‘Nonsensical’ to teach white privilege to working-class

'Catastrophic' to tell working-class pupils 'way behind everyone else' that they have 'white privilege', claims academic. But critic argues he has misunderstood the term
13th October 2020, 4:43pm


‘Nonsensical’ to teach white privilege to working-class

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An academic has claimed that teaching the concept of "white privilege" to white working-class pupils is "nonsensical".

Speaking at the Commons' Education Select Committee hearing on the underachievement of white working-class pupils today, Matthew Goodwin, a politics professor at the University of Kent, said that white working-class communities face a "status deficit" as the national conversation has become "much more consumed" with other groups in society.

"I think ideas like white privilege are part of that," he said.

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"I would ask a question back, which is: what do we even mean by that? And what's the empirical evidence that for these children this is actually a salient and relevant concept?"

"Because if we are now going to start teaching them at school, that not only do they have to overcome the various economic and social barriers within their community but they also need to now start apologising for simply belonging to a wider group which also strips away their individual agency, then I think we're just going to compound many of these problems.

"I mean when you look at the statistical evidence…on this problem and you go into these communities and then try and tell them that they're suffering from white privilege, I mean it seems to me a completely nonsensical response to this problem, because statistically they aren't, they're way behind everyone else.

"They're falling through the cracks and I think we do need to be very careful in how we're now going to set up this conversation about very legitimate issues over racism and injustice and so on, but for this group, I think to try and suggest that they also now should be sort of apologising or expressing themselves because of their wider group membership could be quite catastrophic actually."

However, Dr Zubaida Haque, former interim director of racial equality charity the Runnymede Trust, claimed Prof Goodwin did not understand the concept of "white privilege".

"Matthew was saying the concept of white privilege was unhelpful, but I mean I would say he just doesn't understand what it is about," she said.

"It clearly shows that it's a kneejerk gut reaction by someone who doesn't understand what privilege means. White privilege has nothing to do with class - it's much more to do with people having privilege by virtue of their demographic and able characteristics.

"In other words you could be privileged by being able rather than disabled."

She added that it seemed doubtful pupils in deprived white communities were being taught extensively about privilege.

"Where is the evidence that they have to apologise for white privilege?" she said. "In which school?"

Professor Goodwin told MPs he feared it would become a problem. "My fear now is with the onset of new terms - toxic masculinity, white privilege - this is even actually going to become more of a problem as we send yet another signal to these communities that they are the problem," he said.

"That it is not the system more generally that has let them down, it is they are now the problem and they should make amends for simply being who they are."

The education committee also heard from Professor Diane Reay, emeritus professor of education at the University of Cambridge, who said: "I think there's growing levels of social resentment and a sense of being left behind among white working classes.

"Research shows us very high levels of polarisation particularly between highly credentialed groups, those of us with degrees, and those people who leave school with very few qualifications."

Professor Reay also said that pupils from immigrant backgrounds might benefit from cultural capital through their families' prior educational history in their home countries.

"I think that some ethnic groups have come from countries where their families - and they have generations of educational success in their countries of origin, and they have social and cultural capital in their countries of origin, even though they may be economically impoverished by the move here.

"And they come because they are desperate to make a new start and enable their children to succeed in a new system."

Professor Reay contrasted this with pupils from Black Caribbean backgrounds who had experienced a lot of "failure in the system", compounded by racism, and whose attainment was more comparable to that of white working-class pupils.

Dr Haque cautioned against using arguments of cultural "deficit" regarding white working-class pupils.

"Thirty years' ago in the eighties, this is exactly the sort of argument that was used against black and minority ethnic children - that they didn't have the appropriate and the correct cultural capital to help them through education, that their parents, and their home lives, were a deficit with regards to contributing to their educational success.

"Thirty years' ago, white working-class children were also underachieving, but nobody paid them any attention - 30 years later, they continue to underachieve in education because nothing has been done to address issues in relation to working-class children."

"[These assumptions] were incorrect and detrimental to BME children back then and they are incorrect and detrimental to white working-class children. That is not the key reason why they are not performing as well as they should be in education, there are many factors...and the stereotypes that still persist today about white working-class children and their cultural capital."

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