Don't exclude our black revolutionaries;Another voice;Opinion

29th January 1999 at 00:00
So YET another bouquet of statistics lies strewn over the terrain of race relations. In some parts of the country we learn that black children are up to 15 times more likely to be excluded from school than their white classmates. Black boys, they tell us, are more likely to be excluded than black girls, and are less successful at school.

Once these statistics are let loose, allegations of racism abound. Counter claims, aimed at denigrating the social behaviour of black boys - "young demons" - also begin to fly.

Let me declare my credentials: between 1966 to this day there has always been a Howe or two somewhere in the education system in London. Currently, Zoe attends an inner London Catholic girls' school; Amiri is at a boys' secondary in the same borough; and young Nathan attends nursery school. Five others, three girls and two boys, attended in different areas of inner London.

Their school presence has not been without incident. Darcus Jnr was once suspended; Rap crashed someone's car - sans licence, sans insurance, sans everything. Darcus Jnr, on balance, was the best half mile runner I have ever seen including Cram, Ovett and the rest. And recently Amiri was mugged at school and relieved of his pound;7 hat.

No one has been excluded for this heinous crime, so I expect rules and regulations vary from school to school. But that is by the by.

My general attitude to schooling is quite simple, particularly in relation to my sons. No great expectations beyond literacy, numeracy and perhaps, in exceptional circumstances, a smattering of knowledge of a foreign language. Darcus Jnr received one O-level, Rap none at all. All vastly unlike the three girls.

Yet once out of the clutches of the education system, Darcus and Rap have both flourished - in their careers as well as their personalities. It has been the same with so many young black men. School has been more of a hindrance than a spur to both their intellectual and social development.

In the case of black boys of Afro-Caribbean descent, the teachers know not whom they teach. Each generation of young black Caribbean males has inherited a tradition of revolt - from slavery, through to colonialism and the vagaries of migration.

Any social observer who had looked with discerning eyes at the mass of young blacks emerging in this society - at work, at play, how they walked, shoulders square, head held high and a bounce in their step - would have recognised the emergence of a new social phenomenon - and one, in my view, requiring a revolutionary pedagogy.

These young men have created institutions like the Notting Hill Carnival; they have transformed the musical culture in the UK; and they have excelled whenever given an opportunity. Remember former bad boy Linford Christie.

Yet in educational institutions the mould has remained the same. In fact the case has been made for a tighter, more oppressive mould. This emerging social group, rather than being viewed as an asset which has contributed vastly to this country's economic and cultural life, has been stamped upon yet again. Any concessions to the innovative in educational terms have been "Thatcherised" out of existence - outlawed for being too "politically correct".

All these massive exclusions which we are currently witnessing are not racial in any crude sense; it is simply a counter-attack against a revolutionary upsurge of Afro-Caribbean youth. Outside school there are more opportunities. Not exactly paradise, but a greater elasticity.

It is here that statistics are necessary if we are to have a full picture. I am quite certain that there are some racists in the classroom. I have met racism as a parent. Yet in a profession which is largely liberal we cannot ascribe the high number of exclusions simply to racial spite and malice. Exclusions are regarded as the only way of keeping control.

I was once invited to teach at an inner London technical college. It was an all black class, largely illiterate. I taught literacy, under the heading of general studies. As a black public figure, the authorities thought I could be of some use.

The task was positively herculean. For the first time, after 25 years in this country, I realised it was possible for students to go through primary and secondary education and emerge illiterate. One young Rasta, Berris, just would not allow me to teach. Exclusion crossed my mind, but I went for confrontation and he relented.

I am not offering the Berris experience as a solution. All I am saying is that orthodoxy - which has become a bad, Blunkett habit in our education system - does not help.

If one began with the recognition that having to exclude a single child - never mind scores of blacks - represents a failure of teaching methods, teachers and the curriculum - then alternative solutions implicitly emerge.

Darcus Howe is a journalist and broadcaster

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