Roots of racism remain un-dug

9th December 1994 at 00:00
Multicultural education in all-white areas: a case of two ESG projects By Kishor Patel, Avebury #163;37.50, 1 85628 969 9.

John Eggleston laments a missed opportunity on ESGs.

As Education Support Grant projects fade into oblivion this book offers an examination of their implementation. Based upon the author's work in six schools in Tyneside and outer London, it covers some eight years of successive curriculum and assessment change, not least of all in the subjects being studied - English, science and home economics.

Yet the consistent focus of the book is much more limited. It is the identification and analysis of racist behaviour and it soon becomes apparent that the author is only concerned with this and no other aspect of ESG provision - neatly confirming government paranoia. Every other aspect of ESG activity in the schools is almost totally ignored.

Even when the reader has sorted this out there is still a long wait before the actual policies and issues are identified or discussed. After an extended introduction a long second chapter rehearses yet again the concepts of multiculturalism and anti-racism. This does little more than reiterate the familiar stereotypes of benign liberalism and radical action,which have led to such wasteful and distracting infighting among those who seek to diminish ethnic discrimination.

There is little doubt which mode is favoured by the author although his argument is not helped by his persistent use of multicultural to describe schools where anti-racist strategies are being used. Lack of clarity is compounded by the use of multicultural education as a key concept in the very title of the book.

The author takes these definitions into his "hypothesis", which is that all-white schools favour multicultural rather than anti-racist approaches. With such a simplistic and taken-as-given hypothesis the efficacy of the ensuing analysis is predictably diminished.

This is a pity because there is some good material in the book. The review of the literature is more up to date than most and contains some sharp and perceptive insights that the author could have used with considerable effect. The action research approach is soundly based on Stenhouse's work - albeit only incompletely used. Some of the teaching strategies such as the use of non-speech communication and alternative languages seem successful and illuminating and would have been worthy of fuller discussion.

The actual survey is eventually reached on page 145. It is based on questionnaires to 193 children in one of the six secondary schools. Unsupported by interviews, it uses a simplistic chi-squared analysis (straight from the author's Masters' thesis?) in which responses are broken down only by age. There is no analysis by race, social class, or any other more illuminating category. The author concludes this section with a minimal summary and then ends the book with yet another rather repetitious and unrelated chapter on institutional racism.

A particular disappointment is that although the author clearly has some detailed knowledge of the social class background of the schools available to him he fails to incorporate this into his analysis so there is virtually no information about social class differentiation of racist behaviour. In view of the widespread belief, still under-researched, that it is social class as much as ethnicity that determines racist behaviour, this is a disappointing omission.

Overall, the depressing and familiar truth is confirmed by the book - that racist attitudes become more firmly established as pupils progress through the school and that Education Support Grant programmes designed to overcome this seem to be, at best, only minimal in their efficacy. They do little, apparently, to prevent the socialisation into racist attitudes that prepares pupils so effectively to continue the discrimination that, the author rightly claims, still characterises so much of our society.

Almost in passing the author draws attention to the most fundamental problem of all. Why is it that when ESG-initiated activities end, the teachers themselves, apparently having been persuaded of the rightness of the anti-racist approaches, almost immediately cease to take any steps to put them into practice?

Even though ESG seems to have had minimal effect on the pupils it is even more alarming that it is equally minimal in its effects on the teachers. Perhaps part of the explanation is that in his research the author found it necessary to conduct his enquiries not in the context of "proper subjects" but in the context of personal and social development periods. The implications that anti-racist approaches are marginal rather than central to curriculum subjects seems inescapable. Why couldn't the author, well placed as he was, investigate this crucial issues?

At Pounds 37.50 the price, as well as the contents, seems over-blown. With strong, sharp editing, a tight focus and the author's obvious energy and enthusiasm, the book could have been of considerably greater use and considerably greater value.

John Eggleston is the editor of the journal Mentoring and Tutoring.

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