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A dystopian future where teenage girls are shouted down

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Diversity issues are not part of the national conversation while there is sparse interest in the Black Lives Matter debate in Cyprus.

It seems we are not concerned so much about being different as long as you follow the rules of convention, keeping any deviancy locked in the cupboard under the stairs.

Most Cypriots probably believe they are not racist, bigoted or prejudice in any meaningful shape or form because they live in a homogenous society where everybody understands the right thing to do.

When counterculture came to town, Cypriot youth were out trying to become their parents, studying for an exam, or doing a Saturday job.

Everyone is so busy trying to conform to accepted social norms – family, job, keeping up with the neighbours – nobody really has time to question the establishment.

You certainly won’t get state schools stoking the embers of individualism, sexual awareness, and gender while the civil service doesn’t exactly advertise for free-thinkers to run government departments.

If you desire to be different, challenge the status quo, make documentaries about climate change, or simply leave home to be an independent, unmarried, animal-loving volunteer helping the dispossessed – it’s not going to happen.

Your parents will find you, put you on a guilt trip to university while calling the neighbourhood priest to talk some sense into you.

Cyprus embraces conservatism (small c) like a comfort blanket, feeling safe in its own acceptance of hierarchy where social injustice is getting a parking ticket while at the beach.

I’m still trying to understand what woke really means but I wouldn’t say it too loudly in polite conversation, somebody will hurt your feelings.

If you are waiting for Cypriot society to become more aware of how people are stereotyped, judged on their skin, ethnic background, or status it’s going to take a glacier shift in the collective mindset.

When a kid writes a school magazine article about the purpose of religious education, causing the Church to short circuit, teachers to ‘investigate’ and the government to get involved – you know there are problems with free speech.

A media storm and adverse reaction to a teenage girl exercising her right to question the established order or the role of religion in our lives demonstrated a lack of maturity and social tolerance.

Why was a huge crisis of confidence created over a girl having an opinion voiced in a perfectly acceptable manner?

Even the teachers union said it was going to probe what was written, taking it upon themselves to be the guardians of our moral and ethical character.

Having come across like the thought police in a dystopian future where free speech carries a death sentence, the union swiftly decided there was no case to answer.

Theology teachers said they didn’t want to censor the article, but rather add their own input to rectify some misconceptions.

Then it was the turn of the children’s commissioner to defend the girl after some teachers – the least enlightened among us – suggested the article was a ‘disgrace’.

Presumably, because a girl raised the question of whether religious education should be compulsory in schools or is learning about other faiths also necessary.

So much for the education system encouraging critical thinking and widening our understanding of the world.

Is the church or any other institution beyond reproach, do we live in a blameless landscape that cannot be improved through social discourse?

Intolerance to different views, attitude or cultures is a very slippery slope, we can only advance by being the champions of change not the gatekeepers of ignorance.

And that’s where our education system is failing us, it is not interested in critical thinking, debate, or widening knowledge, it’s designed to teach robots.

Schools should provide the building blocks for children to navigate a complex, changing world where diversity is a given.

Trying to shame a teenager for daring to raise the flag of inquisitive thought is a lesson we have yet to fully understand.

Progress comes when the wisdom of the day is challenged for a greater truth, Cyprus must keep asking the questions even if it doesn’t like the answer.