Black boys used to fail at school because of racism, now they fail because they don’t pay attentionby Tony Sewell / September 22, 2010 / Leave a comment
Tony Sewell: we’ve given our kids only the discourse of victimhood
Recently, one of my former students invited me to her inner-city primary school in London to give an “inspirational” lesson to her students. She was particularly concerned about a group of black boys who she described as “very bright but very naughty.” When I saw the class I immediately spotted her problem pupils, who were play-fighting at the back of the room.
I began my lesson by dividing the class into five groups. Their task was to draw “a wonderful African mask.” But there were a number of restrictions. I gave the first table, which consisted of well-behaved girls, lots of sugar paper, felt-tip pens, paint and glitter. Table two got a little less equipment, and I reduced the amount for each remaining table. Table five—let’s call it the “bad boy table”—was given one pencil, a pair of scissors and one piece of paper. They were, however, allowed to go to the other tables and trade resources.
One of the boys from table five put his hand up and said, “Sir, it isn’t fair. Why have you given everyone else all those papers and pens but we’re suffering in the ghetto?” Another boy said he was going to tell his mum I was racist (though table one was all black girls). Meanwhile, one boy went over to table one to beg for some pens, but the nice girls turned nasty and refused to trade. The boys on table five all began to moan that their white teacher was always picking on them and that the school was “prejujuice”—a word they had trouble pronouncing but not applying to me. “Everyone thinks we are gangsters and we are going to beat them up,” one said. Teachers were “rude” for telling them off.
Ignoring their complaints, I told them that I wanted the mask completed. I also produced a box of Quality Street and told the class that the team with the best mask would win the prize. Suddenly, the boys found some inspiration and got down to work. There we have it: the trauma of 400 years of racism, slavery and oppression overcome by the desire for a soft centre.
At the end of the lesson I called on the headteacher to come in and judge which was the best mask. Table one, with all its resources, looked grotesque. The winner…