it is first important to help children understand exactly why another child is upset, sad or angry. Alongside encouraging empathy with a particular character’s emotional state, it is therefore also important to offer a clear and explicit explanation as to why they are in that state. This can be done by clearly showing the events which led up to the child being emotional and then reinforcing this with the use of a voice-over explanation (see section 2.4.6).



Young children should be encouraged to understand that they are responsible for and capable of responding to the emotional state ofothers and appropriate strategies that they should adopt in relation to this should be modelled


As also discussed in Chapter Two, it is important to teach children what the appropriate responses are to another child in distress and to encourage them to not only feel competent in responding but also to be responsible to. This can most effectively be done via modelling appropriate behaviour. In particular, if a programme can show a young child appropriately going to the aid of another child and helping them, then this will teach the young viewer that they are also competent to help others in similar situations. However, such modelling of prosocial behaviour is not usually generalisible and thus many different prosocial acts need to be modelled during the course of the series of programmes.


Such modelling can be reinforced by the use of narrative/voice-over explanations, which can also presage the child’s prosocial acts by labelling the recipients emotional state and making a general appeal for help. In such a way, the general responsibility of young children to help can be reinforced. Moreover, for such appeals to be effective, they need to focus on the needs of the potential recipient and how the help will make them feel better (see sections 2.4.7-10).


Valuing similarities and differences



The similarities that exist between Protestant and Catholic children should be highlighted


This derives from the need to offer ‘counter-biases’ to challenge children’s existing biases and stereotypes as discussed in Chapter One. Particular ways in which this has been done in relation to Sesame Street’s Race Relations Curriculum has also been outlined in Chapter Four. Such similarities could include: food, games, celebration of Easter and Christmas, families, pets and so on. It may also be advisable to focus on only a small selection of these throughout the series so as to ensure that young children can remember them (see section 4.4.6).



Attention should be drawn to some of the positive differences that exist between Catholics and Protestants and young children should be encouraged to value and respect these


This also derives from the discussion of ‘counter-biases’ in Chapter One and the outline of the curricula material developed by CTW in respect of Race Relations and Israeli/Palestine in Chapter Four. As argued in the previous guideline, it is advisable to not cover too many aspects of each group’s culture but to possibly aim to enable each child to label and understand three aspects of their culture and three aspects of the other group’s culture that is unique. As also argued in the previous chapter, the particular aspects to be covered should be chosen with sensitivity to ensure that, as far as possible, they are not seen as overtly offensive or threatening to the other community. Each item should be covered in a positive way which encourages interest in and respect for it (see sections 4.4.6 and 4.5.1).



It should be emphasised that it is good to befriends with someone from the other main tradition and to show an interest in and share aspects of their cultural heritage


This can be done by producing segments which show Catholic and Protestant children playing together and, for example, Protestant children learning to play Gaelic games. As discussed in Chapter Four, this can be portrayed as a positive experience and, in many ways, can be seen as a way of modelling good community relations (see section 4.4.6).



The benefits of Protestant and Catholic children co-operating and working together should be emphasised


This theme is something that has been developed in the Rechov Sumsum/Shara'a Sumsum curriculum as discussed in Chapter Four. Given the segregation that exists between the two main communities, and the real fears that each holds about the other, it is therefore important that the benefits of co-operation are explored and taught to children. This could be done by having short storylines which show how Catholic and Protestant children initially refuse to work together, even when faced with a common goal. As such it could be shown how they were thus unable to complete a task and that made them sad. However, the story could then show how they decided to work together, combining their skills, and thus achieving their goal (see section 4.5).


Responding positively to sectarianism and conflict



It should be clearly stated that it is wrong to call someone names, physically hurt or exclude them simply because they are Catholic or Protestant


The rationale for this is self-evident. However, it needs to be stated clearly so as to provide young children with the cue to respond in the ways outlined in the following two guidelines. One of the most effective ways of demonstrating why it is wrong is to focus on the consequences of the actions in terms of the emotional and/or physical hurt that the recipient suffers as a consequence. Such a focus would require the labelling and explanation of their emotions as recommended in guidelines 5.2.6 and 5.2.7 above.



Appropriate responses to being called a sectarian name or observing another child call someone else a sectarian name should be modelled


Having identified a certain form of behaviour as wrong and harmful, children then need to be shown how to positively respond. This and the next guideline derives from the general discussion in Chapter Two regarding the need to teach young children how to respond to situations in a prosocial way and also from the more specific discussion in Chapter Four relating to CTW’s Race Relations Curriculum. As regards this guideline, it would generally involve showing a scene involving name calling and then a clear and simple response which is deemed appropriate. Some of the responses modelled by CTW in the Race Relations Curriculum are discussed in section 4.2.14. As before, the same responses need to be repeatedly modelled in different scenarios and contexts (see sections 2.4.7 and 4.4.9).



Appropriate responses to another child being excluded from a group because of his or her religion should be modelled


This is the other main scenario that the series of programmes should aim to encourage young children to develop appropriate responses to. Some examples of how it has been modelled was discussed in Chapter Four in respect of CTW’s Race Relations Curriculum (see section 4.4.9).



Appropriate ways of resolving conflict between Catholic and Protestant children should be modelled


This derives from the discussion of the Rechov Sumsum/Shara'a Sumsum curriculum in Chapter Four. It would basically involve including scenes where a conflict exists and then modelling how the characters were able to discuss the situation through and come to an agreed solution. As highlighted in the previous chapter, such scenarios would aim to stress that: it is possible to maintain differences while eliminating conflict; that compromise is a necessary part of resolving the conflict; that nobody gains by maintaining the conflict but everyone gains by resolving it (see sections 4.2.13 and 4.5).





The guidelines set out above represent a challenging and demanding agenda for any potential programme maker wishing to develop a series aimed at addressing sectarianism among preschool children. Much work still needs to be done in translating these guidelines into specific storylines. In this respect, the guidelines have purposely been designed not to be over-directive in the belief that there are many other people with far greater skills in relation to story-writing and television production than the author. However, the guidelines are quite exhaustive and, in conjunction with the detail contained in the other four chapters of the report, clearly spell out the spirit and rationale for what is being recommended.



In addition, it is clear that the degree to which all of these guidelines can adequately be met will depend upon the funds available and the specific nature and length of the programmes and series to be developed. All programmes, regardless of their length, need to follow the guidelines in relation to the portrayal of characters and the format of the programmes. However, if there is a limit of funds and/or only a few short pilot programmes are going to be made, then a decision will have to be reached as to which aspects of the remaining guidelines should be focused on. Inevitably, if such programmes are going to be consistent and effective and deal adequately with a particular theme, it will involve a straight choice between:

  • focusing attention on valuing similarities and differences.

  • focusing on how to respond positively to sectarianism and conflict (which would also involve, by default, ‘encouraging prosocial behaviour’).


Both choices are viable and, in the last analysis, it is a decision that can only be made by the programme funders and producers. However, should only a small number of short pilot programmes be produced, it is worth stressing that such a choice needs to be made so that the programmes offer a clear message which can at least be reinforced to some extent by repetition and modelling in different formats. The dangers of trying to cover everything and, in the end, achieving nothing is a risk not worth taking.

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