From the Archive - Children's readers are 'racist and sexist'

4th March 2011 at 00:00
1 August 1975: Books used in schools lack relevance and should be put through an 'ideological scanner', says psychologist

Most children's readers are racist, sexist and class-biased, said Mr Asher Cashdan, president of the United Kingdom Reading Association (UKRA), in Manchester this week. Books used in schools are usually irrelevant to the needs and interest of children, as well as misleading. Readers still showed family life in the suburbs revolving around the child, but most children lived in cities in families that were rarely child-centred.

Addressing delegates at the 12th annual conference of UKRA, Mr Cashdan, a child psychologist, said that children soon got the idea that everything reflecting their own lives and experiences was "not a real book". This was what made genuine working-class children's literature implausible. But even when texts were not positively biased, they were often empty and bland.

Mr Cashdan believed that the child's natural ability to learn was hampered by the clash between school and home values. "Where these values are congruent," he said, "children do well, irrespective of their social class."

The education system had moved from the pupil learning something he wanted or needed to know to the teacher teaching him something he believed the pupil ought to know. "The danger is not just the imposition of the teacher's own values, but the imposition of someone else's values encouraging the taking the GCE examinations, not for the sake of learning about the subjects but as passports to job success."

The Bullock Committee had been aware of the inadequate content of reading materials for children but their report should have gone further. "We should put all these materials through an 'ideological scanner', provided we admit our own attitudes and prejudices. As it is we don't discuss our own biases in the classroom and are too keen to offer children consensus and neutrality."

It was up to the classroom teacher not to accept unquestioningly the materials given to her and to exert her rights as a consumer. Teachers who failed to question and analyse materials were "prisoners of their own perspective". There was also a need for fuller studies of what actually went on in the classroom and how much time the teacher spent in talking and other activities.

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