Educating Children about Socially Acceptable Behaviour

Educating children about socially acceptable behaviour is an obvious first step towards building peaceful multi-ethnic communities.

Children need to learn about how to behave acceptably from an early age:

●  They need to learn the importance of respect, courtesy and integrity (4.4.2) – and they should be corrected if they fail to demonstrate these qualities.

●  If they are taught the concept of ‘enlightened self-interest’ ( they would learn why they should follow the Golden Rule – irrespective of the belief system in which they are growing up.

●  An extension of this approach is the teaching of the concept of mutually-agreed rights and their relationship to the law (4.2.4). The BBC reported that Lessons in children’s rights ‘improve discipline’: “A study by the children’s organisation, UNICEF UK, says teaching children about their rights helps reduce bullying and improves behaviour” – where the rights referred to are listed in The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Children learn to behave better as a result of considering how one person’s behaviour affects another’s quality of life.

●  They should be taught why socially acceptable behaviour leads to a better society than one in which ethnic groups have started to distrust each other (4.4.3).

●  They should also be taught about how dangerous ethnic conflict can be (4.4.5).

Educating children about socially acceptable behaviour is the responsibility of both parents and schools, by example and by conventional instruction.  It has been suggested that only after they have been shown how much they have in common should children be taught about the different foundations for morality, including the beliefs of their parents, in an approach termed ‘omniculturalism’ by Fathali M.  Moghaddam when addressing the topic of Violent Islamist Extremism in Global Context:

“The end point of omniculturalism is a society whose members first recognize the importance of their common similarities and bonds, and on the basis of this ‘common’ foundation recognize and uphold the value of distinct local identities.  In omniculturalism, the celebration of intergroup commonalities serve as a stepping stone to the celebration and sharing of intergroup differences.” [p. 9]

Such a policy would allow religion to be taught, but only after the teaching of common values.  Even if this sequence is not followed, the strongest emphasis should be placed upon teaching socially acceptable behaviour.  This is consistent with the Golden Rule – not treating other people in a way that you wouldn’t want to be treated – being at the centre of all religions (

It is clearly easier to recommend pluralist education than to put it into practice, as was clearly illustrated by the Muslim Council of Britain’s “information and guidance document”: Towards Greater Understanding- Meeting the Needs of Muslim Pupils in State Schools.  This document warned schools about the sensitivities of Muslim pupils (or their parents) on such subjects as dance, drama and painting the human figure as well as restrictions applicable during Ramadan.  It is likely that most schools have not followed these guidelines for most pupils, as they would be regarded as excessively strict by most Muslims, but the document is a useful reminder of where the sensitivities lie and it can contribute to discussion.  The British government has also published a guidance note: Promoting fundamental British values through SMSC (an acronym for spiritual, moral, social and cultural development).

As discussed in the relevant chapter, political decisions may form a part in guaranteeing freedom of belief ( and in setting education policy ( – but the exertion of moral influence is interpersonal in practice.



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/4471.htm.