'Racist' discipline under attack

Sue Learner

A new book says black boys are being excluded because teachers misunderstand their culture. Sue Learner reports

TEACHERS were this week accused of misinterpreting black culture and excluding black boys for trivial offences such as having dreadlocks or walking "arrogantly".

The attack comes in a new book, Educating Our Black Children, by psychologist Richard Majors, senior fellow at Manchester University.

The collection of essays, edited by Dr Majors, criticises teachers for excluding black children for "cultural behaviour", and looks at why so many young black boys are excluded from mainstream education.

As well as targeting teachers, it examines ways of empowering black boys such as mentoring in schools and a rites-of-passage scheme which has been piloted in Wigan.

The scheme, designed to nurture young people and prepare them for adulthood, is based on traditional African practice and its emphasis is on ethnic pride, self-esteem and respect.

It also gets young black boys to appreciate and understand the role of black men in history and culture.

Dr Majors co-ordinated the year-long scheme in Leigh education action zone in Wigan, and worked with disaffected boys aged 11 to 13.

His book also highlights the success of black supplementary schools run at weekends which are often supported by the black church network.

African-Caribbean pupils are more than six times more likely to be excluded from school than their white peers. Most of those excluded are boys. In London, the exclusion rates are even higher with black boys excluded up to 15 times more often than whites.

Dr Majors, a former Harvard fellow, said: "Teachers often do not understand the culture of black boys and tend to overreact. Black boys have that cool walk which is just them being proud, but teachers say they are being arrogant. Boys are excluded for something as trivial as having tramlines cut into their hair." He believes tension arises between black pupils and white teachers because black pupils stand up to them. The Macpherson report in 1999 suggested that the national curriculum should aim towards "valuing cultural diversity and preventing racism".The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority now recommends teachers promote anti-racism in every subject.

But Dr Majors is calling for more. "Macpherson made these recommendations three years ago but it's taken a crisis and riots before they act. We need to look at how we can help with teacher training. Teachers are often scared of black pupils.

"When teachers train, there are no classes in behavioural management across cultures and there is no study into the effects of racism. We have teachers who don't have a clue and we have more immigrants coming in all the time so we need to do something about it."

Educating Our Black Children is published by Routledge, price pound;16.99

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